This is how we got a foot in the fashion business

Thursday September 14 2017

This week, we engage a fashion dealer, a

This week, we engage a fashion dealer, a designer and two stylists who share insights on how to own a wardrobe to die for. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Fashion is the armor to surive the reality of everyday life.
-Bill Cunningham

Cunningham was an American fashion photographer for The New York Times, known for his street photography.

What do you like to wear and how do you wear it? Do you have a signature manner of dressing? How does your dressing make you feel?
The fact is that you wear, and most importantly, how you rock it, influences your mood and sparks your confidence, directly affecting your productivity, whatever stage of your life you are at: whether still in school, or working.

Behind every magnificent outfit is a designer, and behind every stunning look is a stylist. This week, we engage a fashion dealer, a designer and two stylists who share insights on how to own a wardrobe to die for.

According to these experts, style need not be a costly affair contrary to what many believe. They also emphasise that what matters most is not what one wears, rather, how one wears it. It’s never too early, or late, to become a fashionista, so read on.

Fiesta Wairimu, 27
Stylist, Fiesta House Attire

Fiesta Wairimu, 27, Stylist - Fiesta House

Fiesta Wairimu, 27, Stylist - Fiesta House Attire. PHOTO| CHRIS OMOLLO

While growing up, Wairimu’s mother, who she describes as fashion-conscious, owned a boutique and tailoring shop. She would dress Wairimu in trendy outfits, drawing the admiration of friends in school for her sense of style, as a result, Wairimu took great care of how she dressed.After graduating from university, she worked as a researcher, and later a project manager for two years.

In 2015, she felt she needed to move on to something else that would be more liberating – styling. She set up Fiesta House Attire, a journey she describes as exciting, since it allows her to travel widely and meet people from all walks of life.

How does your academic background count in what you do?

I studied Bachelor of Commerce in Sales and Marketing at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology. I have gathered styling skills through practical experience and online research and by keeping tabs with international stylists. My sales and marketing skills apply in the business aspect of my art, especially since the local styling industry has recently become very competitive. My education is therefore not in vain. There are many styling courses offered online, but this type of job is aced through actual practice.

Who do you style?

Most of my clients are local artists, celebrities, models, video vixens and media personalities. I have styled Avril, Anita Nderu, gospel artist Mercy Masika and Miss Universe Kenya 2016, Scarlet Were. I earn between Sh60, 000 to Sh100, 000 a month. The development of styling as a full time career in Kenya with good remuneration has been supported by the fast growth of the fashion industry, as more Kenyans embrace a well put-together look.

People often confuse styling and fashion designing...

A fashion stylist is paid to create a visual image through the use of clothes and accessories. As a fashion stylist, you dress models, film stars, manage photo shoots and pick out outfits for music video shoots. You spend your time matching clothes, shoes and other accessories for clients. A fashion designer’s main job, however is to create original designs for clothing, shoes, bags and accessories.

To do this, the designer must have an understanding of fabric, such as its usage, quality and pricing. Fashion stylists and fashion designers collaborate in many projects to bring out the best look in their clients. To succeed in both, you need to have a great sense of style, an understanding of colours, textures and familiarity with the season’s trends and the occasion for which the piece will be worn.

Are there opportunities for new entrants in the styling stage?

Yes, but if, as a stylist, you establish a brand for yourself and make it unique. If you are imaginative, you will build a good clientele base. Social media has made marketing easy and, so make the most of it. Also, be professional. Always.

Franklin Saiyalel, 28,
Fashion designer and fashion blogger

Franklin Saiyalel, 28, is a fashion designer

Franklin Saiyalel, 28, is a fashion designer and fashion blogger. PHOTO| FRANKLIN SAIYALEL

When Franklin completed his diploma in TV and radio production in 2012, he began to search for a job. After months of unsuccessfully trying to get a job in the media, he gave up and decided to try his hand at fashion blogging instead. At first, he did it purely as a distraction, to fill up the time in his hands, but as luck would have it, the blog, Kenyan Stylista, did so well, that after only a year, Franklin started making money from it. Today, he owns a clothing line that designs suits for men, and also has a fashion and style show, Rate my Style, on Ebru TV.

Who does your business target?

Most of my clients are people with weddings and parties to attend. Prestigious weddings are on the rise in Kenya, and there is also a rising number of male fashionistas as well, so designers who can design made-to-measure suits are in demand. I have three tailors and an assistant. Our design process involves selecting the fabric a client wants for the suit, their desired design, the units and pricing. The tailors then get down to work. My assistant helps me to engage the client until the product is finished, collected or delivered and paid for.

Is this your only source of income?

Besides designing suits, various companies pay me to push their products and brands through my fashion blog, which earns me more revenue – collectively, I make an average of Sh300, 000 on slow months. I make much more during the festive season

What do you consider to be the most valuable style tips in a man’s wardrobe rulebook?

Keep it simple. Also, a white shirt and a white t-shirt should never miss in your wardrobe because these never run out of fashion. Pair your outfits with a nice pair of shoes, and never leave a good perfume out of your budget. Style is, however, inherent, so everyone has their own unique sense of flair; nurture yours instead of aping other people’s.

Every job has a downside…

True. Getting good tailors who can execute your desired design to the letter is not easy. The best fabrics for the type of suits that we make are imported, meaning that our profit margins shrink especially when a client bargains too much. This is especially so when dealing with new clients. Also, our type of business is seasonal; it peaks during the months of August through the end of the year when there are many wedding parties and other end-of-year celebrations taking place, and as you can imagine, this business is affected by political upheaval since the last thing people are thinking about is buying clothes.

Stefani Roma, 25
Proprietor, LA Elegant clothes shops

Ms. Stefani Roma owner of La Elegant boutique

Ms. Stefani Roma owner of La Elegant boutique store at Yaya Centre. PHOTO| SALATON NJAU

Stefani is a graduate of political science from the University of South Australia, and is currently undertaking a Master’s in Business Administration studies at the London Business School. She runs LA Elegant fashion shop, with has a branch at Yaya Centre and another at Two Rivers Mall.

How did your interest with fashion come about?

My mother owned a fashion shop at the Yaya Centre, when she passed away in 2014, I quit my job as a policy analyst in Australia, moved back to Nairobi and took over the store. I first did it out of respect for my mother’s memory, but I ended up loving running the business so much, I decided to completely focus on it. On February 14 this year, I opened our new branch at Two Rivers Mall. I am launching an online fashion store in October this year.

What types of outfits do you stock in your shops? What influences your choice?

I stock a wide collection of different brands from a variety of designers. From formal wear to every day wear, shoes, handbags and jewellery, I endeavour to make my stores a one-stop-shop. To ensure that I get it right, I keep up with the evolving world of fashion and follow several fashion sites and blogs, including Native Fox, Aleali May and Yoyokulala for inspiration. I have even started blogging on the side to push myself to learn and try new things.

You travel a lot around the world. How does this influence your sense of fashion?

If a designer has the opportunity to travel abroad, they should do so. Such trips open my mind and help me to think outside the box. They also help me to keep my merchandise up-to-the-minute.

Fashion and design is a very competitive industry. What should one do to stay on top?

Never get comfortable because this leads to complacency, which strangles your creativity. You will find yourself always ordering for the same stuff at the same price if not more expensive. Also do your research to stay ahead in the game. It’s all about continuous improvement.

How would you describe the Kenyan fashion scene?

There are so many talented Kenyan fashion designers, and the fashion scene here is really trendy. Designers incorporate our unique African fabrics into different everyday looks, which is fantastic. What we need now is an international audience to really establish ourselves and get a wider customer base.

Most Kenyans imagine that to look elegant they must spend heavily. How true or untrue is this?

Elegance does not always have to be expensive. Elegance is about how you put your look together. Simple and neat is the basic component of elegance. Some wear clothes worth millions, but end up looking cheap, say, due to pairing clashing brands. No matter how expensive your clothes are, knowing how to properly style them is key.

Ian Mussilli, 27
Personal stylist and fashion blogger

Ian Mussilli, 27, is a personal stylist and

Ian Mussilli, 27, is a personal stylist and fashion blogger. PHOTO| IAN MUSSILLI

After school, to earn money, Ian began selling designer suits. After some time, he found it hard to convince clients to buy Sh100, 000-plus suits. He closed down his business and shortly afterwards, got a job as an attendant at LiTTLE RED, a leading fashion dealer in Nairobi. An elegant dresser, Ian attracted a customer base that would insist on being styled by him. It is around this time that he got interested in styling, and when he left the store, he decided to specialise in personal styling for men.

What does your job entail?

My job involves consultation, which includes assessing the client’s wardrobe. I start by going through the client’s wardrobe to determine what pieces he has and what is lacking. I then suggest what to incorporate tomake the most of his wardrobe whilst considering the client’s lifestyle and profession.

After this, we draft a shopping list guided by the client’s budget. I then do the shopping. Once I have everything, I come up with an attire plan for, say, a week. This involves selecting and pairing clothes and other accessories, for instance, what shoes, tie and watch will go with what suit. I earn an average of Sh100,000 a month.

Why does one need a personal stylist, isn’t this an unnecessary expense?

It is a fact that how you look, how you dress, influences how people view you and has, to some extent, an impact on your success. Also, you could be a CEO who earns lots of money and can therefore afford expensive clothes, but without expert guidance on what to wear and how to wear it, your expensive suits and accessories would be just clothes without any flair. If you are a high profile individual, occasionally, you will be required to attend high-profile meetings and perhaps appear on TV, so you must look your best. In comes a stylist.

A personal stylist helps to cultivate a desired professional and social image for their client and acquires the latest trends in fashion for them. If your job demands that you travel a lot, it means that you have no time to shop, so it only makes sense to have someone to do this for you. Having a personal stylist also saves you money and time since the stylist knows where to get the best bargain.

What lessons have you learnt regarding this job?

To succeed in this business, your work needs to be reputable - I would rather work with five consistent customers than 10 whom I am unable to attend to properly. The way you dress a client impacts hugely on their confidence and mood, which in turn affects how they relate to those they come across and consequently, their productivity. You cannot afford to do a poor job.

Also identify where your strength lies; when I began styling in 2015, I styled both men and women, but along the way, I realised that I was doing a better job with male clients than with female clients. I therefore decided to fully focus on men, a move that has been rewarding.

Does styling involve just planning what the client wears? Is this what you exclusively do for a livelihood?

The work of a stylist is not limited to planning outfits for the client. I go a step further and study their lifestyle, and then recommend ways in which they can improve their health and overall look, for instance through exercise and paying close attention to their diet. Yes, this is my fulltime job, and since I cannot preach water and drink wine, I must dress elegantly and look good.


Major employers of stylists are in the TV, music and film space. They are also often sought by magazines, newspapers and blogs. To make a successful career out of styling, Fiesta Wairimu of Fiesta House Attire proposes a set of attributes that one must possess.

Proper time management: Sometimes you have to work under very strict and short deadlines. The client may be invited for an impromptu interview for instance, or even be expected to make an urgent trip abroad, which will require you to put up together a number of outfits.

Be versatile: Having a signature way of styling is important, but it is also equally important to be adaptable. Being able to style in different ways, for different people, for men and for women and for different occasions translates to more revenue for the stylist.

Good attitude: There will be times when you fail to meet a client’s expectations, or believe you have done a good job, only for the client to disagree, leading to criticism. Take the criticism well and learn from it.

Be trend-conscious: Whereas it is commendable to be able to style well, you must keep in step with what’s happening in the world of fashion.

Good communication skills: The ability to reach out to, and engage all types of clients is important, this is where good networking and interpersonal skills come in. Above all, you should always conduct yourself professionally.