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Fashion design makes business cents for economist

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Chebet Mutai, founder of  Wazawazi fashion house. Photo/Correspondent

Chebet Mutai, founder of Wazawazi fashion house. Photo/Correspondent 

By Mwikali Lati

Posted  Thursday, November 29  2012 at  21:19

In Summary

  • Wazawazi (a combination of two Swahili words to mean open mindedness) began officially in May 2012, after three months of contextualising, researching and talking to people.
  • Wazawazi designs are usually geared to the tastes and preferences of the current marketplace. They can either be a full kitenge blazer or dress or just few details or kitenge lining.
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Chebet Mutai was increasingly feeling unhappy with her job as an economist in a bank. While attending a women’s entrepreneur conference, she got the confidence to pursue her dream of opening a fashion house; Wazawazi.

In February, instead of going on a holiday, she took the opportunity to attend a Google event, Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship conference to change her life.

Out of the 50 women entrepreneurs, she was one of three who did not have a registered business. Her invite was on the premise of her running a side job of importing handbags, a business that had stalled.

“At the event one of the speakers asked ‘what is your passion?’ And most of women raised their hands because they knew where they wanted to be,” she says.

When she went back home, she was stressed because she had to ask herself how she could turn her passion for clothes into a viable business.

Starting a fashion business in the current environment was not going to be easy. Competition was fierce and her idea for using kitenge had to be different as it is a popular designer’s fabric.

She wanted her business to make a positive social impact and build a profitable venture.

“I met a lady at the conference who asked me what I was passionate about? I said ‘clothes which are kitenge-inspired but everyone is doing it’. She said to me to just do it, for there is enough market for everyone,’’ she says.

Wazawazi (a combination of two Swahili words to mean open mindedness) began officially in May 2012, after three months of contextualising, researching and talking to people.

She knew that it would give her a flexible time to be a mother. The business would also give her chance to have project that provides fair wage. She used her savings to buy the equipment and rent a space for the workshop.

At the workshop along Ngong Road, they are three full time and two part-time employees to fill the growing number of orders. “I recently hired a fashion designer. The company has reached a point where I can’t do everything by myself,” says Ms Mutai.

Wazawazi designs are usually geared to the tastes and preferences of the current marketplace. They can either be a full kitenge blazer or dress or just few details or kitenge lining.

This goes too for the canvas bags with the kitenge details which are also a big seller; they can be found at the gift shop at Sankara Hotel, Westlands. To see more of the designs, the Facebook page ‘Wazawazi’ or website ‘wazawazi.co.ke.’

She has since joined Kenya Federation for Alternative Trade (KFAT), the Kenyan chapter of the Fairtrade, as she knows the whole world is sensitive to fair business practices like environmental conservation and fair wages.

Wazawazi was not her first business. A few years prior to it she had been importing handbags from Dubai, but stopped in 2011 when the dollar exchange rate rose to an all time high of Sh120.

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