When Chebet Mutai started Waza Wazi, a high-end leather goods company, eight years ago, she built a footprint online first before opening a physical store in Nairobi.
Now more than ever, when the luxury industry is facing store closures, supply problems, factory shutdowns, layoffs, non-payment of wages, and even bankruptcy, having an already established online presence pays off.
“Of course, Covid-19 pandemic has affected our business. Initially, we were shocked, then we adjusted. The demand and supply chain has changed. For example, purchases of products made from skins and hides have stopped and focus is on masks and PPEs (personal protective equipment). But this has helped us evolve. We are now makers of masks and other PPEs, just like every other designer around the world. Who would have thought?” she says. Being a fully digitally Kenyan luxury brand means that she can sell to the world.
“After a certain threshold, the concept of local market dissolves. And even after the pandemic, I’m sure businesses will appreciate the importance of having a strong digital presence,” she says. “Everyone has to adjust because this is perhaps the biggest economic disruptor since the adoption of the Internet.”
Chebet curates the African and luxury aspects in one space, making from leather goods, skincare and wellness, footwear, and home accessories—all made from locally sourced materials.
Just before the pandemic, she had expanded the business to the travel sector. Additionally, she had hoped to incorporate wellness into travel.
“Diversification sometimes doesn’t involve any new skillset. This is something other brands can do in their workspaces. We’re currently creating new collections,” says Chebet.
Even in these unprecedented times, the designer is building local partnerships, while still pushing to break into the global luxury market.
“Our brand is designed for the local and African market, I hope that the rest of the world warms up to us. It will be interesting to see how the world responds to an even stronger message of what it means to be an African,” she says.
The pre-shipping of products to international markets is still something that is in the works for Chebet’s brand.
“Our orders are not yet predetermined enough to have that kind of flow. I hope we’ll be able to organise that soon, though,” she says.
Wealthy consumers may have stopped traveling and reduced their shopping appetite, but Chebet says she is still selling locally.
“Humans are consumers by nature. It’s just that we’re now more discerning, and as producers and service providers, we also have to reorganise how we package value for our customers, which is what they most want,” she says.
So far, three products she is most proud of are the ‘Kittony Bag’ dedicated to veteran politician Zipporah Kittony, the Makosewe bag dedicated to the late Grace Makosewe, a media personality and the Luoch, dedicated to stylist Connie Aluoch.