Fashion business jumpstarted by culture shock in Ghana
By Esther Dianah | May 11th 2021
Zaizun Fauz Ogendo, a fashion designer and civil instruction engineer, is the founder and CEO of ZaAfrika Fabrics, an award-winning fashion house in Nairobi.
Fauz says the name of her business - Za Afrika - means ‘from Africa.’
The elite fashion house located along Nairobi’s Ngong’ Road is where Fauz and her team of creatives come up with eye-catching designs for all types of events - corporate, elegant, bridal - whatever the event, Fauz says they have it.
Interestingly, ZaAfrika Fabrics was born from the most unexpected circumstance. Fauz told CityBiz that she was posted to a construction project in Ghana to do some engineering work.
However when she landed foot in the West African country, she was dumbfounded by the flashy outfits she saw.
“The first thing I saw was the patterns, colours and prints on everyone, it was a culture shock for me,” she says.
This is what inspired the birth of the prestigious Za Afrika Designs.
“I started as a fabric seller, and I felt like it was time for me to dive into it completely,” she says.
Back home, Fauz says she built a client base, although at first she sold readymade clothes.
“I was more of a stylist to my clients, because I used to really love fashion but considered myself more of a fashion stylist than a fashion designer,” she says. But sooner than she knew, a tragic event gave her the final push to venture into the business.
“I lost my first child and spiralled into depression. During this time, fashion gave me peace and gave me something to hold on to. It would take my mind out of the sorrow of my loss,” she says.
The self taught fashion guru says her training in engineering design, made it easy for her to navigate her fashion skills.
“Engineering drawing is more of transforming 2D into 3D structures which is the same as fashion and design where you have patterns on the paper you transform from 2D to 3D.”
Her Za Afrika line has specialized in events and special occasions aesthetics.
“My target is events, so I get to deal with people’s special milestones like birthdays and weddings. These are very special occasions for people so if it makes them happy, I am happy.”
Like every other business, Za Afrika has seen its own share of shortcomings: “For me the challenges keep changing, and starting up in the industry was perfectly challenging. There was a lot I didn’t know and there are people who don’t want to share information with you information.”
She points out that one of her biggest challenge is pricing, because she could import expensive luxury brands from Ghana but clients start comparing it to local fabric.
Finding her niche and target client was unique, it took her time to convince people and let them adapt to the fact that “you don’t want to turn up to an event looking like everyone else,” and she found her niche in events.
Zaitun says in designing outfits, it is easier to deal with men, because for men, “their outfits are standard and they don’t love a lot of detail, with an exception of very very few who go on top with colors.
“However going with minimalistic approach on men’s outfit, their outfits need very quality fabric and very perfect stitching. It is clean work, because it is very simple.”
Since the inception of her business in 2017, Zaitun says she has realized huge profits despite the fact that the first two years were challenging because she worked while outside the country.
“When I came back to Kenya in September 2018, I started interacting with my clients and people built confidence in my work.”
Zaitun has presented her work internationally, with most of her clients from as far as New Zealand.
“Much as we create African designs, we want to mix it with a modern touch, so looking out for modern trends is important,” she says adding that the internet and social media has been of tremendous help.
Prices of her outfits vary widely depending on the fabric, the complexity of the design, the time spent, and workmanship.
The simplest fabric costs Sh6,500 so dresses could cost up to Sh150,000. The price range for wedding gowns starts at Sh40,000 to Sh150,000.
For men’s outfits, senator suits cost Sh10,000, shirts between Sh4,500 and Sh5,500. Suits range from Sh18,500 to Sh30,000.
Fauz uses a wide range of materials including silk, cotton, Ankara, lace, bridal satin, linen and sequin lace.
“Ankara is very versatile so we can use so many other fabrics with it,” she says addingthat the biggest lesson she has learnt is being passionate about what she does.
“Sometimes you just put money aside and give it your bestto make the outfit look good,” she says.
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