Neema Nkatha stumbled on her business idea by chance. She went around Nairobi looking for a swimsuit in 2017, but she failed to get one that satisfied her taste. She then decided to make one herself.
“The first swimsuit I made for myself was for a trip to Europe with family after failing to find one I liked from the many shops, boutiques and malls I visited in Nairobi,” she says.
“What I wanted was first a costume that was not second-hand because intimate wear is very sensitive. And two, I wanted a piece that is far from the ordinary, practical and plain swimming costume.”
Ms Nkatha discloses that the motivation to venture into the business was further fuelled by her failure to find an authentic Kenyan-inspired swimsuit in the market.
This saw her start Ohana Family Wear in 2017 during her final year at the United States International University- Africa.
“It all started in late July of 2017 after I made the first piece for myself. When my friends saw it they started asking where I’d gotten the swimsuit from and suddenly orders started coming in and that was when I decided to turn it into a side hustle,” said Ms Nkatha, who was then working at Fusion Capital.
Ms Nkatha says her brand is driven by the need to embrace all body types, as well as celebrate African culture as it combines Afro-inspired fabrics, colours and prints to create modern designs.
The luxuriant print and colour play of the swimsuit, according to Ms Nkaatha, was the biggest attraction when people first started placing their orders.
Ms Nkatha says West Africa and South Africa are leaders in modern Afro-inspired fashion, adding that she is seeking to put Kenya on the map through her products whose prices range between Sh2,500 and Sh3,000.
Ms Nkatha told Enterprise that she started small, recording monthly sales worth less than Sh5,000. The situation was compounded by the fact that she had taken a loan to start the business, and her main preoccupation was whether the business would do well enough to enable her to repay it.
The teething challenges did not, however, deter the entrepreneur from working hard to realise her vision. And in two years, Ohana Family Wear story has made remarkable progress. Kenyans, she says, are starting to prefer locally-made brands.
“The attitude is slowly shifting towards supporting local brands in Kenya,” she says.
Ms Nkatha, who has employed 10 young people, is Ohana Family Wear chief executive, brand ambassador and creative director rolled into one. She says although she is wearing many hats at the same time, her staff has helped her eased the pressure from her shoulders.
Her aims is to expand her enterprise and create more jobs for the youth.
“I love working with young people. They are very open minded. The infusion of vibrant, out-of-the-box ideas is definitely part of the reason I have grown,” Ms Nkatha says.
The Ohana Family Wear brand is trademarked, and all swimsuit designs are protected legally before each season’s launch to ensure there is no duplication.
In the near future, Ms Nkatha plans to offer custom-made pieces and launch new line of products exclusively catering to Muslims and the conservatives.
The biggest challenge in the business is production costs which have compelled her to outsource to countries such as Asia and the United States.