PLACING AFRICA ON THE FASHION MAP

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By Catherine Kuria

Fashion design is an art of applying designs, aesthetics and beauty to clothing and accessories. It dates back to the 19th century with Charles Frederick Worth who was the first designer to have his label sewn into garments that he had created. Worth’s success was such that he was able to dictate to his customers what they should wear, instead of following their lead as earlier dressmakers had done.  The term couturier was in fact first created in order to describe him as he set the pace for other designers who came into the industry after him.

Given the time required to make a garment ready for the market, designers anticipate changes to consumers’ tastes and preferences before they craft their art. They conduct research on fashion trends and consequently design clothes and accessories that are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Just like any other art, designing requires creativity, hard work and most importantly, persistence. It is a tough industry to crack but once you establish yourself as a brand owner, the journey becomes sweet.

 

Kelvis Makumi is a twenty two year old designer. He likes referring to himself as an artist.   Makumi started designing in high school. He used to redesign his outfits and experiment on some of his friend’s clothes. Once he completed his high school and got some exposure, he decided to do his research on the entire field. He has been doing designing professionally for a year.

Groom It Africa

Rapper turned business mogul, Sean Combs also known as brother love, is an advocate of black excellence. Kelvis cites the ‘black excellence agenda’ as the greatest inspiration behind his clothing label known as Groom it Africa. “Most of my inspiration comes from the black excellence agenda, fellow creatives in the industry and life experiences,” he says.

Designing clothes and accessories is Makumi’s contribution to the creative industry.  He has a dream of moulding Groom It Africa into a reputable fashion company to unite African creatives and represent our continent in the international market. He thoughtfully expresses: “Just as the USA has Calvin Klein and Tom Ford,   Africa has Groom It Africa. Every step I make in the world of fashion defines our culture.”

The business has been growing steadily since its inception. He is in the process of learning the ropes of the market. He is fusing his products with the aim of selling to people what they want, followed by what they need. In addition, he uses some real good and interesting fabrics that are attractive to look at and fingers itch to touch them. His unique style of creating and the way he expresses his feelings in his art have curved a niche for him in the market.

“We all have something that we bring to the table. What makes me stand out from the rest is how I brand and present myself and the idea I’m selling. I have an edge in the sense that I use high quality fabrics, top notch stitches and world class patterns,” he says. The industry is all about contribution and not competition. Yes, most people are in it for the money, but legends are remembered for what they created and not how much  money they generated.

English fashion, portrait and war photographer Cecil Beaton once said: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, and the slaves of the ordinary.” This is a quote that Kelvis lives by. He does not believe in being ordinary. On the contrary, he likes to think outside the box and dares to dream big without limitations.

Brand promotion

A well executed public relations campaign is invaluable to the success of a company. The main goal of PR is to create awareness, growth and ultimately, the success of a business. Without it, you could have a great denim line that no one knows about. It’s your job (or that of your PR team) to figure out the best methods to build interest and enthusiasm for those jeans, while staying within budget. Kelvis has sought the help of a PR team to bring recognition to his brand.

His social media accounts are also very active with large traffic flowing in. He states: “Establishing a strong online presence is the best decision I’ve ever made.” His social media presence makes use of relevant hash tags, image best practices and engagement strategies that give a positive impression. Most of his orders are done online and personal delivery to the clients then follows.   He has also been promoting his brand by holding meetings with major retailers in the country.

Establishing a strong brand comes with its fair share of challenges. Kelvis says that his major limitation has been lack of adequate capital. Buying fabrics, sewing machines and other accessories needed requires a lot of capital which is not easy to mobilize. He has also been battling with self doubt and uncertainty. He may think of a design, put in on paper and end up discarding it because he feels it is not good enough.  “As a designer you have to believe in your brand before anyone else does so,” he points out.

Pricing has also been difficult. Some clients consider his products highly priced because they don’t understand the whole creative process requires a lot of money. However, he has been able to find a way to curb some of these hurdles. He has found an investor who believes in his brand. The investor is not only backing him up financially, but also morally. His growth plan entails  finding more investors, making his products more accessible to the masses and consistency.

Parting shot

He ends by encouraging all the young people out there to love what they do and do what they love. “Know what you want, create a plan on how to achieve it, do your research, find inspiration and finally work smart and direct all your energy towards it,” he concludes.

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