Tengevuli, is a fashion house popularly known for its expressive umbrellas. Its founders Isabel and David had a chat with Lucy Robi.
How did the story start?
Isabell usually travels around the continent picking up fabric. I, on the other hand, was in between jobs at an IT company and was not really feeling it. One day, we saw an umbrella that was over Sh10,000 and we thought we could make the same at a fairer price. That is how it started.
If you have been keen, you will notice there are millions of umbrellas on sale out there because of mass production in China. This has also affected quality which means every rainy season you have to acquire a new umbrella. We are trying to change the narrative by giving you an umbrella that is more personalised and of good quality
Can you define the uniqueness of your umbrellas and why they are so special?
Our umbrellas are made of the Ankara fabric. They come already with an expression. They are not dull. Most umbrellas you will find are either black or in block colours. Our umbrellas being made of expressive African print fabric, they are appealing to the eye as there is an abstract nature to it. The other thing that makes our umbrella unique is they are 100 per cent handmade in Kenya, from the framework to the coating of the fabric. We are currently working on designing our own frame with locally available resources.
How important is maintaining full production of your umbrellas in Kenya, and not just the finishing aspect, to you and your brand?
First, like most sub-Saharan countries, we face a bulging segment that lacks employment opportunities. For us making them here gives us ability to employ ourselves and others. I can say I have employed people I grew up with, tailors, fundis that help me come up with a finished product. In that sense, we help people find employment and provide a source of income for their families.
Is the lack of an available trained workforce a problem for you, as I imagine some of the skills required, such as handle shaping and mounting, take years to master, and is it difficult to find trainees?
It is difficult sometimes to maintain a quality workforce. We are trying to partner with institutions that can train people for us. We are now reaching an international audience who expect certain standards in terms of quality. The challenge it to get young guys that want to do this. Most young guys only want to design and not the actual work.
How important is the quality of your raw materials in creating your umbrellas, and is sourcing these materials an issue?
Maintaining a proper line with the Kitenge is difficult. As you know, most are produced in Asia and are readily available locally. It’s difficult to get a continuity pattern with the Ankara fabric because they are only available in seasons. When it comes to the quality, I can’t really say that is a problem. The technology of coating is what we are really trying to perfect. We also have a challenge of making a smaller umbrella because we can only make one size which has been fast-moving.
Could you briefly guide us through the production process?
It starts from sourcing for fabrics, then to cutting into various sizes, sewing and mounting onto the frames and finally coating.
What has been your most popular umbrella?
The patchwork umbrella. It is the most expressive and many people are appealed by it.
Do you also create bespoke designs and special commissions, and if so, have you had any interesting requests? What’s the most unusual or strange umbrella design request you’ve had?
We once made an outdoor umbrella. This was out of our comfort zone as we usually make small umbrellas. This was a three-metre-wide umbrella. That was interesting because we had to factor the sturdiness and the longevity of it.
What’s are your future goals for Tengevuli?
We are trying to move from just being umbrella connoisseurs to a fully-fledged fashion house maybe in the next five years.
Tengevuli: Website: www.tengevuli.com email: [email protected] Facebook: Tengevuli Instagram: @Tengevuli