Before she left for the United States, you might have seen her anchoring in local television. She then relocated to the States where she started MukamiTV.com, a webTV platform dedicated to amplifying diverse voices on globally and socially relevant issues. MukamiTV.com has since been put on hold as she pursues her latest – and first love – fashion.
Enter Joodj started in 2012. Joodj means ‘someone appears more put together quickly’ or a verb to mean ‘to make something’. This brand was inspired by her love for shoes and handbags, and her belief that every woman has a signature sense of style and deserves to make a bold fashion statement no matter the size of her budget.
So Joodj provided these blips, clips, cuffs and trends that you can accessories on your handbag and shoes to give them a unique touch. Just like the feather she has on her shoes when we meet at Mama’s patisserie at ABC Place for this interview.
What’s your background, where did you grow up, how did you end up where you are?
I was born here in Kenya. I’m from Nyeri. My dad – a physician – travelled a lot for work, and when I was three years old, we moved to New York then later came back to Kenya where I attended high school and then joined USIU before leaving for the States again. I have been there for the past 20 years.
I have always been heavily involved in theatre, music and dance. In fact, in my later years I leveraged my gift in storytelling and went ahead to write, direct, produce and deliver compelling, socially relevant performances in individual and large-scale theatrical productions which won national and international acclaim. You will remember my feature film, Saikati that did quite well internationally.
There was also talk about Oprah at some point?
Yes. When Oprah was starting OWN television channel, she held a talent search for the new network and hundreds of thousands of people submitted their videos. I didn’t make it, but I came very close.
What that did to me is that it gave me confidence that I could do it on my own and that realisation informed all the projects that I undertook going forward.
Why is Joodj so unique? Why would Kenyan women care to buy into it?
This brand is generally for those who want to break down conventions, those who are bold enough to do something different, to create their own unique style.
I’m the kind of person who would wear different shoes because, why not? Who said shoes have to match? This brand is about that; about a signature look that won’t break the bank. This is about imagination and how far you can stretch it. The Kenyan fashionista isn’t an early adopter, but once she eventually picks it she will run with it.
What are some of the challenges you face running a business in the States?
Money for investment is as much a challenge there as it is here. One is always trying to keep up with emerging trends and also marketing. Marketing takes a great chunk of it, you know, just putting your business out there.
If you were a man, do you think your business would have been further than it is now?
Absolutely not! I don’t believe that I’m disadvantaged as a woman in business. Business is all about ambition, focus, drive and tenacity. I think those are qualities that manifest themselves in either sexes and should yield the same results.
What’s your biggest insecurity?
(Thinks) I can’t think of an insecurity I harbour. I think I have learnt over time that there is only so much I control, that sometimes things can’t go the way I want them to go. (Pause). I think fear of failure is a real fear.
The one person you would love to sit down with for dinner?
Definitely Oprah Winfrey. I haven’t met her but I have much admiration and respect for Oprah on many levels. I think we are kindred spirits. (Laughs). I would also have loved to meet Madiba.
How are your reading habits?
I don’t read enough, unfortunately. I might do a little bit of reading at night occasionally. But I read pretty much everything, from The Fire Starter by Danielle LaPorte to Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. My husband is a more ardent reader so I will always pick his brains about the books he reads. I also often read my kids’ books – they are eight and four years old.
What regrets do you have in life?
(Thinks hard) I don’t know of any regrets I have. You know, I have so much to live for, and when I didn’t like something in my life I changed it. I don’t think I allowed room for regrets.
What’s on your Bucket List?
Great Wall of China is definitely in there. Dinner with Oprah. Make a film with Spielberg. Win an Oscar.
When in your life did you ever feel totally defeated?
I have felt defeated many times. One that comes to mind was when during a couple of years my health failed me. I felt that my body had failed me, even after I had followed doctor’s orders. Yes, that wasn’t a very good time but I overcame it by talking myself out of it, by staring at myself in the mirror and actually giving myself pep talks.
There was also the time I had started my business and it wasn’t going well, I felt defeated at that time.
What are your limitations as a businesswoman, a wife and a mother?
(Laughs) Wow. Let me see. My name, Mukami, means one who milks the cow. I have a lot of compassion, I’m a good listener and I’m nurturing. (Laughs).
Now for my limitations, I honestly can’t think of something my husband finds limiting in me. Gosh, you might have to ask him, I would be keen to know too! You know, we both have type A personalities? We both are quite aspirational…I try to give him a place as the man I chose.
My limitation as a businesswoman is that I’m a perfectionist. I’m learning that sometimes you just have to do the best you can and leave the rest. I’m also a worrier. As a mother, well, being a mother in the States isn’t easy because you have to work extra long hours and sometimes you don’t spend enough time with your kids as you would love to.