Six years ago, Pamela Kawira Kariuki dropped a law course at a local public university to venture into her passion, fashion and style business.
Today, the 25-year-old looks back with pleasure at how far she has come.
“I first toyed with the idea of fashion design in high school but I didn’t feel I was good or talented enough in starting a fashion line. But I have always wanted to pursue a career that is art based,” she told Enterprise.
Her parents did not take lightly to her decision to drop law and it was difficult to convince them to pay fees for a fashion design and marketing degree course at Kenyatta University in 2010.
Eventually, they agreed.
One of her early success stories was in 2011 when the fashion entrepreneur and designer was ranked fourth in the Citizen Fashion Show competition hosted by Rialto Fashion.
She also participated in the annual Kenyatta University Career Fashion Week competition where she was second runners up in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Members of her church also bought items from her while at the university.
“The success in these events gave me an upper hand and my parents were now fully convinced that I had not made the wrong decision to pursue a course in fashion design. From then on, there was no turning back,” said Ms Kawira who did her internship at Rialto, Occasions and Days and Isy Fashions.
After graduating in July 2014, Ms Kawira’s steely determination proved a key asset that gave birth to Kawra Kouture Designs where she is the founder and chief executive.
Armed with a capital of Sh270,000 from her savings, family and friends, she bought four sewing machines and textiles.
In the hustle and bustle that is gripping Kahawa Wendani estate in Nairobi, her shop stands out.
It is here together with her two employees, she designs African print clothing, African themed bags and shoes using locally available materials.
“I buy other vitenge materials from Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria. For official shirt quality fabrics, I import them from Dubai. My parents travel a lot and I ask them to bring me fabrics from wherever they go,” she said.
The entrepreneur also markets her work on social media to reach a wider market. She has Facebook and Instagram pages called Kawra Kouture.
She also owns another shop in Embu town where four employees sew school uniforms on orders from local primary schools.
One of her new products is branding corporate wear and her first client is a local supermarket chain.
Over the years Ms Kawira has built impeccable credentials and her designs have been showcased at key fashion events including Kitenge Festival, Slum Fashion Africa, Kenya Fashion Awards and Drum Magazine.
Last year, the models wearing her outfits won the Ms Special Needs KU and this year, Mr Status KU, dressed in her outfit, won.
“At Kawira Kouture, we combine style, quality and luxury with the professionalism and expertise of the fashion industry. The African continent has always been my key inspiration for my designs as it offers diversity and rich culture,” she asserts attributing her success to the creativity and uniqueness of her work.
Her customers include individuals, couples, children, bridal parties, schools and companies.
“From my own research, I noted that clients want unique but affordable designs. Knowing what attracts them and having an edge over other designers will always have you stand out and at the top of the game,” she said.
Although she declined to disclose how much she makes to Enterprise, she comfortably settles her bills, pays employees and saves. Her products — dresses, suits, trousers, shoes and bags — cost between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000.
“However, some fabrics are too costly,” she says.
The business has been recording a healthy growth, necessitating the need to move to a larger shop.
Ms Kawira’s goal is to open up more branches in every county in the near future.
“It is very important to know how to manage this business. My advise to upcoming designers is that it requires a lot of patience but eventually, with optimism and resilience, they will make it,” she says.