Barbara Kiama founder and Creative Head Designer at Barbara Accessories and her passion for Persons with albinism
Who is Barbara Kiama?
Barbara Kiama is a passionate, ambitious and resilient Fashion Designer, Fashion Lecturer and self-taught jewellery designer with ten years’ experience in the Kenyan Fashion Industry. I believe in building networks in the fashion industry, mentoring young designers and letting them learn from my mistakes so when they start their own businesses, they work smart not hard.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a fashion designer?
I loved watching the old TNT movies growing up. I was about 10 years old but I was obsessed with the 50’s and 60’s fashion. It was so cool compared to the 90’s fashion honestly speaking. I remember trying to sketch the A-line strapless dresses that were always on TNT. A few years later, I started ripping my old clothes and trying to redo them. When I got to high school I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. The best outfit I ever made doing the school holidays was a pink and beige destiny’s child kind of outfit made out of two of my bathing towels.
Which Year did your start your brand Barbara Accessories and Why?
I founded Barbara Accessories right after graduation from fashion school back in 2008. Unfortunately, I couldn’t further my studies abroad due to the lack of finances and fashion scholarships are extremely rare so I decided to keep myself busy and that’s how I started Barbara Accessories.
Some of Barbara Accessories Collections you can buy them here www.barbara-accessories.com
Why did you choose this career?
I had the passion, I was good at it but most importantly, I identified the markets need for custom made products. Back in 2008, the brand begun as a custom made jewelry brand. It all started with a necklace I made back in fashion school. I showed it to my close family members who showed it to their friends who then wanted a replica. A few months later, they’d give me one of their necklaces or a pair of earrings they’d want replicated in a different colours and I had to figure it out, which I did! My custom made services expanded from necklaces and earrings to bracelets, belts and eventually custom made apparel.
Tell us about your line. What was your inspiration for this collection?
My clothing line, emphasizes on Simplicity, Sophistication and Functionality. It’s the type of outfit you can wear to work on a Monday, attend a cocktail on a Thursday, run your errands on a Saturday and wear to church on a Sunday.
My new collection is called Independent. It’s about the biggest obstacle we face in life, which is People. We have to leave and work with malicious people who want to prove that they are in a position of power and can inconvenience you whenever they like. We all know people who’ve been fired from their jobs not because they’re not qualified but because someone in a higher position wanted to prove a point that they are the Boss. My collection was inspired by a cancer patient called Rose, who was wrongfully fired from her job and had to redo her cancer treatment all over again and as we all know, cancer treatments are very expensive. Because Rose is a genuinely nice person who’s built contacts within the cancer space in Kenya, she’s not paying a single cent of the treatment. When the voice in the video add says, no matter who you are or what you’ve gone through, I’m taking to Rose and everyone else who’ve gone through a similar situation. Whether you’ve lost your job, you have to deal with stupid office politics, you’ve had to resign from your job for whatever reason, you have to learn to leave on your feet and not on your knees. Life doesn’t get any easier, you get tougher.
How is working in fashion today different from when you started out?
The industry today is very competitive. We have young Kenyan designers with incredible work who cannot be overlooked, which is a good thing. The more we are, the more competitive we become, the faster the Kenyan fashion industry grows. The market has also grow to appreciate Kenyan designers and African fashion over the last ten years which has led to an increase in job creation in the sector.
What do you think is the most beautiful accessory you’ve ever designed?
My most beautiful accessory is my Carol Stone Necklace inspired by one of my first clients called…..Carol. At the time, Carol just landed her first job and wanted a colourful necklace she could wear to work and that’s how we came up with the Carol Stone. It’s a very vibrant neckpiece yet very official made from bending different shades of the same colour.
Which competitor do you have the most respect for?
I have a lot of respect for Vee Fashion House Kenya. Her work is amazing! I would totally wear her anklets with a thigh high slit dress.
What role do you think social media plays in fashion today?
Today’s clientele are on social media actively looking at all things fashion related. From the latest fashion trends to where they can purchase them. As an entrepreneur, I actively use social media not only to market my brand but also to keep up with the market trends and identify what my competitors are up to. You cannot ignore social media as an entrepreneur especially now that more people are buying online from all over the world.
What was your biggest fear when going out and starting your own line?
The best thing about starting a business in your early twenties is you have nothing to lose because you have nothing to fear. I started with what I had and the business slowly grew to where it is today. I never compared my business to others nor did I try to do what other were doing, I simply stuck to my own lane and focused on Barbara Accessories. The moment you start comparing yourself to others and imitating them is when you’ll start second guessing yourself and that’s when fear kicks in.
What challenges do you face as fashion designer from East Africa?
My main challenge is trying to make a name for myself in the African fashion industry that is generally dominated by West African and South African fashion. East African designers are not known nor do we have a large number of fashion retailers from East Africa who will support their own.
What is your favorite part about being a fashion designer from Kenya?
My favorite part is getting a picture on whatsApp from a satisfied client who wore a Barbara Accessories product to work or at a function and got enough complements for the day. A satisfied client will always refer someone back to Barbara Accessories and that’s the best part.
What do you think about the Africa Fashion Industry, Do African designers support each other?
The African Fashion Industry is a force to be reckoned with in the global fashion industry. We have our own unique style and approach to fashion that cannot be ignored. It’s about our vibrant fabrics, our culture, the beautiful people of colour and curves.
Unfortunately, I do not know any African designers personally but I do believe there are those who support other designers it’s only we’ve not heard about it. I did not get to where I am in my career by myself, a few Kenyan designers helped me along the way and I would gladly do the same for others.
What’s the future of Africa Fashion in terms of design and growth?
We all know Africa is the next frontier. The African economy is steadily growing and 60% of Africans are below the age of 25, those are our future clientele. According to the Euro Monitor, African fashion is worth $31 Billion Dollars and it’s still growing. Today’s African appreciates products Made in Africa than ever before which is boosting the African economy.
In terms of Design, we’ll definitely see more advanced prints and fabrics. Currently, there is a growing trend of African prints on silk and chiffon. There are also those who are trying to combine African prints into athleisure. We’ll definitely see more of this trend on light and heavy weight fabric in future.
Name any 5 fashion accessory designer you know from Kenya?
Easy! Karay Murage, Kangadelic, Vee Fashion House Kenya, Wazi Wazi Kenya, Embody Accessories.
Where do you see yourself in 3 Years?
In three years, I intend to partner with two local, regional and international retailers to help market Barbara Accessories within their platforms. I also have plans to partner with vocational training centers in Kangemi to train the youth on the production of our jewellery pieces. Lastly, I intend to increase the number of students at my private jewellery classes at the Nairobi Art Centre.
What are your achievements?
Supporting people with Albinism through fashion over the last five years and seeing the impact it’s had in accepting people with Albinism in our society especially in the creative sector is my biggest achievement. I encourage African creative to continue supporting people with Albinism and help put an end to the ignorance in our society.
Clocking 10 years in the Fashion Industry is a BIG achievement. Running a business is not a walk in the park, I’ve seen people quit because of the number of obstacles in your way. I’m grateful for making it this far.
Finally, releasing two collections in 2018 equipped with a video add to mark 10 years in business has been a great accomplishment.
Where can we find your designs both locally and international?
You can find us at www.barbara-accessories.com The site caters for both the local and international market. We are also on social media as Barbara Accessories.
Any future plans to expand to other major cities across Kenya and Africa?
Yes, I am currently in talks with two online retailers; one local and one regional to see how best we can partner to promote African fashion. Unfortunately, I cannot give any more information until everything is confirmed.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is Simple, Sophisticated and Functional. I walk a lot, so my number one priority is to be comfortable and have the right pairs of shoes on.
If you were given an opportunity to work with local or international accessory designer, who will you love to work with?
I would love to work with Moyo By Bibi.
Their pieces are very cultural and authentic and designed for a specific type of woman. The type who is proud of her heritage and wants to stand out. I would jump on any opportunity to create a new line for a simple woman.
The designs you created are no doubt good enough, but who and which things were your inspiration while creating such designs.
My clients are my inspiration.
I have learned to listen to them and what they want. While doing custom made apparel, a number of them always ordered smart casual for Fashion Friday but always wanted to wear a kitenge outfit to work other than Friday. The only problem is, majority of our kitenge prints are very bold for the corporate world. That is why our signature look lays in our subtle African prints that work for the corporate world.
There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with their greatest collection season after season. What advice would you give to young designers just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?
I was once a victim of that kind of pressure, all I can say is don’t think too much about it, don’t compare your work with others or try and prove you’re a better designer than others. The moment you do, you’ll start questioning yourself and that’s where the pressure kicks in.
Lastly, as a trend forecasting lecturer who understands the importance of trends in ensuring successful sale of a product in the market, what I suggest you do is identify the trends that will appeal to you clientele then combine your creative design to the trend in order to differentiate your work from others in the market.
You’re closing remarks and advice for young Africa fashion designer.
If you want to go far, walk alone. If you want to go further, walk with others. As I mentioned earlier, I did not get to where I am in my career by myself, a few Kenyan designers helped me along the way and I would gladly do the same for others. Why? Because Life is hard! We share the same challenges and we share the same goals.
As a fashion lecturer and mentor, it is my job to give young and aspiring designers the information they need to succeed in this industry. I choose to be a leader and help other make it and grow the fashion industry rather than be a boss, be selfish in my information just to make it to the top alone and have a short lived success.
I am at that point in my career where I see the benefits of working together and supporting each other than going solo. My advice to young designers is to learn to work together and view each other as allies rather than competition. You are the future of this industry not the big fashion brands you hear of today. You are the ones who will put Kenyan fashion on the map but in order to do that, you all need to work together as Brand Kenya. Kigali fashion week has begun and the Ethiopian fashion industry is growing. If we as Kenyan designers don’t get our act together Rwanda and Ethiopian Fashion industries will be the leaders of East African Fashion in the next three years and we will be nowhere. So for the sake of Brand Kenya, let us put our differences aside and learn to work together.
Content Courtesy Of Barbara Accessories & Nairobi Fashion Hub