Vivienne Taa started her business to help her remember her mother who passed on after being diagnosed with cancer. She speaks to Thomas Rajula about her
While Viviene Taa had always had a love for drawing, painting and illustrations fuelled by the numerous fashion articles that her mother had at home her parents were adamant that study something more ‘practical’ at university.
And this is how she found herself studying tourism management and later, working at Kenya Airways in customer service. She worked her way up to marketing manager… and then the events of 2010 forced her to veer off track.
“My mother got diagnosed with cancer that year. She passed on exactly a year later, in 2011. There was barely time to internalise what was happening because she looked very healthy before that,” says Vivienne.
After that Vivienne took time off work, but while still in her state of mourning, she felt like she was just going through the motions of life. She rummaged through her mind to see what she could be able to do that would remind her of her mother that would also help her deal with her pain and help her find herself again.
The answer lay in fashion. “My mother was a seamstress. She worked as an accountant but her hobby was making dresses,” says Vivienne.
Her mother would buy fabric often, which would be strewn all over the house on weekends while she worked on the dresses.
Sometimes she would make clothes for her children or friends at no charge. In 2012, Vivienne decided to start evening fashion design classes at Buru Buru Institute of Fine Arts, while her co-workers were attending Masters or other professional courses.
They kept asking her how she thought this would help her career in marketing; her response was simply that this was something for her and nothing to do with the job. She also enjoyed it completely, and she sometimes wished her mum were around and she could go over some aspects of fashion with her.
When she finished the course in 2013, she took over her mum’s sewing machine and started doing the same thing she used to do – make clothes in her spare time.
Because she was in marketing, there were no real restrictions on dress code, and she would wear some of her Ankara-fabric designs – mostly dresses and skirts – to work when the occasion suited it.
Then a colleague brought some fabric which she had bought during a trip to West Africa and asked Vivienne to make her an outfit, and how much she would charge for it.
This was when Vivienne started to look at her creations from a commercial point of view. She looked around to see what people would charge for the kind of work she wanted to do, and charged Sh2, 000. The dress she made got others interested in her designs, but because of her job constraints, she could only work on the weekends. Even then, customers were willing to wait for up to two weeks to get their dresses done by her.
By late 2015, when Vivienne had to hire a tailor to help her bring her designs to life, she realised this was now a real business. She came up with the brand name Vivienne Taa and registered a business.
And then, in 2016, she was retrenched from KQ.
“It was devastating. I enjoyed my work. I didn’t know what was going to happen even though I had this idea of this fashion venture. I wasn’t ready to do it full time. If I was given a choice, I would have chosen to stay,” she laughs.
Her friends and family encouraged her to keep working, and a week later, she was back at it, believing – only with aspirations to be bigger and better.
That year, she applied to showcase at Nairobi Fashion Week and was admitted. She also got into a partnership with Sports Person of the Year Awards which saw her dress up a number of athletes for the gala.
She also got into contact with other celebrities to dress them for other events. Last year she opened an office next to Wilson Airport.
Currently, Vivienne Taa stocks ready-to-wear designs besides the custom-made clothes.
Vivienne’s business insights
Entry into a market is not easy; it needs to be strong and sustained. I needed to work with people who are known to give me the credibility.
There are very few (tailors) in this industry who can do the job and are professional in their conduct. You need people who you can work with who share your values.
Big brands usually have their own retail stores to create visibility, but it’s expensive. You have to plan well to get there and must be willing to go through the growth process.
Traditional lending institutions are very rigid and want businesses to be solid before lending to them. A lot of my capital had to come from my personal finances, friends and family.