Fashion Business in Kenya: Getting a job after college can be a daunting task. But for Ms. Lilian Maundu, that was not so after she graduated in 2008 with a diploma in Fashion design and pattern cutting from Petite School of Design in Mombasa.
She didn’t get a formal job alright, but she got a way of earning money, and that was all she needed.
In the same year she graduated, and with only Kshs 22,000 she had saved from her pocket money, Lilian set up her fashion business in Kenya that now boasts of more than two dozens of employees—in its 3 branches of Mombasa, Meru and Nairobi—, an impressive profit turn over, and a growing clientele base that has stretched even to Kampala.
Getting to the current position has not been a rosy ride though, as hers has been a long and treacherous journey of navigating through various challenges that court many startups.
After buying a sewing machine and an overlock machine with the Kshs 22,000 she had saved, she set out working from her home. “I started making clothes from my home and told all my friends about my venture; for them to come and purchase something or say a good word about my business to potential client they knew”, she says. “I would also ask them to come and suggest cloth designs that I could make them”.
The business seemed good, and in a matter of few months, many people around Mtwapa, where she lived, had known of her fashion shop and frequented her home seeking her services.
“A certain client visited my shop and told me she was visiting Mombasa from Zanzibar. A lady she was meeting was donning one of my Swahili ladies dresses and when she heard the designer was from the local area, she decided to come and have a feel of it herself”.
After the incident, Lilian says she felt the urge to expand as it was evident the business was doing well. That was five months on after she started, and teaming up with a friend from the fashion school, they rented a premises in Mtwapa town, and registered Limcom fashion creations’ as their business entity.
Initially, recalls Ms. Lilian Maundu, the business was brimming with optimism, as she felt sure with the previous success alone, nothing could come between them and further success. Also, she adds, the new business partner seemed astute in handling the customers, while also having an eye for creative cloth design styles that they had not experimented on.
That optimism, however, would soon dissuade to despair and uncertainty, as the new premises seemed to have casted a dark cloud over them. Clients no longer streamed in as they used to at her home, and no matter how uniquely designed they thought their clothes were, nothing seemed to appeal the wider clientele base they were now targeting.
This translated into recurring losses, bad debts from clients and even inability to settle bills. After six months, her business partner could no longer take it and feeling this was a gravy train headed to failure, she gave up and sought for employment elsewhere.
Lilian, however, was cut for fashion and she couldn’t do the same. It was a path she lived with her whole childhood and long had passion for. A trade she had learned from her mother. “Watching my mother knit beautiful dresses for us and her customers, was a lot of fun and when the moment came for deciding my career, I figured out that was my passion”, she says.
As such, Ms. Maundu’s desire to succeed in the fashion business in Kenya is what she enjoyed doing couldn’t let her do the same.
“Unlike my friend, I figured I had a lifeline in this job in form of new clients referred to me by old ones who appreciated the job I had done for them”, she points out. And after earning trust of more customers in Mtwapa town, her business began expanding, and she employed two professional fashion designers to help her in the work.
But this wouldn’t give her the satisfaction she craved for and as soon as the business got back on the ground and running smoothly, Lilian started considering opening another shop.
This time, she wanted a shop in Nairobi. “One thing I know is people in Nairobi are crazy with fashion and philanthropic when it comes to it. They don’t mind so long you have something trendy that will give them attention and make them appear fashion conscious”, she says and adds: “That’s why I badly wanted a shop in the city.”
She found one in the residential suburb of South B and immediately set about putting it on its feet. Then, she thought, she would ensure the shop in Nairobi is running steadily and then get back to Mombasa, where she had left her employees running the other shop, but that was never to happen. Instead, she got too engrossed with the city shop and to date; the shop in Mombasa is still run by the employees.
Limcom fashion creations’ is now in its fourth year in the city. It has also born another fashion shop in Meru where Ms. Maundu comes from.
Apart from expanding it to include décor dressings, furniture and car seats upholsters, wedding outfits, casual wear, official wear and interior design services, Ms Maundu says her time in Nairobi has really been a learning experience about fashion.
“You wouldn’t believe how open minded Nairobi people are when it comes to fashion. This has taught me a lot about what customers’ want and how diverse they are. It is like competitive intelligence which helps me keep a step ahead of other fashion designers”.
But does the fashion business in Kenya pay?
“It gives me enough to keep myself comfortable but it has also helped me kiss the Matatus good bye”, she says, holding up her car keys. According to her, the future is bright for her business and she hopes to own a fashion school in five years while also having a big outlet for clothes she designs. In the next few months, she also plans to buy a large printing machine for printing T-Shirts and other clothes that her clients want.