Neema Nkatha is the founder and CEO of Ohana Swimwear, which recently debuted in the London Fashion Week. She chats with us about the secret behind her success
Why did you come up with Ohana Swimwear?
They say necessity is the mother of invention. That is how Ohana came about. In 2017, I was on the hunt for comfortable, unique and beautiful swimwear that would be an expression of myself as I was travelling around Europe.
I did not find a swimwear that met my expectations so I designed one for myself. Slowly, my friends noticed it and started making orders.
Eventually, I realised there was a huge demand and I decided to register a business to meet the demand.
What does Ohana mean?
Ohana means family. My friends and family have been a pillar of support during my business journey, thus, I saw it fit to name my business Ohana so that every person who wears my swimsuits will feel like part of a bigger family.
It has been about two years now since you registered your business. How has the journey been?
It has been a tough but enjoyable journey. I have had my share of disappointments, from Covid-19 delaying some processes to events not happening as planned.
Doing business really needs a thick skin. This experience has challenged me personally and forced me to grow in many ways.
As much as we have had tough times as Ohana, we have also celebrated many achievements.
What are some of the milestones since you started?
I started running this business during the Covid-19 pandemic. We released the kids wear and Safari Collection during the pandemic.
We got more partners such as the London Fashion Week, Mr and Miss World Kenya and WCR. Icons such as Lupita Nyong’o noticed our brand and promoted it. All during the pandemic.
You made your debut in the London Fashion Week. What does it feel like?
It is exhilarating for my team and I. This has been one of my biggest dreams and I am grateful for this opportunity. I believe consistency, courage and passion have brought us to where we are.
We have learnt the importance of showing up every day, whether it’s a good or bad day and giving your best.
The hours, sweat, tears and prayers you put in will eventually pay off and opportunities will come knocking at your door. We have also learnt the importance of networking and taking advantage of all platforms that present themselves.
What kind of a person are you?
In one word, I am adventurous. I love a good challenge, whether big or small. My friends and family mean the world to me and I love spending time around them.
I would rather spend my free time reading a good book or watching a good TV show.
Did you learn fashion and design or are you self-taught? All I know is that I am living my dream... I am so passionate about what I do.
I have always had a deep understanding and love for fashion. Initially, I wanted to work and eventually start my own hedge fund.
How has your work evolved over time?
Initially, we were not all inclusive, but now we have expanded into all-inclusive swimwear products. I think that is evolving.
Who are your clients?
We have different clients, depending on swimwear categories.
How will the fact that your brand has got international recognition affect your prices?
It won’t. We strive to be a quality yet affordable brand. Thankfully, most of our customers are comfortable with our prices.
How about your strategy?
We have evolved and grown over time. Our strategy will definitely improve.
What are some of the challenges you faced while starting up?
Financing was one of the biggest challenges. I would advise startups to keep on knocking as many doors as they can, and to believe in their vision so that rejections do not discourage them.
What are some of the lessons you have learnt in your entrepreneurship journey?
Consistency and showing up are key. Also, taking bold steps that could propel your business.
Does your approach differ when designing swimwear for men and women?
It slightly differs because designing men’s swimwear does not require as much input as women swimwear. Women’s outfits are complicated.
How has your work been received locally?
Kenyans are becoming more receptive to local brands. Our customers love our designs and are very receptive to new designs, judging by the feedback we receive.
What are you fascinated about right now?
I am currently inspired by creative artists.
What motto do you live by?
Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Do you think it is possible to have true and original inventions in fashion?
Of course! There is so much creativity that one can conceptualise in the mind.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Moi Educational Centre and Le Pic for my primary education. I later went to Pangani Girls for high school. I did my bachelor’s degree at the United States International University - Africa.
Not that I can think of, but, I have learned a lot of financial lessons along the way.
How did your parents react to your choice of career?
Like any parent, they had concerns about venturing into an uncharted business territory in Kenya.
However, they remained supportive. I come from an entrepreneurial family, so my parents have offered a lot of advice, networks and support throughout my journey.
I believe they are proud of me. They sing Ohana wherever they go.