I often hear from local Kenyans that Kenyans, especially who grew up in Kenya, don’t really prefer Made-in-Kenya brands when in comes to some design and fashion. Possible reasons for that, according to those Kenyans, include: 1) Kenyans don’t have trust in the quality of locally made products (this is partially due local companies also need to compete with other cheap options including made-in-Asia products and second-hand clothing), and 2) Urban Kenyans do want to be a part of global trend so do not necessarily support local brands.
Nonetheless, there are a number of brands that are leading a new movement of creating and promoting made-in-Kenya / made-for-Kenya brands. I met CEOs of some of those brands and visited their workshops. Let me introduce three here.
Vivo is sort of like Lulu Lemon. They develop activewear using colorful jersey fabrics and produce comfortable garments for women. I would say they have more dresses and daily wear than Lulu Lemon. They now have 8 retail locations in key malls across Nairobi in addition to their own online retail store.
The founder Wandia is a former international development expert who worked for the World Bank and other organizations in multiple countries including the UK, Mozambique, Sudan, Uganda, and the US before starting her own brand in Nairobi. She sources fabrics mostly from China as stretchy fabrics are not locally available, and houses her own workshop to produce all her garments.
She is also passionate about working with other creative entrepreneurs in the region: She sources jewelry from Kigali while also does capsule collections with young local designers like Wambui Kibue.
2.Sand & Storm – Urban Safari canvas/leather bag brand, CEO: Mark Stephenson
I first met Mark in Ethiopia at an expo/trade fair called Origin Africa which promotes and facilitates businesses around made-in-Africa fashion/lifestyle products. Mark is a Scottish entrepreneur who came to Nairobi, fell in love with the then-safari tent company, and invested his own capital to manage and build this Sand & Storm brand.
I visited his office/workshop and caught up with him in Nairobi. He’s quite ambitious about growing his brand inside Kenya, across the region, and overseas. He also sees potential in the growth of Kenya’s leather industry as there will soon be opening a leather park in the industrial area in Nairobi.
3.KikoRomeo, – High-end fashion brand, MD: Ann McCreath
KikoRomeo is one of the household names in Kenya when it comes to fashion. Founder Ann is a Scottish fashion design professional who was trained in Italy and worked in Spain. While she’s the designer, the brand is really about Kanya and Africa, and she’s been building Kenyan/African brand for the past two decades.
Ann also actively involved in supporting other African designers, and also organizes bi-annual fashion/art showcase events featuring multiple designers and photographers across the Africa continent.
Each CEO has his or her own challenge, but they both have the vision to create globally-renown, successful Kenyan brands, and they not only do that by building their own brands, but by collaborating with other local creative designers and artists. Such collaborative efforts are the key to create a larger ecosystem to build strong brands that represent Kenya and Africa.
At the business conference during TICAD VI, I heard one of the speakers mention that Japan’s investment in Africa means Japan’s next phase of the globalization. Whatever he actually meant by that, that statement itself to me was an interesting one.
So the question is: Can “Africa” globalize Japan?
I put the quotation marks on Africa because it doesn’t refer to the geographic area, specific region/countries, or people. “Africa” in this context is more of a political and economic keyword, a certain mindset or a perspective that can potentially lead to more specific discussions. And “Africa” IS about global and diversity.
To be honest, I personally don’t necessarily want to become a bridging agent between Africa and Japan. I rather want to become a bridging agent between African and the rest of the world. And we do it by creating a globally competitive brand. And we do it by working with other Africans and people from other nationalities creating a diverse team.
And by doing so, by NOT being a Japanese representative, but rather one of the global players, I believe that I may be able to help Japan become more globally minded.
(By the way, the reason why I continue to write every blog post both in Engish and Japan is also because of this belief even though I sometimes feel like giving up as this takes almost twice time and effort!)