Chebet Mutai, 35, is the founder and proprietor of Wazawazi which produces leather bags and accessories that are influenced by African culture. She shares her startup journey:
I’m an economist and administrator. I am also a mother and a creative person who is passionate advocate of development work. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Education, Economics and, French from Kenyatta University. Therefore, naturally, I was expected to be a teacher or an economist. Nevertheless, I proceeded to work for The World Bank as an economist. However, I still felt the need to make a social impact on society by telling the African story in a positive way. I had to make a sustainable change that will steer thousands of lives in the right direction and reduce the culture of dependency.
I started Wazawazi Co in 2012. At first, it was just a cloth-making business and I would make African customised outfits for my clients. Gradually, I started feeling like an ordinary tailor because my creativity wasn’t being fully utilised. There was a time that I was on a train in another country when a stranger remarked that I had a beautiful ring. I admit the ring was unique and it portrayed African authenticity. In the end, I decided to give her the ring as a souvenir. That’s when I realised that authentic African products act as a positive brand ambassador to the continent that has often been painted in a bad light.
Initially, when I started the company, my main objective was to generate affirmative change not only from my rural area but also in the continent as a whole. Through the authentic luxury brand, I was determined to portray the rich cultural heritage of Africa.
The products are produced ethically. I blend the unique handiwork of craftsmen and women from various backgrounds with my creativity. I merge them with some of the best leathers from Kenya and I come up with an international masterpiece which celebrates the continent’s rich diversity.
Wazawazi Co is dedicated towards a sustainable venture in that the communities that are involved in it should be able to power and enable various beneficial undertakings that they are involved in.
The brand’s main ethics are geared towards reaching the magnificent culture of Africa to the world. By ethically sourcing the leather and producing the bags, they create essential jobs in Kenya. In addition, our value chain follows the strict consumer goals of today’s client.
What happened next?
I landed my first customers from the clothes business and, gradually, the magnificent work that Wazawazi was doing spread through word of mouth to potential clients.
I am quite versatile therefore, I have managed to juggle my professional career, Wazawazi and my family successfully.
I outsource my raw materials from some of the best tanneries in Kenya. The company follows a competitive manufacturing process that ensures that we have high quality products. I have always been committed to creating jobs for the local market and I ensure that my manufacturing process allows this.
Although Wazawazi doesn’t produce custom-made products, I realised that the creative process of coming up with our merchandise cannot be fully compensated. Generally, designing is process-oriented and creatives should avoid duplicating each other’s work.
I believe that we should be responsible while communicating to the world about our continent. The African luxury goods company aims at sending a positive image of Africa to the world.
Running a startup:
In this kind of business, automation is critical and one should learn how to specialise from the beginning and keep adjusting as per the needs of your clients. Wazawazi’s growth has been slow but steady and having a strategy right from the beginning has propelled me.
Wazawazi offers its clients all kinds of bags and accessories such as shopping bags, tote bags, travel bags, handbags, sling bags, clutch bags, and gym bags. We also have a men’s vanity kit which is a utility bag for nail clippers, cuticle pusher, nail file and tweezers among others. Additionally, we also design cardholders, wallets, and functional bags for men. We create accessories which include chequebook holders, ladies wallets, coasters, folios, wash bags, organizers, among others.
My team has expanded considerably through the years and I have always focused on hiring the right talent for the right job. Hiring a professional workforce clearly reduces the tendency of wasting resources. Paying the employees on time and giving them due credit for their creative work is a great incentive and it should never be underestimated.
Our products reach out to open-minded individuals who appreciate all facets of humanity. I have always held the notion that diversity is every individual’s strength and it creates a unique style for each one of us.
Where I am now:
Our products are made of authentic Kenyan leather, fabric and hides. Our clients should note that although our products contain hides, the length of their hair colour, pattern and shading is different in each product.
Our merchandise also comes in a range of colours and designs, which is inspired by the creativity and authenticity that exists in every individual.
Wazazwazi has now come to a point where they are looking for serious investors who don’t want equity. Additionally, they should be innovative parties who are looking to create value and not finances only.
Never underestimate the power of networks. Learn how to associate higher and you will surely see the returns especially in your business and career. Any entrepreneur should never be a creature of habit, they should learn how to change their routine in order to satisfy their clients and advance in their business.
Nowadays, online markets play a big role in businesses, thus it’s imperative that you have a clean digital footprint.
I believe in the power of process maps in the creative industry. They ultimately assist you in organising the design process and manufacturing methodology. Development work has taught me to mobilise and tap creative energy in order to transform and organise it into something tangible.