In a market with numerous fashion designers, Amina Abdulrashid, 23, understood that the only way to stand out in this crowded field was by being different. She also knew that she had to identify a gap and fill it, only then would her business succeed. And hence Moderne was born, a clothing label located along Luthuli Avenue in Nairobi’s CBD.
“Our outfits are modest but modern – we infuse modest pieces with a touch of what’s currently trendy in the world of fashion and give special attention to the fabrics that we use,” explains Amina, who points out that every week she introduces a new design.
“The reason we showcase a new design on a weekly basis is because we make limited pieces of each design, 10 at most. The idea is to have our clients have their own fashion identity,” she explains.
MODEST BUT MODERN
When she set up her business in August 2016, she had the Muslim woman in mind, but she later realised that there are many non-Muslim women looking for something modest to wear. This informed her decision to expand her niche.
“While Islamic fashion is about loose garments that don’t reveal a woman’s form, modest fashion is about being fashionable without having to wear short or see-through clothes,” she explains, pointing out that every week she serves at least 50 clients, who are predominantly between 18 and 50 years and cut across all religions.
Interestingly, Amina doesn’t have a background in fashion or entrepreneurship. At Kenyatta University, her alma mater, she studied Bachelor of Arts, Gender and Development Studies.
“I got the inspiration to start Moderne from my classmates, who were familiar with my blog, aminafemshion.blogspot.co.ke and followers of my Instagram page. They would keep asking where I get my clothes from. At the time, most of my dresses were made to measure by a tailor in Eastleigh.”
After graduating in July 2016, she decided to try her hand at tailoring as she looked for a job – her market test collection performed so poorly that she backed out of the business after only two months.
“I had invested all my Sh20,000 savings into the business. I used the money to buy fabric and meet stitching expenses. Since I don’t know how to stitch, I would design what I had in mind and take it to a tailor to put it together. I used online platforms such as Instagram to market my clothes, but I didn’t get a return for my money. I was so disappointed, I felt I wasn’t cut for business, and reminded myself that I didn’t come from a business-oriented family to begin with.”
In spite of her misgivings, in December 2016, she decided to give the business another shot. She used the remaining fabrics she had bought earlier to design what she felt were better garments. This time round, things worked in her favour.
“I had a tailor make 20 pieces, which I sold for between Sh2,500 to Sh3,600 each. Within a month, I had sold out the outfits. When I first started, the main challenge I had was lack of a store, somewhere clients could walk in and look around and meet the owner face-to-face and hand over their money.”
This time round, even though she did not rent a working premises immediately, instead of asking for money before hand, she decided to make it a pay-on-delivery kind of business to inspire trust. It worked. Now that she has a shop, clients pay a deposit before she embarks on the work.
Seeing her determination to succeed, Amina’s dad injected Sh100,000 into her business in May last year, money that she used to rent working space, buy two sewing machines, buy more fabric and employ a tailor.
“Before this, I outsourced one, who would end up disappointing me because his clients came first. He could only manage five outfits a week, yet at times, I would get more than 20 requests in a week.”
She has since employed two more tailors, who manage to stitch about 10 outfits on a daily basis. She says that she makes an average of Sh100,000 in profit every month. The price tag is pegged on the fabric and the type of outfit she designs. Most of her pieces go for between Sh2,500 and Sh3,600.
“We source for the fabric locally and abroad. I first make a sample collection then do a photo shoot and post the pictures on our Instagram page, mode_rne. Clients order and either send their measurements or come to the workshop to have them taken. We take three days at most to work on the orders.”
When Amina is not at the workshop, she is either out sourcing for fabric or carrying out assignments for her employer, Elman Peace, an NGO based in Mogadishu, Somalia, that promotes peace and uplifts the lives of the marginalised in society to be decision makers. She is their Gender-based violence (GBV) programme associate in Kenya. Her roles include strategic planning of the organisation’s activities in Kenya, maintaining contact with donors in Kenya and representing the organisation in meetings. The job is quite flexible and allows her to work from home.
“When I am busy with my employer’s work, my elder sister is very supportive, and helps me run my business. She handles administrative tasks such as taking orders and models most of our sample collections,” Amina explains.
Though her business is on firm ground now, just like any other business, it has challenges. The main one, one she has grappled with since its inception, is clients who make orders, only to change their mind and then demand a refund. She doesn’t sweat it though, after all, every business comes with its own headache.
Although Amina lacks advanced stitching skills, this did not stop her from establishing and running what could be described as a successful clothing label. With a good eye for fabric and great designing skills, all she needed was to team up with experienced tailors who were outstanding in their craft, tailors whom she attributes for the continuous growth of her business.