A turbulent beginning did not stop Carole Kinoti from pursuing her passion for fashion. Several years afterwards and a number of storms weathered, Carole has re-emerged with a strong footprint in the textile industry. She is on the board of the Commonwealth Women Business Association, where she heads the talent docket. Through her initiative Fashion on the Road, Carole is using her 15-year experience to help young creative artists transform their ideas into moneymaking enterprises.
To what do you owe your achievements as an entrepreneur?
I strive to evolve and to keep learning. Before going into fashion full time, I was a chef. I still enjoy making different traditional cuisines. I have learnt that when you evolve, you don’t have to stop doing what you like. Acquire new techniques, but keep doing what you already know. I also like to spend time with young people because they give me an idea of what it’s like to be young in the 21st century.
Tell us about ‘Fashion on the Road’. What were your main objectives when you created it?
I wanted to bring artists from all genres together, and give them a platform to share their achievements as well as their frustrations. I also wanted to learn as much as possible about the problems that they endure in their career.
As a fashion entrepreneur, why do you think Kenyan consumers prefer imported clothes as opposed to locally manufactured ones?
Mostly because they don’t have an option. Locally made garments are usually more expensive than imported ones, which are also easier to get. Also, there is an element of prestige associated with imported clothes. The downside, however, is that only a few Kenyans can afford foreign brands.
However, things are changing. More people have started appreciating local designers and brands. However, getting the pricing right, and generating quality products, are two of the biggest challenges impeding the growth of this industry.
What is the mandate of the Commonwealth Business Women’s Association?
CBWA focuses on talent, training and trade. We source for talent, train candidates, and empower them to do business within the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth. We do this through the National Leadership Government.
Do you also mentor women to start businesses?
Most women shy away from starting businesses because of some restrictive cultural factors. At FOTR, we tell women that they can start and run businesses without necessarily being present at the premises every day. We tell them that they don’t have to abandon their cultural values to do business.
Why do some youth-owned enterprises fail?
Young entrepreneurs need more than just financial support. Many of them have brilliant business ideas, but sometimes they are either too young, or are ill equipped to handle the grants they receive. FOTR seeks to address this issue by bringing young creative artists together and organising them into communal units of production where they can concentrate on putting their talent to practice, as we handle the production bit on their behalf.
Any tips you can offer the youth about running a sustainable business?
Work with what you have. Many young fashion designers waste time complaining that they don’t have money to import the required fabric. If you have clothes that you don’t wear anymore, re-use them. By recycling garments, we prolong the time it takes for textile waste to be dumped, and that helps conserve the environment.
How did you deal with failure when you were starting out?
It was tough at the beginning. I wasn’t sure about what niche to focus on. Getting funds, and setting the right product prices was also not easy. I decided to come up with a fresh strategy that would provide solutions to my problems. Failure allows you review your approach, and that could help you come up with a better plan for the future.
What do you do during your free time?
I play golf. This sport allows me to travel and to meet new people. I have met so many clients from playing, so I can say I mix work with pleasure. I am also a wife, and a mother of two teenagers who I like to spend my time with.
Any unconventional business advice you have ever received or offered?
You don’t need money to start a business. As long as you can come up with a unique idea, you can sell it to potential investors who can turn your dream into reality.
What business incentives do young entrepreneurs often overlook?
The Internet. In this digital era, you can build a brand entirely on the virtual space. The notion that one must have start-up capital to do business blocks the minds of many young entrepreneurs. Ask yourself: “Are there other avenues for raising capital?” If you can package your idea well, you could sell it and use the proceeds to raise capital.
Where do you see the local textile industry in the coming years?
There is so much potential. The re-launch of Rivatex by the government recently, for instance, shows that the government is committed to revive the industry. Soon, demand for cotton will go up so I’d advise young people to seize this opportunity and start growing the crop, which takes only four months to mature. FORT hopes to ride on this resurgence to establish presence in all 47 counties, and to address different genres of creative arts which include pottery, weaving and dressmaking.