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Friday 30th of September 2022

Nairobi, Kenya

Fashion for Conservation: Meet Sarah Vigne Founder Of Rock and Stones Ltd

Posted On : April 22, 2022

Oscar Alochi

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Describe yourself (Who is Sarah Vigne) and your fashion brand in a few words.

Sarah is a natural entrepreneur with a wealth of experience in the development of sustainable enterprises that may provide revenue for wildlife conservation organizations.
Sarah founded the ethical fashion label Rock and Stones, and while working for the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya (www.olpejetaconservancy.org) for eight years, she developed a number of new revenue streams centered on retail, “voluntourism,” and “value adds,” resulting in increased visitor engagement (“immersive tourism”) and significantly increased financial resources for conservation.

Oscar Alochi: Can you describe Rock and Stones, the concept and idea as if I had never heard of it or the market in which it exists?

Sarah Vigne: ROCK AND STONES was founded in 2009, inspired by the vibrant contemporary fabrics made across the African continent, which represent the intriguing history of the Swahili trading empire and its ties to West Africa, India, Arabia, Europe, and the Americas in their designs.

Kitenge and Kanga are two of our favorite fabrics. These popular clothes include vivid designs in brilliant colors, as well as a Swahili inscription in the case of the Kanga. The abundance and variety of designs on these fabrics are amazing, ranging from post-modern abstractions to conventional paisleys and depicting subjects as varied as political and religious leaders, architecture, cuisine, animals, plants, plumbing, forms of transportation, and complicated patterns. Proverbs, aphorisms, insults, and blessings are among the Swahili inscriptions on the Kanga.

Kanga and Kitenge are wrap garments worn in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Mozambique, the Congo, and everywhere where Swahili is spoken. The Kanga, which is as popular as a t-shirt in the United States but has a far greater cultural value, is still evolving. It is a valuable medium for personal political, social, and religious expression, similar to the T-shirt but incomparably more exquisite and functional.

The Kanga has become an intrinsic element of East African culture as both an art form and beautiful, practical clothing.
‘The Kanga struts in style… Wear it with a smile,’ as the slogan goes.

Rock & Stones is based in Kenya, and we specialize in bringing the depth of African culture to our tailoring workshop, where we transform our carefully picked African Kanga and Kitenge fabrics into a collection of ready-to-wear garments for all ages and sizes.

Specializing in beachwear, festival clothing, and casual wear…

Our firm supports the local communities that make our clothes with such care, and we aim to open our own training workshop soon to provide a life skill to both boys and girls, men and women, who want to work with Rock & Stones to find a market.

OA: What were you doing before Rock and Stones, and what motivated you to start the business?

SV: The prospects that Africa offers inspire me. It’s such a bright and colorful place, with skilled and talented people that only need a helping hand to progress economically. I’ve worked in tourism, horticulture, and as an investment banker before that.

OA: What techniques do you use? Tell us about the process.

SV: We are primarily a tailoring business that produces shorts and other clothing items from vibrant African textiles of the greatest quality and grade.

OA: How did you learn/master this technique and why do you use it?

SV: I can’t sew to save my life, but I know some amazing tailors who can, and it is up to them to manufacture our products.
However, I have mastered the art of quality control inspection!

OA: What challenges did you face?

SV: Keeping the company afloat during COVID was a problem, but we managed to do so and keep everyone working, despite the fact that I stopped paying myself.
We are still recovering, but we believe we have passed the worst of it.

OA: How did the obstacles make you feel?

SV: We were successful once we got through them. I’ve discovered that one of the most crucial life skills is learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

OA: What were your achievements?

SV: We have a company that makes roughly Kshs 25 million each year and is growing.
That in its own right is an achievement I think.

OA: Favorite moments?

SV: After a long day at work, relaxing with a glass of wine in the evenings

OA: How do you get dressed in the morning?

SV: I go through a lot of various outfits before deciding on my final one, which irritates my husband.

OA: What’s your take on the Kenya fashion industry?

SV: Potential, potential, potential!

OA: How different is the UK fashion industry compared to the Kenya fashion industry?

SV: Of course, the fashion sector in the United Kingdom is far more competitive, and standards are normally higher, but that in its own right provides us in Africa with a great opportunity.

OA: Any future collaboration with Kenyan fashion designers?

SV: We’re always looking for opportunities to work and partner, but there’s nothing substantial on the horizon right now.

OA: If you were given the opportunity to work with a local or international fashion designer who will you love to work with?

SV: Anya Hindmarch

OA: What are your thoughts on fashion in Africa?

SV: We have a long way to go, but we have a lot of potentials, as previously stated.

OA: What has changed during this period of Covid-19

SV: The local markets took a beating, but we’re starting to bounce back now… However, there is still a long way to go.

OA: How has your fashion brand adopted the new technology of virtual fashion shows during and after the Coronavirus pandemic?

SV: We’re much more online now, and that’s where we see ourselves going in the future.

OA: How are African fashion designers influencing fashion in the western world?

SV: Increasingly – we have a place, we are bright and colorful, and we are the new big thing

OA: What can the African fashion industry learn from the western world?

SV: Efficiency, prompt delivery – on time, in the appropriate quality, at the right location

OA: Over the last few years have you noticed any significant changes in the African fashion trends?

SV: Yes, they are increasingly influenced by western trends, which is both good and terrible. Even as we modernize and progress, we must remain true to our roots.

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?

SV: Of course, we have a strong ethical attitude at Rock and Stones.
We donate a portion of our profits to charity and do everything we can to keep people employed and engaged.

OA: Tell us about UK Fashion Week.

SV: Don’t really know too much about it – we are an African brand!

OA: Where can we find your designs?

SV: www.rockandstones.com

We also have a number of locations in Nairobi, as well as our own shop in Nanyuki’s Dromans complex.

OA: What does eCommerce mean to you and your business?

SV: We consider that as critical to our company’s future success.

OA: Do you think eCommerce is important for African fashion designers that are trying to get recognized and reach a global market?

SV: Yes, it’s crucial, but you should also invest in marketing and social media. You may generate traffic to your eCommerce site by building a digital following.
You’re dead in the water if you don’t have this.

OA: How does your strategy change when running an online store to an offline store?

SV: As previously said, digital marketing and social media are critical.

OA: Where do you see African fashion in the next 5 to 10 years?

SV: Growth – and perhaps, we’ll be able to start breaking into high-value Western markets on a large scale.

OA: What 5 pieces of advice would you give to young African fashion designers wanting to enter the fashion industry?

SV: 

  • Stay true to your roots – Africa is the next big thing
  • Work hard and persist – things don’t happen overnight
  • Ecommerce is the future – meaning that digital marketing is key
  • Wear your own fashion with pride
  • Continuously survey global trends – what do people wear and what do they want

OA: Is there anything else you would like to add?

SV: Go for it!!!

Content courtesy of Sarah Vigne, Rock and Stones & NFH 

Oscar Alochi

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