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A Kenyan fashion designer pumps up his creative juices

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Fashion designer Kepha Maina is preparing to re-launch with a new collection and shop early next year after two years into the business.

“We did a holiday collection in 2010 which got a lot of buzz, but we ran into challenges and could not produce to meet increasing demand,” he says.

He then made the hard decision to stop doing collections. and concentrate on a small clientele with whom he could try out custom-made designs. He set up a sales and a production workshop and stepped up marketing and brand development.

“It is part of business strategy to do product and customer development first and I also had to understand global trends. There are no big Kenyan fashion houses to study,” he says.

In preparation for the relaunch, he is working on a Summer 2013 womenswear line that will be sold at his shop and online. Instead of a show, he will rely on social media and loyal customers to spread the word.

“You do a show then you get people talking about it. But can I turn that into money? If I can’t, why do the show?” he poses.
He observes, however, that the biggest hurdle to the fashion industry’s growth in Kenya is that most practitioners regard it as an art and not business. “Fashion is 50 per cent art and 50 per cent business/basic product or service. But designers and business owners get carried away with the artistic side of it and forget they are providing a basic need,” he says.

Big name

To run a successful fashion business, structures are needed to run an efficient studio and manage staff, including tailors and patterns cutters.

“Forget the glitz and glamour. We fashion designers dream about how we going to be famous and have a big name, forgetting that we are running a business. I do not want to fall into this situation.”

The fashion bug bit him when he was still at university. He had a friend who could get him fabrics especially denim from clothing factories.

When he graduated in 2008, he did not look for a job. He woke up and found his apartment full of fabric, sewing machines and clients calling to place orders.

“I thought: “I enjoy what am doing, am good at it so why change?’. From that moment I decided to be more serious about it and it has been fun,” he says.

Mr Maina has always been attracted to the arty side of life. Although his first interest was music ( he dresses many performers), he joined the university to do architecture but dropped out after the third year to switch to economics.

“Architecture was a bit structured and stiff for me. It takes a lot of time to see results, and my attention span is short. I need to do something from which I can see immediate results ,” he says.

He says that with fashion, every six months a new collection has to be designed. He can never get bored because his creative juices are always running.

But he still appreciates architecture. His 2010 collection had geometry patterns which still form a big part of his style.

“Adventure is great. I’m obsessed with travel and fantasy. We create products that cannot go unnoticed ” he says.

Not tying himself to one fabric type, he picks according to quality and functionality. He also manipulates fabrics with embroidery.

He says his target customers are the upper and middle class and people in their late 20s and above. They are mature and want timeless designs. They also do not care about trends. They want quality and well done clothing.

“I do tailored stuff that you can wear it today and tomorrow,” says the designer.

Business Daily

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