“Believing in yourself is the hardest part but it is the biggest step to accomplishments,” 22-year-old Hannah Nduta Njenga, also known as Hannah Valeria, says.
The founder of HAUS VALERIA, a fashion design company that focuses on creating modern suits for women, may sound wise for her age but that could explain why she won the students’ category in this year’s Kenya Fashion Awards.
The ceremony took place at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi, in partnership with luxury champagne house Moët & Chandon, on October 7.
Although the Kenyatta University student will not reveal details about her personal life, she says she endured a tragic event last year and as one way of coping, she immersed herself in her design work.
“My mind bled all the torture into my current creations. If you look closely you’ll see no bright colours, no cheer, just the magnificence of my sadness and a will to fight on,” she says of the unique award-winning creations.
“Before this my creations were more flamboyant.” Not any more.
Interestingly, fashion designing was never really a path that she had her mind set on.
Her initial aim was to pursue a degree in special needs education.
The inspiration for this came from the fact that Hannah developed congenital hydrocephalus, a build-up of excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain at birth, which can cause brain damage and physical challenges.
“I looked normal on the outside for it was discovered early but I lived on medicine for most part of my life to curb the seizures that came with having a shunt (a medical device that relieves pressure on the brain caused by fluid accumulation) constantly touching my brain,” she says.
Despite her determination to teach children with mental health challenges, her mother convinced her to hear out a teacher who suggested to her a number of courses.
She chose one: Fashion and recreational studies.
Three months after her decision to take up the course, she entered her designs for a competition that ran during the Kenyatta University Culture Week.
She was named the second runner up for best designer.
She has also showcased her designs at Kenya World Wide Fashion Week for House of Kladdi with another avant-garde designer called Rahab.
That is when she realised that there was more to fashion design than she had previously thought.
However, she says she does not pay close attention to trends.
She is more concerned about making her creations stand out and making people feel confident about themselves.
Prices for the suits she designs range from Sh8,000 to Sh13,000.