By Vandana Prakash Nair
For the twenty Kenyan female fashion designers participating in SITA’s Mitreeki Fashion Incubator Programme (MFIP), February and March were months of hard work and self-discovery. Launched in January 2019, and delivered by KikoRomeo founder and lead designer, Ms Ann McCreath, the goal of the ten month MFIP is to help Kenyan women fashion designers develop design, business and marketing skills. While the January module focused on defining Brand DNA, the February and March modules zoomed in on the practicalities of fashion entrepreneurship; taking the participants out of the classroom and into the factories.
MFIP’s Feburary module centred on how to design a cohesive collection. Participants learnt how to create original designs, developed their drawing skills, increased their knowledge of fabric; and calculated how to price their products correctly. In March, they compiled a sourcing directory of reliable suppliers to procure materials at the best quality and price points. Sourcing is a particular challenge for small businesses which require high quality inputs but are limited in the quantities they are able to purchase.
During the two months, participants made a series of field visits to various factories, including to one manufacturing high-end leather products; another producing African fabrics and cloths such as Kikoi, Khanga and Kitenge; and even to a high-tech facility, which provides training in industrial machinery for design (e.g. 3D printing; automated machining; wood and metal working).
Commenting on the field visits, Ms Ann McCreath said, “By linking designers to manufactueres we are boosting the potential of the designers to scale up and enabling them to have better profit margins.”
Participants found the field visits to be particularly helpful for sourcing materials and increasing their understanding of support and supplies available locally. Ms Angela Kimani, Ranks Leather, described the visits to fabric companies as “eye-opening”.
Lorna Abwonji of Mia Mara Creations, found the sessions very practical, “…especially the factory visits, which helped me see what is available for use and to source in bulk. Usually, as an individual, it is hard to access these factories so the field visits have been helpful.”
Participants have even put together a wish list of factories and businesses that they would like to visit in the coming months!
Building community beyond classroom activities, participants have formed a WhatsApp group, which allows them to share contacts and give each other advice. Through the programme, participants are slowly discovering their strengths and passions; and they are finding ways to form partnerships, to take advantage of their different skills and contacts for group buying and to increase sales.
In the words of Ms Elsie Achieng of Glamourville by Elsie, “Thanks to this programme, I now know my place in the entire fashion ecosystem. I see my strengths clearly and I cannot wait to explore them!”
As mentorship is a key component of the programme, Ms McCreath continues her individual mentoring sessions, taking a personal interest in the progress of each participant, providing guidance and practical support where necessary.
According to Ms. Magdaline Wanjohi, Director, Queens & Kings of Fashion, “The Mitreeki Fashion Incubator Programme has added so much value to my business. The seeds of this mentorship will grow my business to a high-end brand. One day we will make a mark in the global fashion market!”
We at SITA are looking forward to sharing more updates on the progress being made by the fashion entrepreneurs in the coming months. SITA recently launched a similar traning in Ethiopia, the Mitreeki Fashion (Design) and Mentoring (MFAM) programme – so watch this space!