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Needles, pins and thread

By | November 23rd 2011

Meet three young female designers whose fashion lines are causing waves, writes SILVIA NJOKI and SHIRLEY GENGA

Name: Melisa Nyawade Achieng’,

Age: 24

Fashion label: Achie Otigo

When did you get the interest in making clothes?

My mum used to tailor-make clothes as a side hustle when I was younger and by the time I was in high school, I had learned to adjust and alter clothes to suit my needs.

What did you study in school?

Melisa Nyawade Achieng’

I studied Industrial Design at University of Nairobi. We designed everything from sculptures, ceramics and jewellery to leather work. During my first year, I did not really know what I would do with myself but on my last year in campus, I had this idea to make a red carpet dress for my classmate Avril. That was last year before the CHAT Awards. I made her a cobalt blue pencil halter with frills and she not only loved it but it was also a hit at the red carpet. I am glad she took a chance on me. Today, I make all her outfits for red carpet events. Making that dress was my ‘aha’ moment. The confirmation that my career path was in design.

Why did you name you fashion label Achie Otigo?

When I began making my dresses I called my label Lisachie but I later changed it to Achie Otigo because I felt I needed to give my work a personal touch. Achie is from my name Achieng’ and Otigo is my grandparents’ name.

What did you parents think about your career choice?

My dad is a free spirit and so he was very supportive but my mum was a bit sceptical. Today, she is my biggest fan.

Where do you get you materials?

I source for material everywhere be it Gikomba, River Road, Eastleigh, Ngara, Westlands or Mombasa. I like to experiment with different types of materials.

What is your signature when it comes to your clothes?

My clothes are extremely edgy, bold and out of this world. I ensure that although my designs have some drama, the whole outfit merges to create something classic and polished. I also love structure so you will notice that most of my designs are very structured. The best thing about structured garments is that they play up our best features. I also ensure that every piece is different.

When you get a client, what are the things you consider before you design a dress?

The most important thing I consider is body type. We then discuss what the client wants to emphasise or what they do not want to show. After that, we discuss a design and then I get into sketching. I usually do detailed sketching so a client can have a variety of design options.

What are the challenges of what you do?

It is very challenging sourcing for fabric. Sometimes what you want is not available. In fact a lot of times, it is easier if a client comes with their own material.

Clients also want you to charge very little for the clothes and they often never consider the production costs. They want to pay for a designer dress at the same price they pay for second hand dresses they buy in Ngara. Another challenge is that other designers sometimes can steal your designs.

Do you mass design or you just make a collection?

I do not mass design. I love to come up with a collection of about ten pieces inspired by a certain theme. When I am done with the collection, I start over with something new.

How long does it take you to complete a dress and how is business?

It takes two days and I have a complete outfit. If I have a huge order, I outsource. My business is doing well and growing steadily.

Advice for aspiring designers?

Starting a business is not easy. You have to have thick skin and be very patient. I started my business in September last year after graduating from university but I only began to get a profit in January. In my first month, it was hard I only had two clients but now in a good month, I get five clients in week thus 20 clients in a month.

Which designer do you admire?

Locally it is Betty Vendetta. I love her designs; she is not afraid to think outside the box. She has been criticised for making costumes as opposed to ready to wear clothes but she has stuck to her guns and I love that about her. Her designs are wild, earthy and worldly. Internationally, I admire Alexander McQueen and Goreth Pugh. Their designs are sensational. I am attracted to detail and this two designers put a lot of effort into detail.

Which Kenyan celebrities have you dressed?

I have made clothes for Avril, Valentine, Patricia Kihoro, Asher, Adele and Janet Kirina.

Future plans?

I currently have a shop on Moi Avenue in Nairobi. I share it with two other tailors but I hope to one day have my own workshop. I also plan to ensure that no matter how big my business grows, my clothes will always be affordable. My price range is Sh2,500 to Sh4,000. I hope to take part in the Swahili Fashion Week in Dar es Salaam next year. I also hope to be able to train and to create jobs for other designers and tailors.

Name: Patience Teresia Kibaya

Age: 28

Fashion line: Nini’s Afrique Boutique

How did you start Nini’s Afrique boutique?

Nini’s Afrique Boutique has been in operation for the last two years. The word ‘Nini’ comes from the Kamba word meaning ‘small’ because we started small but have experienced phenomenal growth since then. We work as a group of young people. Nini’s is a chain of entrepreneurs from producers of the materials leather, sisal and beadwork.

What is your favourite fashion trend right now?

Harem pants made from local kangas and kikois, as well as long and short gladiator sandals.

What age groups are your designs aimed towards?

Wambui Mukenyi

Creativity, good workmanship and a good market for your brand. I am still learning.

Who are some of your favourite designers?

I love John Kaveke’s work and also Vaishali Morjaria who is also my mentor.

Where can we buy your clothes?

I have a shop at Diamond Plaza, Highridge, Nairobi. You can also get them online www.wambuimukenyi.com.

Tell us a fashion rule you live by?

Creativity is key, the rest falls into place.

Describe your style?

Chic and elegant.

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