Igul Leather creates elegant and stylish leather pieces that can be purchased in Kenya. We sat down with Gulsun Ahmed, the founder of Igulsun Leather for an exclusive interview on what drives her as a designer.
How did you start your journey in fashion?
Gulsun Ahmed: I have always loved fashion, carrying lovely bags, wearing lovely shoes, dressing to my level best. So I realized, what is the one item that women can’t live without…handbags.
What type of handbags? Being a member of Fashion Agenda Afrika, many women were saying that leather bags are scarce. That was the time that I was thinking of what can I do? Yes, I want to do something in fashion but which line? Do I want front-line, accessories, handbags? Then I said leather. What can I do? I love designing, I love being creative then I went into leather and of course, the market needs leather.
Did you go to school? Where
Gulsun Ahmed: I schooled here and abroad being mixed race here and there. I have an international background and I did learn marketing and sales.
Where do you source your leather from? Kenya?
Gulsun Ahmed: No.
Where is your leather from?
Gulsun Ahmed: I choose my leather from Iran.
Gulsun Ahmed: They have the best leather and I use buffalo leather. It’s the only leather you can be able to get in, customize and stitch it comes out perfectly.
Have you ever been to Ethiopia since I hear that they also have leather?
Gulsun Ahmed: Yes, but the logistics and customs are a bit expensive that I can say, and to be able to do business with Ethiopians that connection is not as easy as people think. They’re a bit rigid in their market.
In the future, would you want to use leather from Kenya if it was possible?
Gulsun Ahmed: Honestly, yes, I would but I’d prefer if we could have manufactures and stitchers. People who can give me an exact design of a bag, that I want apart giving me rugged leather. I want a perfect handbag, perfect stitchings, perfect cutting, threading, that’s what I want.
We do have good leather but we don’t have good manufacturers to produce the designs that people want in the market. So, it forces us to travel to China, Iran, the West to come up with fantastic designs and sell locally and again that is very expensive. If i can produce this bag in Kenya probably I’ll sell one bag for even 80 dollars but since I have to travel, flight, accommodation, customs, then the costs shot up.
I agree that we don’t have many industries, usually, the come up and collapse like Rivatex.
Gulsun Ahmed: Again, the cost-effectiveness of building these factory/company. The reason as to why people come up and collapse is that you come up very excited but you realize that the market can’t afford you. It’s not that the market can’t afford you but where you purchase your products is far, your entire raw material is outsourced and imported so everything goes up.
That’s when you realize that most people don’t have the grit. You consume your entire capital to produce a certain thing then it stays in your shop or in your house so that’s how some fashion houses come and some even disappear. it’s pathetic for most designers to keep up because most people want to be trendy but they don’t look at the cost.
If I can go to LC Waikiki and get a bag that almost looks like leather and I can get it for 3k or 5k then why do I need to go for a genuine leather handbag at Ksh 18 000. The consumer expenditure is different so we fashion designers want to give the best but who are our consumers.. unless you’re really targetted in marketing to know your consumer then you’ll survive.
Can you tell us the process behind designing one handbag?
For me to get my entire dispatch, it took me 4 months for six designs. Reason being that there was a lot of trial and errors to the point that, the blueprint should fit how the handbag should look like exactly. So the guys had a tough time since it was my first time dealing with them being a foreigner and also the language barrier. Again language barrier, if it was done in Kenya then we would not suffer.
Can you break down the process a bit more?
I go choose my leather, choose my colour, choose my accessories, what type of metal do I want, I produce my blueprint then from there boom stitching continues. So in the process, I tell them exactly how I want my handbag to look like so most of the time since I’m not doing bulk. Bulk is way faster as compared to a limited quantity which is more expensive.
How old is your brand?
Gulsun Ahmed: I am one month old but I’m doing well. I’m very grateful and delighted that it’s been one month and I’m a young fashion designer. Igul Leather is very new out there. My customers are really appreciating it and every single day, everywhere I carry my bag, people notice my leather and my stitching. I’ve had quite a few people from abroad that have requested for my products via DHL. So yes I’m doing quite well.
Do you have any advice for any fashion designers interested in the leather industry?
Gulsun Ahmed: Always be sure of what exactly, you want. What you’re trying to indulge yourself in, you can say accessories, leather but that’s not where your passion lies so you’ll give up so soon
Don’t imitate anyone. It’s hard work producing something that belongs to you. I’m actually in the process of patenting all of my designs because they’re mine. Don’t go buy something and then brand it. Do the hard work, people will appreciate your brand based on your creativity and ownership and that’s when you’ll enjoy the fruits of your brand.
You’ll be so happy with your brand, no-one can adapt it, take it or copy it. You have every right to sue them.
One more thing, when it comes to capital be very careful about it how you raise it. Don’t be someone’s slave out there to take money to be able to start your company. No, find means and ways to grow your capital so that you can have independence in your business.
Follow Igulsun Leather on Twitter @gulsoun
Content Courtesy Of Nairobi Fashion Hub