Anita Gaitho carries in her handbag a little notebook. She retrieves it with care and thought, as though it would fall apart if handled otherwise. The notebook has leaves the colour of autumn on its cover.
It may be little in size but inside its pages are grand ideas — Anita writes her thoughts and sketches her design ideas in this notebook every day.
She tags the sketches with specifications about fabric choices and suppliers, colour schemes and special detailing — the bells and whistles that set her brand apart.
Anita trusts me enough to have a peek inside. Not many people have had this honour, I imagine. She shows me what she sketched earlier today: a pantsuit with a bustier-like blouse. Her tags against it say, “Jersey. White shirt cotton. Chiffon, pale pink. Memsaab.”
Anita is the founder of Siri Studio, a fashion brand that tailors bespoke and ready-to-wear clothes for women. She launched the brand (unofficially) in 2014 from her bedroom in her parents’ house. She launched it with her notebook’s grand ideas, her mother’s Singer machine and her blinding belief in her creative instinct.
This is Anita’s story:
“I was one of those students who were constantly sketching in class. I sketched so I could listen and pay attention. I sketched on notepads, on the margins and covers of my exercise books, even during exams. My sketches are not artistic, but someone can see the vision of my design ideas.
I have collected several notebooks with several sketches. I have four sisters, including a twin who is nine minutes younger than me. My big sister, Shiro, was the first person to buy one of my pieces — a black pencil skirt I made while in second year at USIU.
She defined the profile of my clientele back then: urban women, starting their first job, aged between 24 and 30 years. Our profile is still urban women but the age bracket has widened.
I never saw my mum not dressed up proper; she always wore the contemporary style of the time. She studied fashion design in school. She was employed for a while but, for the most part, she was running her own fashion business.
Her workshop was part of our childhood — she would take us there often. Pattern drafting is the most difficult part of making clothes.
It is like architecture or engineering. Take a blazer. I first have to take measurements for every aspect, then use those measurements to draft a base pattern. I will use them to tailor a mock design of the blazer, making adjustments where needed.
The process of getting different sizes from this adjusted base pattern is called pattern grading.
I ran Siri Studio from my bedroom, then in my parents’ home, for about a year before taking a break to grow my family.
My husband and I had our son, Leshan, in November 2015. We moved to our first workshop on Wood Avenue (Nairobi) in early 2016, when the business became official. I had one fundi and was barely visible on social media.
I was clear when I joined USIU that I wanted to study business: I knew I would run my own business someday. I minored in entrepreneurship and marketing. By the time I was in second year, I was making clothes and showcasing them on my fashion blog.
I made the dress I wore on my graduation day.
Things have fallen into place in 2019. An angel investor financed our expansion. I had already fixed my eyes on getting a sacco loan, but here we are, thankfully. We also moved to Adlife in May 2019, and are pushing more volume than we ever have. I am now keen to outsource production.
Our first workshop on Wood Avenue was no bigger than my office at Adlife.
Actually, if you were in the fitting room, you could not even stretch your hands. Our clients would walk in and say, ‘Hm, this place is smaller than I thought.’ They would be hesitant to pay what we asked. At Adlife, no one thinks twice about going into their purse.
My vision is to have a huge online shopping platform like ASOS: Awesome photography, beautiful models, a fast and safe payment process.
I will maintain one retail store, though — experience has taught me that our clients want to come in and feel the fabrics. They also want to see how they look when they fit a piece.
We make our pieces from fabrics such as jersey, crepe, faux suede, lace, chiffon, neoprene, cotton, denim … pretty much any fabric I like out there.”
I import some fabric.”