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Thursday 29th of September 2022

Nairobi, Kenya

Made in Kenya: Exclusive interview with Cynthia Kimathi Founder, Creative Director at The Seamstress and African le’kiondo

Cynthia is a mother and a fashion enthusiast; who doubles up as a self-taught fashion designer, I have loved fashion and style for as far back as I can remember.

I used to accompany my mother to clothes stores every Christmas holiday to choose outfits for my siblings and me, however, I must admit that my Art and Design teacher in State House Girls High School gave me the extra push needed, from whence I learned all the basics myself.
My fashion line is The Seamstress. A seamstress is a woman who sews and one who earns her living from the craft. That is simply who I am.
I officially launched The Seamstress on November 28th, 2020 on the JW Runway Show, but we had been working on the brand and first collection for at least a year beforehand.

Oscar Alochi: Can you describe The Seamstress, the idea and concept as if I knew nothing about it or the market it is in?

Cynthia Kimathi: The Seamstress is purely a ladies-wear fashion line. During our launch, we started with the collection Dusk to Dawn, which is glam wear for evenings and events. But we are not all about evening gowns. We are a one-stop-shop for all women wear; ranging from casual, office, and streetwear, lingerie, mature looks, and older women, among others.

The brand concept is to release quarterly collections (mid-February, end June, end September, and mid-December) that will aim at introducing new designs and aspects into the fashion market. The collections are all pre-planned beforehand, with every design passing through a set of criticisms from The Seamstress team prior to the final vetting.

This is because the creative side of me sometimes needs to be controlled if we want to make functional outfits.

This February, our aim is to release our second collection just before Valentine’s.

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

CK: I have been running African le’kiondo, which is a subsidiary brand just like The Seamstress. The brand focuses on making authentic Africanised bags that are environmentally friendly as we source raw materials and labor locally.

Not only that, but it has been a great instrument in empowering women in Meru County by providing them with an avenue to expand their creativity, put food on their table, and have a safe space to talk about their issues.

Just like African le’kiondo, I started The Seamstress out of mere frustration in finding an outfit for myself, a great motivator. During my participation in a national pageant in 2019, Mrs. Universe Kenya as the current 1st Runners Up, it took me weeks to get an evening gown I liked.

This was simply due to all the outfits looking the same, plus they did not look very functional in the sense that I kept wondering where else I would wear the outfit, and how I could style it to look different every time. This predicament gave birth to The Seamstress fashion line.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CIr-KvcB_tV/?utm_source=ig_embed

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

CK: At The Seamstress, we start with a designer’s consultation, This consultation includes detailed discussions with the client ranging from color choices to fabric choices.

The client then receives three (3) designs and chooses from them. The duration from consultation to delivery also depends on design and details. The sewing process differs and the details would seem quite boring for now.

But I also add a lot of accessories to my designs to give them a 3D effect, with such pieces ranging from flowers, beads, etc, which aids in having my outfits turn heads positively.

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

CK: As previously mentioned, I received basic art and design training from my high school days. In addition to this, my team and I do a lot of research, and I spend the better part of my mornings learning online.

I use this technique as it keeps me on my toes on what is currently trending in the fashion space, what trends could be making their comeback, plus the added benefit of attaining inspiration.

OA: What challenges did you face?

CK: Being a designer, one has to pump in a lot of finances before reaping anything, therefore sometimes you can be financially constrained especially as a start-up and a new name in the fashion industry.

In the Kenyan market, as much as we are now beginning to accept Kenyan designers, we are not yet there. The market still prefers ‘ready-made’ outfits from boutiques for designer outfits. Therefore, oftentimes clientele does not understand the business model especially the need to pay a Designer’s Consultation Fee.

Growth is gradual and sometimes the audience is not as receptive as imagined, but we hope for better days and are positive on the same.

The biggest challenge has however been letting go of clients who wish us to replicate outfits they find online. It is a difficult task at times explaining that we do not replicate, we create.

OA: How did the obstacles make you feel?

CK: Frustrated at times, excited at others. It is bittersweet. The challenges however motivate me, helps me find new ways of approaching things, and elevates my thinking whilst tickling my creativity.

OA: What were your achievements?

CK: The JW Runway Show is the most recent highlight since the launch. In addition, I have dressed beauty pageant judges, taken part at the end of year party for WICCI (Women’s Indian Chamber Of Commerce and Industry – Kenya Business Council) as well as having the honor of dressing an artist for their upcoming music video to be released this February.

It has just been a month and a half and we feel positive about achieving even bigger this quarter.

OA: Favourite moments?

CK: The launch at the JW has to be the highlight so far. The runway took me back to my old modeling days and I was overwhelmed by how far I have come. Seeing my pieces on the runway and how receptive the audience was to them, blew my mind away.

In some way, I felt validated that I might be on to something really amazing.
An added advantage is that I get to travel more now, another passion of mine, as I do deliveries and have one-on-one discussions with clients.

OA: How do you get dressed in the morning?

CK:  I am a casual dresser. Half the time, you shall find me in jeans and a t-shirt. Whenever I have meetings and glam events though, that is when I put my mind into the dressing.

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

CK: The Kenyan fashion industry is impressively growing fast.

We are seeing Kenyans being dressed by Kenyan designers for events, and the only way we grow is by supporting our own.

The pioneers have done a great job in growing the industry, but so have media personalities and bloggers like yourselves. You have given designers and fashionistas a platform to express themselves in terms of marketing to the world at large.

OA: How different is the Kenya fashion industry compared to East Africa and Africa’s fashion industry at large?

CK: Our rich culture already sets us apart. The Maasai shuka for example has been widely accepted and has found itself in some international design houses, and so has the kikoi.

OA: Any future collaboration with Kenyan or International fashion designers?

CK: Yes. I am hopeful on this front. Maybe Neomi Nganga will read this and we get to do something.

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

CK: Locally, Neomi Nganga of Style By Neomi. She has revolutionized plus-size fashion, as I find her designs sexy and eye-catching.
Internationally, Zuhair Murad. He is a genius, so daring with his technique. He always delivers utterly unique and dramatic masterpieces.

OA: What are your thoughts on fashion in Africa?

CK: It is growing tremendously fast. Countries like Nigeria and South Africa are already making enough noise in the fashion industry home and away.

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

CK: Most fashion designers have started to focus more on online marketing strategies.

Personally, the pandemic has given me room to magnify my creativity and read more. Never did I think I would be designing masks for instance.

OA: How has The Seamstress adopted the new technology virtual fashion show during and after the Coronavirus pandemic?

CK: We will be doing Instagram and Facebook live for virtual shows whenever we release our new collections.

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

CK: Most African designers like pomp and color, and lately we have seen more African prints on the red carpet, as the Western world is already recognizing our African designs.

This can even be seen in as diverse an environment such as Hollywood blockbuster films like Black Panther, where they consulted with African designers for the costume designs.

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

CK: Owning our products. The Western world has a lot of acceptance and loyalty towards its designers. We should borrow a leaf from that and grow our own African designers.
We can also aim at having more fashion weeks and shows to call for upcoming designers to showcase their outfits, as I believe we have so much talent to offer.

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

CK: Yes, I have. There have been some significant developments. We are seeing more African designers, models, and outfits on magazines and social media platforms, which is a clear indication that the perception of African designs has shifted progressively.

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?

CK: Yes. We can’t just take and not give back.
Sustainable fashion needs CSR. It helps build relationships with consumers and stakeholders, and it helps to show the market space precisely what the designers are doing and the positive effects their work has in Africa. Let us never forget that our consumers appreciate transparency.

 

OA: Tell us about The JW Show or Kenyan Fashion week and your experience at the Show.

CK: The JW show is an amazing platform for upcoming designers to showcase their outfits and for seasoned designers to release their collections. The panelist choice was also a wise one; we got to get first-hand information from fashion icons and legends in the industry.

They discussed different parameters in the fashion industry and gave solid advice on how to be fashion-forward and run a house as a business.

OA: Where can we find your designs?

CK: We are currently based online.

Facebook: The Seamstress.ke
Instagram: theseamstress.ke
Facebook: African Lekiondo
Instagram: african.lekiondo
Mobile number: 0101704786

Here you will find our recently released collection Dusk to Dawn and some outfits made for our clients.

OA: Share with the audience your social media platforms or a website

CK: Our Social platforms

Facebook: The Seamstress.ke
Instagram: @theseamstress.ke
Email: theseamstress.ke@gmail.com

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

CK: eCommerce means everything! Our business is purely online based.
We are however currently developing our website, which will give us the extra push in the eCommerce world

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

CK: Of course, it is! Ecommerce has opened doors for many businesses locally and globally. It is safe to say that eCommerce is an essential tool in the fashion industry in this modern time.

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

CK: When using an Online-to-Offline (O2O) Strategy in our business, both channels share similar significance and importance to The Seamstress in helping us achieve our success.

The Online Channels shall be helpful in widening our reach to not only local stakeholders, but internationally too, through digital marketing and advertising, and draw them into our physical store.

Whilst using the Offline Channel for a physical store, location is our primary strategy as we would wish our discerning customers to feel welcome in our brick-and-mortar when they come for measurements, fittings, and even collecting of their goods.

Finally, due to our industry being fashion, our clients still prefer to physically see, and touch and feel, our outfits when they want to make a purchase, especially if they are first-time buyers.

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

CK: I see most celebrities accepting African fashion and embracing it internationally. I strongly believe that we shall be seeing more African designs in the Oscars and Golden Globe Awards amongst other international platforms. We have so much untapped talent and we are about to take the industry by storm.

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

CK: My Advice to young African designer

  • The world is your oyster. All you have to do is spread your wings.
  • Success is not experienced overnight, put in the work and it shall surely come.
  • Social media likes do not equal sales. Clients will buy even without liking your pictures.
  • Every time you feel lost, remember why in a world where you could be anyone you decided to be a designer.
  • Always be true to yourself.

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

CK: I would like to thank you for giving me and The Seamstress fashion line by extension, the opportunity for this interview and for deeming us worthy of it. When the names of people and organizations that led the Kenyan fashion industry to be recognized worldwide will be written, yours shall surely be there.

Content courtesy of The Seamstress, African le’kiondo & Nairobi fashion hub 

 

 

The Jw Show 2020 Edition Connecting Africa and The World Through Fabric and Design

The JW Show 2020 edition held last night at Nairobi Film Centre formally know as ( Nairobi Cinema ) was successfully event and one of the big show in East & Central Africa #MadeinKenyaByKenyans, the show had quite and inspirational panel for fashion designers and literally every young person who inspire future generation.

The show was limited to 300 attendees as per the state regulations on COVID-19 rules and was streamed live across all major social media platforms

The JW Show gave opportunity to  11 fashion designers from Nairobi with a mix of students and upcoming designers unlike last year when they went scouting for talent from the counties level.

Unlike the previous edition where showcasing designers were competing for a prize, this year show was one simple platform for unveiling  new talented participants. All collections on the runway come with face masks.

The organizer of the event added a panel discussion where they generated and share ideas on how they can support upcoming designers and keep them on their feet.

Once again the Jw Show, gave opportunity to persons living with disabilities in the fashion industry who have been left behind during this pandemic and they want to make sure their valuable input is seen and appreciated. 

This year the show was keen on the quality of the fabric employed in designs and creativity of the designers, each designer to showcase at least five collections.

Kenya Film Classification Board  ( KFCB ) has been partnering with the JW Fashion Show for three years in a row. The vast creative sector is the next frontier for wealth and job creation.

The Board is cognizant of the untapped potential in the creative industry thus commits to continue supporting ventures that seek to identify and nurture talent for job creation ~ CEO Ezekiel Mutua

The Jw Show signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and a partnership with Kenya Film Classification Board since last year 2019 where KFCB committed themselves to support Jw Show Made in Kenya By Kenyans

It’ been tough to persuade sponsors to come on board  because people’s finances have been affected by the pandemic. But we are very grateful to Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) for believing in us. ~ Jw Show Founder Jeffrey Wilson 

Organizers of Jw Show were planning on bringing in three designers from Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, but the pandemic came in the way of it. and the plan has been pushed to next year were we will see international designers showcasing at The JW Show 2021 edition.

Photo credit : Mesmeric Kenya

Content courtesy of Nairobi Fashion Hub 

 

Top 10 Fashion Shows Events In Kenya

A fashion show is an event put on by a fashion designer to showcase his or her upcoming line of clothing during Fashion Week. Fashion shows debut every season, particularly the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons. This is where the latest fashion trends are made. A fashion show is an ensemble of creative ideas, right from ramp, lighting, and décor, to models and clothing.

Success of a fashion show depends on whether it is able to spark the imagination of audience, and convince them to buy those clothes. Themes in fashion shows, are able to do just that, as they provide theatrics and create drama, at an otherwise normal show.

Fashion events not only create a buzz in their home countries but attract people from all over the world. These events encourage creative and diverse ideas in the fashion industry and also helps generate revenue for other industries as well.

Over the past few years, the fashion scene in Kenya has undergone massive changes. One could even say that it has been democratized. Even right now it is growing in leaps and bounds even though sometimes it may not be apparent. With the large number of fashion events that we have presently, it can be difficult to decipher which ones are actually the best and worth looking out for.

Do you know what the 10 biggest fashion events in Kenya are?

1. Kenya Fashion Awards
Established in 2012 the Kenya Fashion Awards is celebrating the contributions of the designers, fashion photographers, models, fashion stylists, make-up artists, hair stylists and creatives to the fashion scene.
Its aim to recognize and celebrate the wealth of fashion talent across Kenya and East Africa.
The event provides a stepping stone for emerging talent into the highly competitive fashion arena through networking, promotion and guidance.
Winning or being shortlisted for an Award provides endless rewards for designers, photographers, models … who participate as the event offer s a great opportunity to increase brand awareness and to showcase designers, photographers or fashion stylists work to the industry professionals, fashionistas, press and media.

2. Nairobi Fashion Week 

The Nairobi Fashion Week  ( NFW ) is a creative idea targeted to be a meeting place for the nation and Africa’s most creative talent. It’s an event created to showcase East Africa’s designers, stylist’s,producer’s, commentators, sponsors and everyone in between to a global audience.

NFW has been conceptualized to provide a leading platform for the Kenyan fashion industry to grow. It brings together all the necessary components under one roof to provide an opportunity to incubate and grow the Kenyan fashion industry.

3. Fashion High Tea

The event prides itself on being one of the few local events that combine fashion and charity, by collaborating with philanthropist,The contemporary high tea theme is slowly changing and becoming accepting of pants, flashy colors and even outfits that are elegant, but don’t necessarily fall under the ‘high tea’ dress code.

Fashion High Tea has proven itself time and again to be one of the premiere fashion events in the country, the event brings together designers from all over the world to showcase their work to the local market.

4. The JW Show

Aim to connect, Kenya, Africa And the world through fabric and design,this style-studded fashion extravaganza congregates men and women who are pushing the envelope of sustainable local fashion brands that have transcended borders and caught global attention. Make a date with us and be part of this iconic show where style will meet elegance.

The event mostly offers a platform to young upcoming designers with more established designers opting not to showcase due to the presentation format,he JW Show, organized by Jeffrey Wilson, has proven itself not once or twice but several times to be among the top fashion events in Kenya.

5. Tribal Chic

Tribal Chic is Nairobi’s most respected fashion show. The annual event is hosted by Tribe Hotel and aims to showcase the best Kenyan and international designers to local fashion insiders. Following in the footsteps of previous worthwhile happenings in the city, namely Kenya Fashion Week and FAFA, Tribal Chic has over the past few years, become a flag bearer for promoting Kenya’s fashion infrastructure. This is thanks in large part to the show’s curator Alina Haq and choreographer Sunny Dolat.

“The concept is simple  we want to showcase great design,” says Dolat. “For the line-up we look for something fresh that the audience will appreciate and buy. It’s a show that aims to surprise and impress.”

Held annually at Tribe Hotel at around 14th December, this event attracts thousands of artists, designers to come showcase their talent. It accommodates both local and international fashionistas. It was founded with an aim of helping the less fortunate in the society.

6. Fashion Couture Affair

Fashion couture affair is a runway event , started in 2016 and its managed by fashion killers 254. its a platform for designer, models, exhibitors, artists and any other business related to fashion,The event traces its roots to Nairobi Railways museum where most of the editions have been held.

7. Samantha’s Bridal Wedding Expo

Samantha’s Bridal Wedding Expo is a bi-annual event where all wedding service providers in the industry come together and showcase the very latest in wedding trends,The Samantha’s Bridal wedding fair is an exciting 3-day event filled with fashion, beauty and style. It is Kenya’s most dynamic and effective place to meet leading industry players in the wedding, beauty, honeymoon, Kenyan fashion giants and affluent women and their families.

The event spans a couple of days with close to a hundred vendors in attendance to showcase and promote their brands. There’s a runway segment that give a better view at how the wedding attires look like.

8. Entrepreneur Fashion Week

EFW is a great event with three key elements, Fashion shows, mini expo and master class that hat pulls together business owners, industry insiders, exhibitors and fashion lovers in East, south and West Africa across fast fashion, contemporary luxury and trends for the world apparel production and supply for both European and African buyers and an opportunity for brands to meet and spark possible business opportunities & collaborations.

9. Kenya Worldwide Fashion Week

With the immense knowledge in the Fashion Industry  and Having  held Various High Profile Fashion Shows and Being Voted Fashion Ambassador Kenya ,Sonu strongly Believes “in a World of Color”.Her creativity “runs on an engine of passion,shape,textures and touch in a pattern that Leads to the Creation of Fashion.”

Sonu moved to Kenya from India in 2006 and soon realized that Kenya had lots to offer to the World and had a rich Cosmopolitan flair to it.  In a short time Sonu  has made a huge impact on the Kenyan Fashion scene, at Kenya Worldwide Fashion Week, local and international designers are given a chance to showcase their original haute couture pieces. It has held 7 editions so far.

10. Core Fashion Kenya Show

The Core Fashion Kenya aims to give the Kenyan fashion industry one voice; to help project local designers and talent onto the international fashion arena,with the aim of promoting local talent to penetrate the international market, Linda Murithi CEO of In The Bag saw the opportunity to give fashion industry a voice. Core Fashion Kenya is held at Tribe Hotel to nurture, celebrate and unify local talent fashion icons.

Turkana Fashion Week

Founded by Ignatius Wafula, Turkana Fashion Week aims to recreate Turkana culture using fashion beyond Kenya. It has received international recognition from the likes of Ajuma Nasenyana.

All the fashion shows events listed here may vary from ranking.

Content courtesy of Nairobi fashion hub Digital Team

 

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