“I quit a high-flying IT job in New Zealand to try my hand at luxury brand consultancy, a journey that has been both exciting and inspiring,” Sherlyne Muita says.
Sherlyne, 27, left Kenya in 2008 to study information technology at the Unitec Institute of Technology in New Zealand, hoping to become an IT specialist. “At the time, expertise in information technology was highly sought after among employers,” she recalls.
Two years later, her computer wizardry landed her debut job as an IT assistant with her university. Hard on the heels of this role were gigs with various IT companies in Auckland city, and more money. “I was very excited about the job. The pay was attractive and I met my needs with ease despite the high cost of living in New Zealand,” she recounts.
Still, Sherlyne was disconcerted.
“I couldn’t picture myself behind a computer 40 years later, cracking encryptions and flipping through computer guide books,” she says. While she considers herself a chirpy person with a way with people, the nature of her work in IT had transformed her into “a computer geek with few friends. I wanted to network more and enjoy life, but IT was checking my ambition,” she says.
After two years, her zeal for the profession took a complete tumble. Thankfully, the university’s career officer had noticed her anxiety, and taking her sociable personality into account, he advised her to consider a career change.
“He told me, ‘Sherlyne, don’t waste your energy in a dull career while there’s so much you could do in a more social profession’. I knew I had to get my act together,” she recalls.
She opted out of IT and enrolled for a marketing course in the same institution and soon after, a diploma in tourism management. Her newfound passion for marketing saw her mingle with representatives of various global brands in New Zealand. In 2013, she relocated to Milan, Italy, to pursue a Masters in brand management at Istituto Europeo di Design.
From a computer engineer in New Zealand, Sherlyne was now in the heart of Europe’s luxury scene, and sharing this high table with global icons, among them Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Anna Fendi. “I worked for four years as a brand ambassador for global trademarks such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Pomellato, Lacoste, Berluti, Kiehl’s, H&M Homes,” she says.
She adds: “My specialty spans fashion, luxury jewellery, beverages, destinations and, lately, automotive.” In 2016, Sherlyne was enticed back to Kenya after eight years overseas. For two years now, she has been building a local client base of mostly fashion brands, top clubs, hotel businesses and beverage companies.
“Kenya is on the radar of the global luxury market. Markets in Asia, America and Europe have reached their limit since they serve the same clients every year with hardly any new entrants coming aboard,” she explains.
The luxury market in Africa, on the other hand, is still raw with new clients emerging every year, she observes. But while it got off to a lethargic start, Sherlyne admits that the local luxury market is now steadily on a rise, with better prospects for returns for investors.
“That’s why multinational luxury brands are setting up shop in Kenya, to tap into the fast flourishing business,” she explains, adding, “I came here to be part of this exciting growth.”
Sherlyne believes that the Kenyan luxury scene is underrated, but also admits that the market here has plenty to borrow from developed markets such as Europe. “There is so much emphasis on ROI (return on investment) and selling volumes rather than creating memorable experiences for customers,” she observes.
“Some places have below-par customer service. Handlers’ lack of thorough understanding of a product diminishes the reputation of that particular brand,” she says. According to her, imitation of ideas and poor presentation are mostly to blame for why some prominent brands have yet to gain a strong foothold in the local market, a situation she hopes will improve soon.
“Luxury lifestyle is about experiences and the emotional connection that a product inspires. This is why a consumer would pay thousands and even millions of shillings for a bottle of say, vintage wine. You, therefore, can’t get it wrong with how you deliver such a highly priced product,” she remarks.
She adds, “Luxury clients all over the world have very specific tastes; they demand the same standards of satisfaction from a product. It doesn’t matter where in the world the given brand is consumed from.”
Her mission in the local market? To change customer experiences and to create an outstanding customer journey, she says. According to her, Kenya has a wealth of “hidden luxury gems”, for instance in travel, which, if properly exploited, have the potential to put Kenya on the map of popular luxury tour destinations.
“Why should Kenyans with a decent disposable income always fly out to have memorable experiences elsewhere while we have so much to offer locally?” she wonders. There’s one more benefit to her field: “The local IT industry would never pay me half what I’m earning through luxury consultancy. Besides, I am able to impact the local economy more through luxury branding than in IT,” she says.
While changing her career upset her parents (for ‘wasting’ three years’ worth of school fees), Sherlyne is proud of herself for having taken the big risk. “If I’d stayed put in IT I’d would probably be in a dark room of a company somewhere cracking codes and bored out of my skull and without a social life,” she reflects.