Carole Kinoti is one of the resilient and multitalented fashion designers in Nairobi.
Her recent fashion show at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, curated by Lisa Christophersen, featured her latest collection of hand-beaded kaftans and palazzo pants.
Keeping her show simple, fresh and breezy, she brought five new designs in various colours and prints, Carole says she loves making ready-to-wear dresses and gowns which she describes as ‘easy on the body.
“I like working with soft silk and chiffon fabrics that flow freely and are comfortable,” she explains.
Yet unlike many fashionistas, Carole didn’t dream of becoming a fashion designer.
“I originally studied to be a chef. But it wasn’t because I had a lifelong dream of cooking professionally,” she admits. “It was because I knew I was a creative but hadn’t yet found my artistic niche.”
So she decided to try her hand at hairdressing. She took a course in the business of beauty, and then, with her savings (and assistance from her dad) she set up her own beauty salon.
But while she was still acquiring clients, a friend in the tailoring business approached her with a problem. The friend had rented a lovely space but found it too big for one person. Did Carole know anyone who might like to share it with her?
“Something told me to be that ‘anyone’,” she says. And so, after consulting her dad, she moved all her equipment over to her friend’s shop so the two businesses could work side by side, and share the rent. This arrangement worked well initially, especially as Carole had hired assistants to help her. Meanwhile, she found herself gaining interest in her friend’s clients, many of whom had come seeking fashion advice.
“I found myself getting more involved assisting my friend and her clients. It was as if a light bulb switched on, and I felt I had found my creative niche in being a fashion consultant,” Carole says.
Unfortunately, her friend’s business was faltering so she decided the time had come to quit. But rather than close the shop, she was glad to let Carole take it over, which she did.
“I loved fashion consultancy, but I don’t like to do anything half-baked, so I again went back to college,” says Carole who by now was married and had children.
She agrees that raising a family, running two businesses and going to school all at once was a bit much. But Carole multitasked with grace and style. Her fashion and tailoring business thrived.
“My speciality was creating one-of-a-kind wedding gown and dresses for special occasions,” she says. She did that for 15 years. She worked full time, acquiring new clients without lifting a finger to do marketing.
“People heard about me ‘by word of mouth’. I was best known for being able to design and deliver a dress in a day; but that was because I ran my business on a 24-hour basis for a while,” she says. But keeping up that pace finally wore her down. She got sick and the doctor’s diagnosis wasn’t good.
“They wanted to operate on my brain, but I flatly refused. As it turned out, I had been misdiagnosed. It wasn’t my brain. It was a pinched nerve in my spine,” she adds.
But having been forced to slow down and reassess her life, Carole once again chose to go back to school.
“I went to Strathmore to study business. From there, I developed a new business model and also rebranded.”
The Carole Kinoti brand was born. She now started creating ready-to-wear collections and showing them at fashion shows she put on during golf tournaments that she also sponsored.
“I called my new business model ‘Fashion on the Road’ which has taken me all the way from Kajiado to Mt Elgon to Kirinyaga,” she says noting it was in Kajiado that she began working with Maasai women.
“I organised the women into three groups and trained them in the sizes and shapes of the beaded work I wanted them to make. They are paid for their labour and for creating patterns with colours of their choice. These become the beaded cuffs that you now see on my kaftans and dresses,” she says as she pointed to the gowns she showed at Fairmont The Norfolk.