An Interview With Leah Wanjiru Co-founder and Creative Designer at Tai Designs Africa
Leah Wanjiru is a young fashion designer who is passionate about Made in Kenya clothes, she is a fashion lover who embraces color and prints when we talk of fabrics co-founder and creative designer at Tai Designs.
Tai Designs Africa is a clothing brand that I founded with my Partner Wambui Mwaura. Tai mainly focuses on dressing people for occasions such as weddings, traditional weddings, and corporate events. We also customize summer/ swimwear and accessories such as hats and bags. Recently we have also started doing custom made clothes for our clients.
Oscar Alochi: Can you describe Tai Designs Africa, the idea and concept as if I knew nothing about it or the market it is in?
Leah Wanjiru: Well, Tai Designs Africa is a product of passion, disappointments from local tailors, and curiosity all combined. I am one person who never gets satisfied with something basic.
So whenever I bought clothes I always had ideas of how I would do it better or differently. Of course given that I had no fashion education it was difficult to explain to my tailor exactly what I wanted.
End results? A spoilt dress and disappointed Leah. So with time the interest in fashion came up and enrolled in college where I learned both tailoring and fashion illustration.
OA: What were you doing before Tai Designs Africa, and what motivated you to start the business?
LW: I have always been the girl in the office. At the time I decide to start Tai Designs Africa I was an assistant accountant in an audit firm. The interest to monetize my interest and curiosity developed while I was still working there, I realized I did appreciate as much doing the same thing month in month out.
I wanted to be my own boss.
OA: What techniques do you use? Tell us about the process.
LW: I apply two techniques in my business. one involves sketching designs that I mainly get inspiration from movies and sourcing the fabrics, I then cut and sew the fabrics to bring the sketches to life. In most of such designs, I do wear them.
The second is where clients choose designs and they bring fabrics or I choose for them then we create their custom made outfits.
OA: How did you learn/master this technique and why do you use it?
LW: I did my research before setting up the business. The technique favors my line since the clothing industry is dynamic and has
There are seasons that clients wear mostly ready to wear and at times like December, they prefer custom made.
OA: What challenges did you face?
First, I struggled with getting my brand out there, Being so introverted and fearing to talk to strangers was not helping me either. Again when the clients
started rolling in, now pricing and clients running away with balances become another headache.
OA: How did the obstacles make you feel?
LW: In the beginning, I would say I got frustrated.
You know to a point I thought of making clothes to those clothes to me only. With time I mastered the art of handling clients to avoid such scenarios.
OA: What were your achievements?
LW: We are proud to have showcased in one of the biggest fashion shows. The JW show. We also showcased in the Women World show which aims at improving upcoming women entrepreneurs, also last year we did our very first collection
OA: Favorite moments?
LW: Walking in after our collection showcased at the JW show and the shows thereafter are moments engraved in my heart.
OA: How do you get dressed in the morning?
LW: Really depends on the mood, any day qualifies for anything
OA: What’s your take on the Kenya fashion industry?
LW: Right now the Kenyan fashion industry is taking a huge positive change with people appreciating locally produced clothing and the very skilled
tailors around, I think it’s a matter of time and people will be wearing made in Kenya.
The youth have also embraced Kenyan fabrics and with the help of talented designers, the future looks promising.
OA: How different is the Kenya fashion industry compared to East Africa and Africa’s fashion industry at large?
LW: One thing about Kenya is that citizens and majorly fashion lovers are so diverse with color and designs. Unlike East Africa where most nations are limited to vitenge’s, Kenyan the industry is diverse.
OA: Any future collaboration with Kenyan or International fashion designers?
LW: I always admire works done by a Kenyan designer, Remy a great designer.
OA: If you were given the opportunity to work with a local or international fashion designer who will you love to work with?
LW: I would go International and work with Kollins Carter. He makes extraordinary pieces.
OA: What are your thoughts on fashion in Africa?
Africa has very talented designers and skilled tailors, the challenge is the machinery for the production
OA: What has changed during this period of Covid-19
LW: Mostly the frequency of people buying or ordering clothes. With most people indoors due to lockdown and others retrenched from their workplaces, finances have become scarce.
OA: How has Tai Designs Africa adopted the new technology virtual fashion show during and after the Coronavirus pandemic?
LW: We have adopted the representation of our products online mainly doing indoor shoots and posting on our social media platforms.
OA: How are African fashion designers influencing fashion in the western world?
LW: African designers have embraced the production of great pieces with fabrics that represent Africa. The likes of vitenge, kente, and Maasai shukas. These fabrics bring color which is well embraced in the western world.
OA: What can the Kenyan fashion industry learn from the western world?
LW: Mostly what color goes with what skin tones. I find it well intriguing. Also making our own prints would save us a lot of importation taxes.
OA: Over the last few years have you noticed any significant changes with the African fashion trends?
LW: Great changes, From chasing Western trends to creating our own designs and making them trend.
OA: When dealing with Africa is it important for the fashion world to be ethical and socially responsible, and put in place strong corporate social responsibility governance?
LW: Yes, it is very important to put in some policies. Africa has well-grounded roots and people of different
The only way to preserve our culture is by having policies in place.
OA: Tell us about The JW Show or Kenyan Fashion week and your experience at the Show?
LW: JW Show is a great platform for designers and to showcase. Fashion lovers also get the chance to walk the red carpet with their beautiful designs. I think we should have more of such shows in a year where we get to celebrate fashion.
OA: Where can we find your designs?
LW: We are at Sawa mall 3 rd Floor C20 and also online on our social media platforms.
OA: Share with the audience your social media platforms or a website.
LW: Our social media platforms are
OA: What does eCommerce mean to you and your business?
LW: It’s resourceful for our brand, Most of our clients are online customers.
OA: Do you think eCommerce is important for African fashion designers that are trying to get recognized and reach a global market?
LW: With technology making the world to become a global village, eCommerce is one of the best to capture the global market and let the world know about what we offer.
OA: How does your strategy change when running an online store to an offline store?
LW: Dealing with virtual clients is easier since they buy products at the listed prices and get them delivered. Offline clients can be sometimes negotiating.
OA: Where do you see African fashion in the next 5 to 10 years?
LW: I dream of a continent that will be doing a production of not only clothing but also textiles which will be ready for exportation too.
OA: What 5 pieces of advice would you give to young African fashion designers wanting to enter the fashion industry?
LW: My advice
- Be clear about your brand what clients you target.
- Be ready to start small.
- Always wear your brand with pride.
- Take time to master the art and then monetize it
- No one will offer a seat in the industry, come with your own and take the space.
OA: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LW: Thank you for the interview. The questions exhaustively covered everything.