Designing for Africa
Posted Friday, June 19 2009 at 15:24
- Uhuru Clothing is on a mission to give Africa a positive image using fashion and to help the needy in society. Thomas Mwichigi, the man behind UC speaks out.
BUZZ: Is having a clothing line with a Kenyan theme the way to go abroad?
Uhuru Clothing is positioned as a brand that provides a lifestyle to Africans and people that desire to identify with Africa; Many understand and express what freedom means in their everyday lives.
How are Kenyans receiving the Uhuru label?
It is doing well with people because there is a sense of ownership to the meaning of Uhuru (Freedom). People identify with the designs, the symbols and the heritage.
How do non-Kenyans react to your label?
Since the election of President Barack Obama we have witnessed awareness amongst non-Africans as they have begun to appreciate more what Africa has to offer. Our message has been received well and we believe as long as you have a product that connects with people it shall transcend national boundaries.
Why and when did you start Uhuru Clothing Company?
I started in 2007. I was in a mall trying to find a shirt that had an African theme or image to it and every store I went into I was surprised not to find anything that represented Africa. I decided to make a T-shirt and everywhere I went my friends would compliment me on the shirt so I made a few more T-shirts and they sold out. Thus, the company was born.
What about the name?
I chose it because of its meaning. While I was growing up, people would tell me that I wasn’t going to be successful when I tried new things. Uhuru was to represent the freedom to do whatever I believed in no matter what people thought and I believe other people relate to Uhuru because everybody desires freedom in one way or another.
Jamhuri Wear is probably the biggest name out there, how did it get there and you think you might follow suit?
Kimathi (Jamhuri Wear) has played a big role in putting Kenyan designers on the map. What he and I discuss is the need to develop and create a movement that will shine light on the great quality that Kenyan artists have to offer. Uhuru Clothing is a brand with an African heritage. Kimathi, Leo Faya, Michael Wanguhu are some of the best advisers I have met, as they advise me against making some of the mistakes they made when developing their brands.
What other Kenyan designs are making waves there and do you think you are competitors or you can work together?
I don’t believe in the notion that one can only win at the cost of the failure of others. With more competition from African brands, stores in America will be more open to stock our products. We will definitely have a greater impact as a group rather than shine alone.
Besides Kenya, do you have ambitions of expanding your company?
When Uhuru Clothing started with our main target market was Kenyan. As the brand grows we are focused on positioning Uhuru Clothing as an African company. We have leveraged into different clothing products such as polo shirts, military jackets, tank tops (vests), hoods and hats. In addition to being available online in the US, we have established networks with retail stores in the UK and are looking forward to opening a store in Kenya in the near future.
What is your marketing strategy?
One of the marketing tools that has worked great for us is using social network sites such as Facebook and MySpace. This has given us a great audience all around the world and has contributed to the growing demand of our product. I have grown to respect constructive criticism to help develop the brand and by listening and adapting to the changing environment of fashion we stay ahead of the curve.