Sally Karago is a fashion designer at SK Fashion and the founder of the Mcensal School of Fashion. She explains why education is the key in the fashion industry.
What sparked your interest in fashion?
I was 12 years old when I knew I was going to be a fashion designer. I loved the idea of clothing. My neighbour was a fashion designer and most evenings I would sit with her and look at what she was doing. My dad and sisters used to insist that I dress them. I would go to the shops and pick something nice for everybody at home. That is how I started understanding colours. I would combine colours and come up with something very different.
Is that what made you go to fashion school?
Oh yes. Finished my O- levels, I joined a local fashion school. I was there for two years and graduated with a diploma. One of my aunts encouraged me to go for further education. She felt that I have not gotten enough and there was much more out there. By then, fashion was not popular in Kenya. We did not even have fashion magazines.
What inspired you to start a fashion studio?
I was in Europe for four years and I graduated with a Masters in fashion. When I came back home, Kenya had still not opened up to the fashion industry. It was also hard to break into the market. Many people were not familiar with the word fashion designer. They only knew fashion designers from TV. If you met a local fashion designer it would mean that they had failed in school. We were considered as failures. I had no idea where to begin. All I knew is that I had to start a fashion studio and I started one and most of my clients were my friends who were supporting me. This is where I asked myself what my future would be in this industry.
How did you break into the corporate world using fashion?
I loved going to the Norfolk and I remember hating the way the staff looked in their uniforms. I went to see the general manager and I asked him if I could make just one outfit for a waiter. They liked my presentation because no one had done it so well. I put all I learned in school to good use and that is how I got more clients in the corporate world.
You started in 1994, how has the fashion industry evolved?
Definitely!! People have moved from Western looks to appreciating a more ethnic look. People are demanding locally made garments. One of the reasons that many of my clients are repeat clients is that all my clothes are made in Kenya. If you put your product out there, you must first believe in it, know it fully, love it and have passion for it. Then people will like it.
Why did you decide to start a fashion design school?
Young designers used to come to my workshop and they would ask a lot of questions about the industry. I would give them a small test. A lot of them looked very lost. I felt that they lacked exposure especially when it comes to design. I did this for two to three years and once again I saw a need for a fashion school in Kenya.
How has the journey been since you opened the school?
I started with one student, and I was the one who was sponsoring her. We had four lecturers. I was encouraged that I should not give up on my vision. In a year, we had 10 students. Currently we have about 80 students.
Is it necessary for someone to go to school to study fashion design or it is inborn?
There is no way you will go to a dentist who learnt his trade on YouTube. There has to be some type of certification. There has to be an academic part within you. Fashion is involving. You have to understand fabrics and patterns, illustrations, how to use a machine and the process of being a fashion designer. When you know something better than your tailor then it makes work easier. When you employ a tailor, you should know what you need to execute a design.
What is that thing you look for before a student is admitted to the school?
Passion first. The students might not have done very well in school but they must have passion. We do ask them to write an essay as to why they want to join the school.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming designers?
Make research your business partner. The second thing, you need to know your product. Understand it. What are you giving to the nation? What are you creating for the nation? Learn how to brand. When you become a brand, people come to you. Understand what is happening today.
What quotes do you live by?
Proverbs 22:29, do you see a man who excelled in his work, he will stand before Kings, he will not stand before unknown men.