Mwara Gichanga, the Kenyan behind Mwara designs, takes us through her journey as a designer and reveals some of the challenges affecting the industry. Her great eye for style sets her apart from the rest of the crowd, and she intends to prove that fashion does not involve buying a second skin, but rather, having a fantasy.
What inspired the name of your brand?
My name, heritage and cultural background inspired the name ‘Mwara Designs’. I wanted to establish a brand that is rooted in Africa and represents and authenticates my identity as a young African woman.
How long have you been a designer?
I have been a designer all my life.
During my childhood, I loved to play dress-up and used to take my mother’s scarfs and tie them together to create designs. I developed a curious interest in patterns, textures, styles and colors while reading magazines in hair salons. I also observed the dress codes of all the women around me including my mum, aunties and grandmother, while conceptualizing and creating pieces in my head for fashion runways.
However, actively, I have been a designer for 2 years as I launched my first collection in 2018 for a fashion event called ‘Saucy Flair’. My main focus this year is to continue utilizing fashion and the arts in order to address some of the social conscience concepts and challenges. Sharlene Opande, Stephanie Nkatha and I initiated the ‘Curated Women for Women’ campaign under the NENA project. The campaign seeks to use fashion, make-up, film and sound to develop pieces of art that empower the women comradery.
Why did you choose to be a designer?
Fashion chose me. I am creative and naturally have a keen eye for style. In fact, personally, the process of building and developing ideas is the cumbersome part.
What kind of style does your design represent?
My style, oh wow! It is a spectrum. My physical, emotional and spiritual states of mind inspire my diverse styles. Therefore, it is hard to narrow down skills to a specific theme or preference.
Challenges you face as a designer
Can I bullet point this? Way too many (Chuckles). I would say that the biggest challenge for me is finding time to focus on apparel making and designing. It is often difficult to balance time between other activities and focusing on the Mwara brand, especially, since in order to maintain a consistent revenue stream in Kenya, one has to engage in multiple jobs.Other challenges include financial sustainability due to the high cost of production and the hustle, energy, and time I consume in order to secure a niche clientele. Additionally, creatives block is a constant issue since sometimes it may be challenging to come up with original and unique pieces that the market appreciates.
Do you think 2nd hand market has affected your industry
Yes, and No
I agree that a huge demographic of the Kenyan market prefer second-hand clothes or ‘mitumba’ to local designs since they are affordable and easily accessible. I believe that it is affecting our fashion culture since Africans lack unique styles that differentiate them from the rest of the world.
Contrary, I think that local brands are too expensive due to the high cost of production, and since clothing is a basic need, second-hand clothes are the most preferred options. It is the role of the government to create policies and regulations in the textile industries that seek to reduce the costs of production and research. Otherwise, the ‘mitumba’ will continue to dominate and the local designers will produce brands for a niche market.
What platforms do you use to sell your products?
Currently, I mostly rely on personal references. However, I am working towards building an online store in order to take advantage of the new market that involves social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
Have you had any opportunity to showcase your work on a runway?
Yes, models showcased some of my designs in the ‘2018 Saucy Flair Show’ event. I have also participated as the costume director and curator for a number of theatre productions and runway events.
What are some of the necessary steps that we need to take as a continent to improve the fashion industry?
First, society should be ready to provide local support to the designers, who should also create content for their communities before traversing to other parts of the world. Second, African creatives and designers should collaborate and partner up for projects in order to inspire each other and advocate for better policies and regulations for the textile industry.