Liz Kitua didn’t plan on becoming a stylist or a designer. It wasn’t an itch that refused to go away, neither was it in protest to a career she would later feel uncut for. Design, to Liz, was the path she has chosen to pursue, one where she flourished. So it doesn’t surprise her that she is here.
We meet Liz at her tailoring and design boutique, Kidosho, on a Friday afternoon. It’s a quiet day. Five tailors work in the space opposite where we are – they do the stitching, Liz designs. Before us, her designs spread out in a montage of fabrics and mannequins. Save for Liz and I, the only other person to walk in is one of her tailors; she needs a consult on a fabric she’s working on. Liz tells me that business has been slow for the last several weeks.
Before this, Liz worked as a commercial pilot for five years. “I attended flying school here for two years then transferred to a flight academy in South Africa to complete the course. I relocated in July 2008,” she says. “I loved it at flying school.”
Liz graduated and returned home in January 2009 to start her life as a pilot, but the jobs weren’t waiting for her at the airport. She freelanced for two years on no pay, building her flying hours, a necessity for the trade, and saved any money she got. In mid-2010 Liz started Kidosho. It was a side-hustle to pay the bills while she built her hours.
The focus of Kidosho was kitenge – Liz played around with this traditional mum-associated fabric to design modern and funky attire for women her age. Her designs caught on quick. In January 2013, Liz landed a job that paid. “The working hours were intense, though. My schedule had several short local flights with few breaks in between.
And the pay didn’t match the hours,” she says. She adds that the working environment conflicted with her personal values. Liz was unhappy; she had neither the fulfilment nor the sense of purpose she had with Kidosho. She was unsettled.
Kidosho by this time was taking shape – Liz had a clientele (one she would later outgrow); she had a location (a rental space in Nairobi West no bigger than a broom closet) and she had a team of tailors (three ladies she poached from the kibandas of Umoja market).
Liz constantly contemplated the idea she had battled with for over two years: “Should I leave my ‘prestigious’ job as a pilot to pursue my passion in Kidosho?” Liz consulted no one because she knew what she wanted for herself. In December 2013 – as part of her New Year’s resolution – Liz jumped ship.
What did her support system have to say about her decision?
“My mum was very supportive. She said that she hoped I knew what I was doing. All my brother said was ‘Do you’. My friends cheered me on because they knew how passionate I was about this. The only person who didn’t give me his nod was my dad, it hurt me a lot. He’s also a pilot. He wondered why he would spend over Sh9 million in flying school only for me to quit to run a kiosk as a fundi,” recalls Liz. “He is now coming to terms, though.”
Liz relocated her boutique to Ngong Road and expanded her team of tailors to five. She managed all operations including her books. She later attended a school of design: “I was there for one semester only. I wasn’t learning anything new.”
Liz had been sourcing her fabric from the backstreets of River Road. But she realised it no longer fit the standard and quality her new clientele demanded. “Most of these fabrics were imitations.” Liz upped her game – she now takes the trouble of flying to West Africa to ship in the fabrics herself.