Achieng Melisa Nyawade, 31, the brains behind The Achie Otigo fashion line speaks about her love for bold fashion and surviving bankruptcy.
I studied industrial design at the University of Nairobi. However, I have always loved fashion. My love was sparked by my mother who had a sewing machine at home and would sew clothes as a hobby. She taught me how to make clothes from a young age and, consequently, by the time I was in high school, I was making my own outfits. This continued until I was in university where I got my first customers.
Throughout university, as I studied towards my degree (which had nothing to do with fashion), my clientele continued to grow. So, although I knew I wanted to make clothes for a living, I decided to still finish my degree. After graduation, while my classmates were looking for work, I started my own business.
What happened next:
I have always been a rebel and so I always knew from the beginning that I did not want to work for someone. I get bored easily and working for someone means doing everything according to the employer’s style. So I registered my business, The Achie Otigo, in 2012 and started business officially in 2013 with my savings of Sh. 8,000.
Running a start-up:
When I first began, I did the sewing alone but as my orders grew, I hired my first tailor in 2014 and another in 2015. By 2016, I had three permanent tailors. When the orders increased, especially during occasions like wedding season, I hired extra help temporarily. My business grew quickly to the point where I was even dressing public figures and getting orders from abroad.
Nevertheless, although my business seemed like it was growing, in 2016 my business went bankrupt. My shop at Diamond Plaza was closed and everything confiscated.
It was a dark period of my life. Looking back now I know why it happened, firstly, I did not have any mentors to guide me, it was very experimental on my end.
My business had grown by leaps and bounds because, from the very beginning, my clothes were unique, bold and stood out in the market. I had assumed that was enough to always push my business forward. I would also quickly give out my clothes for free hoping it would bring back returns but I was not strategic about it.
Designing and making clothes is not only my gift, it is my passion; I could not stay out of it for too long. After a year of self-evaluation and reflection, I was back in 2017. However, I was forced to start from scratch and to be more strategic with how I ran my business this time round. What it took me to do between 2012 and 2016, I was able to accomplish in two years.
Where I am now:
We design clothes that depict each client’s vibe for weddings, ruracios, red carpet events, music videos among other special occasions. I come from a legacy of tailors. Apart from my mother, my aunt and grandmother also made clothes. I am aiming to build a grand legacy.
Originally, my business focused only on avant garde couture pieces – pieces that were bold and stood out – but because not everyone is comfortable in such pieces, now I also do ready-to-wear pieces. In fact, I have two Instagram pages which feature both types of clothes; @achieotigo for ready-to-wear pieces and @achieotigoke_ture for those who want bold pieces.
Additionally, apart from selling my clothes, I still give out my clothes but this time I am more strategic about it. I give out clothes pro bono for charitable events or when I have done my research and I am assured I will get something back. I also do collaborative work with stylists, photographers and make-up artists.
Lastly, I lease out my clothes to stylists. These days most public personalities have stylists. For example, if the client I am working with is a stylist for a TV show and they have a good budget, I will lease my clothes from Sh. 1,000-3,500 or even more, depending on the budget for the show or personality.
So far, this year has been good. I have four tailors and apart from selling my clothes, I have worked with Akothee, Susan Kaittany and Letoya Johnstone. I have also collaborated with accomplished photographer Murage Mirimi.
I am working on creating a website where customers can buy clothes directly. I can’t wait to see what the year holds for me.
Don’t start a business you are not passionate about. Do your inner work: personal growth has a direct impact on your business. I have found that knowing who I am and what I truly want has helped me create a signature style for my brand. So even though the urge to copy what others are doing may be strong, resist and stay true to yourself. Non-conformism will lead you down a path of experiences that will catapult your growth. Always be yourself.