The first entrepreneur we feature in November is Valerie Nyamwaya. She tells a great story of how her fashion business, Afrivazi, came to be and where she wants to take it. You’ll enjoy it.
1. Who is Valerie Nyamwaya?
Valerie is a designer by profession, and by choice. She is a lover of many things; books, music, art, poetry, nature – the list is endless. When I’m not working on fashion, I’m probably writing poetry, cooking, getting engaged in the community, going for road trips or just spending time with family and friends. I think of myself as someone who loves fashion, who decided to follow her passion in the best way she knows how with the dream of making an impact and driving change in the industry.
2. Tell us about your business
Afrivazi is a fashion house that was started with a vision of celebrating African culture and creativity through fashion. The idea started when I was in campus then with the help of friends we would hold events and have different designers showcase. As I was almost graduating it became a platform for myself and other designers to market and sell their products.
This eventually changed to having Afrivazi run as a fashion house where all the production would be done in-house. This meant that I would have to do the designing and come up with collections. These would then be sold on our online platforms. For our made-to-measure clients, I got to spend time with them, listening to their needs and coming up with items that not only made them happy but also allowed me to explore my creativity.
It is at times challenging when you have to do the actual work and run the business since there is the other side of fashion that most people never get to see; the sourcing of the fabrics, the making of the garments, the fittings, organizing of photo shoots and finally sharing the products. From there you also listen to feedback which informs your decision on subsequent collections. You can also be able to gauge your performance, and reach, to know where to pat yourself on the back or where you may need to pull up your socks.
The business is officially 2 years old and it has been quite a journey with a lot of learning along the way but I would choose this journey over and over again if I was to go back since it is my small contribution to the fashion scene.
It is my dream that Afrivazi will rise to be celebrated beyond the Kenyan borders and bring recognition to the African Fashion since there is more to us than the prints which we see around. There is more to where our creativity comes from and we can stand to be counted as those that have contributed to the growth and development of the industry around the globe.
3. How did you raise funds to start?
I didn’t start all at once so this gave me the opportunity to save up and have one thing done at a time. For instance, when I went for my attachment, just before I graduated, I saved all the money I was paid plus what I would make from any jobs I did around that time. I could then pay a lawyer to register the business for me and get my website done. I also used to make souvenirs for my friends and small household items like rugs and pillows, stitched bracelets among others to save up money to enable me get what I needed for the business.
I have also been blessed to have family and friends who have been supportive of the business and they would give me small loans, with flexible repayment terms, that can come in handy when starting out. As any business grows there is always the need for funds, for expansion, for a prototype and for many other things.
So it is usually important to surround yourself with people who can always invest in you directly or indirectly by introducing you to other people who can put in their money and be patient enough to give you room to grow and pay back in a time that works for the business.
4. What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I am yet to get there yet. I usually say ‘work-in-progress’ when I’m asked this question. But I am proud of the fact that I have created a brand that people believe in and trust. From the clients that buy from us to people willing to invest in the business, for me that is something worth celebrating. On a personal level, also being able to talk and inspire other designers through my journey is something that makes me happy. Our work here is not just to do what we are good at but also while doing it inspire others to do the same. It is our way of impacting the world one person at a time.
5. What do you now know that you wished you knew before you started?
Business is not as simple and as easy as we tend to think from the business success stories we read. There is nothing like determining your own working hours and working only when you want to, or being your own boss and calling the shots whenever you want. There is a lot of work that goes into building a business especially when you are starting out. You work longer hours than some people do in employment. Sometimes, your weekends and holidays pass by without you noticing. You have to spend more time reading and learning since you are the one who leads the team and they look up to you. You also become a servant, since you have to serve and attend to the needs of others just so they can give their best to building your business.
6. Parting shot for the young Kenyan women reading this?
Just as it takes a community to bring up a child, it also takes a community to build a business. It is therefore essential to invest and build on your networks – right from your immediate family members and friends. Someone always knows someone else who has something that could help you move your business to the next level. Also be open to learning, there is a lot of learning that happens as your business grows sometimes you fall but you have to pull yourself up and take that as a lesson and move on. You can never learn enough and the more you learn more you become well placed to lead and teach others.
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