Online shopping made easier: A word with Shop Zetu CEO Wandia Gichuru

Online shopping can be an extreme sport - if you’re trying to put together the perfect outfit. You may have to look through several online stores to pick out the top, pants, shoes and accessories that suit your style and social engagements.

This and other factors were considered as the concept behind Shop Zetu, a relatively new online marketplace in the country. We spoke to  the founder and CEO, Wandia Gichuru, and she explained the solution this platform offers for the everyday person looking for a good, reliable online shopping experience.

“It’s very difficult for a consumer to go to one place and find a variety of options. What we aim to do is give the consumer visibility of what’s out there.  In that sense, we also help sellers by giving them access to a bigger market,” Ms Gichuru said.

She added that the name Shop Zetu is intentionally localised such that Kenyans can feel that it something of their own. “We wanted people to realize that this was a platform for us, not just for foreigners or for export, it is first and foremost for the Kenyan consumer.”

The online shopping platform hosts a number of brands including Vivo, City Walk, African Yuva, Ikojn, Salok Havilah, King's Collection, Intimate Kenya, Uncover among many others.

Shop Zetu was operational as a platform in 2020 but it wasn’t incorporated as a company and launched until January 2022. Ms Gichuru noted that the reception from the public has been good, adding that online shopping requires trust and reliability between customers and sellers.

“Many people look, maybe they don’t buy at first …what we typically find is that after the first purchase they come back. With eCommerce trust is important. For clothing, often, people want to see it and pay on delivery,” Ms Gichuru said, adding the the platform targets everyone, offering clothing of all ages and offering products for both men and women, middle income and luxury.

Speaking about the challenges designers and retailers face while pursuing the craft to create clothes and accessories specifically Made In Kenya, Ms Gichuru said that it is difficult to access the proper financing required for working capital.

“When we say something is Made In Kenya, it is not just about placing a tag on it. It means that at least one step of the manufacturing process for that item is done right here on the ground in Kenya. In that sense there is a difference between a Kenyan brand and Made in Kenya.”

She however clarifies that Shop Zetu welcomes and accommodates both Made In Kenya brands as well as foreign ones. And the subject of clothing and accessories being made locally came up during a recent meeting hosted by Shop Zetu, and attended by the who’s who of the local fashion scene- including designers, stylists and social media influencers.

The meeting was moderated by media personality Caroline Mutoko and included a panel discussion that tackled how to uplift the fashion industry locally. The conversation featured celebrity fashion stylist Connie Aluoch, Mark Stephenson, the Managing Director of Sandstorm Kenya and content creator Patricia Kihoro.

Other panellists were fashion designer Esther Nyawira, the founder of Elsie Glamour and Wakiuru Njuguna, partner at Heva Fund, a financial institution that lends to creatives.

Starting off the discussion, which was set to air out exactly what is missing from the industry and how to fix that moving forward,was pondering over whether brands get enough visibility. Do Kenyans know about Made In Kenya fashion? And does it help when personalities with visibility proudly choose and wear Made In Kenya products?

“One of the things that I get a lot from whoever is consuming what I’m putting out or seeing me is ‘goodness is that Kenyan?’ Whether its fashion, music, jewellery. I would always get that,” Ms Kihoro revealed, noting that more visibility is needed to create the awareness that these products are being offered and that they are accessible.

She spoke about the misguided perception that made in Kenya products are only to be bought and worn on special occasions, noting that that outlook needs to be dispelled.

“It could be the crop top or jeans from Shop Zetu. It doesn’t always have to be a Sh20,000  outfit for a special occasion. A Kenyan having a day job e.g. going to the bank should know that she/he has good quality, local options of work-wear."

Sandstorm Kenya Managing Partner Mark Stephenson explained that the expensive price tags often pegged on Made In Kenya fashion is not the doing of designers, rather a troubled manufacturing system locally.

“We’ve found, along with industry colleagues that we had to take that path because outsourcing wasn’t an option. There wasn’t a stable manufacturing base. If you look around the world, very few fashion labels are vertical. They’re all stratified, and have manufacturers who supply. The whole supply chain is broken down,” Mr Stephenson said.

“It’s one of the biggest constraints in Kenyan fashion and African fashion. It’s like every designer has to build their own factory which is really hard. We are made in Kenya because we are made by Kenya and the relationship it has with us.”

And the rough terrain by which fashion players have to navigate locally brought up the subject of policies, and what the government can do to lend a hand to the promising industry.

Young enterprenuer Ms Nyawira of Elsie Glamour said that having joined the scene barely 6 months ago, she feels that it is the right time but hopes that the right policies will be put in place to support local businesses like hers.

“One of the reasons Kenyan fashion is expensive is because it’s expensive to produce in Kenya. If policies were fairer, prices will go down and it will be affordable to everyone, ” Ms Nyawira said.

Written By Kirsten Kanja.