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Mentorship and Tutorials

5 tips for success from established Kenyan designers (Part I)

We are noting some similarities among the creatives, who have successfully overcome their challenges and made a mark in Kenyan, African and global creative scenes.
5 tips for success from established Kenyan designers (Part I)
On the photo Fashion Designer Deepa Dosaja with her hand-painted one-of-a-kind linen blouse.


It’s been an exciting journey collecting stories of passion-in-fashion from our creatives, both well-recognized and aspiring artists and designers. Each of the story can be easily turned into a novel with dramatic ups and downs, tears of joy and despair, challenges, victories, love, and hate. And maybe one day we will turn our work into a book or even a movie script. We are just not sure yet if this will be a mystery “Where are my seven couture dresses?”, a drama “A broken sole”, or a children’s book “A life of a coconut.”

But as our “book” fills up with stories, we are noting some similarities among the creatives, who have successfully overcome their challenges and made a mark in Kenyan, African and global creative scenes. Surely, everyone’s journey is different. Yet, we feel that sharing some wisdom from the generation of trailblazers, who currently define the image of Kenya for the rest of the world, is never a bad thing. We surely learned a thing or two. So, here are the five “tips” that we noticed thus far:

  1. Know your basics -- If you are creating a garment for a human body, you need to understand both the garment and the body. Surely, a female body is more complex for a designer than a male body; but even male bodies are not all the same. It is important to gain at least some theoretical background, and not necessarily by graduating from an expensive college in the UK – sources like Coursera, Udemy, Domestika and even YouTube offer plenty of courses and material for the curious minds. The same sources can be good for going beyond basics because life-long-learning is sure an “in” thing for successful designers.
  2. Be prepared to do the dirty work – We often see in the movies a glorified image of a fashion designer’s daily routine, from a morning creative session to lunch meetings with celebrities and evening fittings with top-models. Yet, this is only a small portion of a designer’s work. A designer like any other business owner has to be prepared to do the dirty work – clean the floor in their studio on a rainy day, sit in endless meetings with suppliers, apologize to unhappy clients, hire and fire employees, cut-stitch-repair, redo unsuccessful pieces over and over again, and so on. Every aspect of a creative business makes a difference between success and failure – even the mud smudges on the shop’s floor. A creative, who is not ready to do the dirty work for their business might never get to enjoy the creative process either.
  3. Know the trends – It is important for any creative to be up-to-speed on what else is going on in their industry. No fashion designer would ever succeed if they disenfranchise from the global fashion world and live in a bubble limited to the walls of their studio. The global trend-setters define the vision and expectations on “creative etiquette” for generations of clients. Those trends are like words and structures in a language – we all are free to use them in our own way, but using outdated, illiterate, irrelevant language make you sound just that – outdated, illiterate and yes, irrelevant.
  4. But don’t follow the trends unless they are aligned with your interests and the philosophy/values of your business. Just because retail giants in their chase for obscene margins keep requesting polyurethane shoes, does not mean that you must jeopardize your belief in sustainable, slow fashion. Just because the fashion world lives from FW season to SS season, does not mean you have to release two dramatically different collections a year. Successful Kenyan designers have their own signature style and their own pace; they refine and update both, but they don’t twist their brands beyond recognition to please each whim of the day. A focus on lasting and timeless helps building brand identities that make history.
  5. Choose a role model – It is critical for a young creative to be inspired, and there is nothing better for inspiration than a strong role model, preferably from the space where a designer aspires to be. A role model challenges you, forces you to learn and experiment, inspires you to be better every day. You do not have to mimic what they do, but just like with global trends – role models give you a sense of direction and an image of success to guide your journey.

 This is all, folks! We share more as we learn more, and let’s learn and grow together.