Fashion industry players optimistic to bounce back
The fashion industry has received its equal blow from the Covid-19 crisis. But as Jasmine Atieno writes, sector stakeholders are learning from the challenge to use the pandemic as a springboard for future successes.
The Kenyan fashion industry has suffered greatly due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In such a situation where people are constantly worried about putting something on the table, clothing as a need is often considered a luxury and thrown to the back burner.
With the nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew, blanket ban on huge social gatherings and people adopting the ‘working from home’ model since the novel coronavirus hit home in March, people have largely ignored the urge to add anything new to their wardrobes; after all, they have nowhere to go anyway.
Boutiques, fashion stylists and designers have since been recording low returns due to serious decline in business.
Service providers in the fashion industry have also been equally affected, considering they depend mostly on gigs and social events, which were suspended five months ago.
Despite all that, the pandemic has provided a learning curve as attributed by many players in the sector, who project that when normalcy returns, the industry could completely change for the better.
Nairobi-based fashion designer Brian Babu is one of the most-sought after designers and stylists in the country.
He styled multi-award winning Kenyan Afro pop band Sauti Sol for the launch of their fifth album Midnight Train last weekend.
He shares with Spice that since March, he’s been hit hard by the enormous decline in work flow.
Because of this, he has not been able to do more commercials like he used to.
With the restrictions on gatherings, he adds, he has not been able to earn from concerts or shoot as many videos as he ought to, because everything is being done cautiously due to the uncertainties of what to expect in the future.
“I am grateful that I have been able to have TV jobs such as shows and individual clients who are trying to reorganise their closets and all that.
In terms of recovery, I am slowly looking at other ways of generating income, as a stylist and in fashion design.
But we are still in the process of figuring out how to make some of them sustainable,” says Babu.
The big shift
He adds, “We are hopeful that in 2021, we won’t be relying on the same things like we’ve done in the past including music videos, commercials and concerts.
We are looking at other things such as digital content for artistes and providing better packages in photo shoots, so that we can have other sources of income and generate content that is different for our clients.
“This includes bettering our packages for services such as wardrobe consultations, maternity shoots, corporates and other things we hadn’t focused on in the past.”
Babu predicts that the industry might experience a very big shift in how it progresses post-Covid-19, because people would be looking at things differently, righting where they have been doing wrong.
He adds that there is a more clear direction that things will be better, and with this, the industry would be well segmented with online shopping becoming the next new normal for a lot of people.
“The important lessons I have learnt is the need to save and have a sustainable business.
Some of our creative businesses have a lot of overheads, and are not sustainable in the long run.
You need to have reserves that can keep your business running over a certain period of time.
Get retainer clients who can help you grow and diversify your client portfolio,” he opines.
Joe Nyles, a fashion stylist based in Mombasa, says his career has since the onset of the pandemic taken a nosedive, as there are barely any events or shows within the region to work for.
And for the few that are there, potential clients are just not attending. But, he remains optimistic, saying all isn’t lost.
“I have been doing extended research during this period. And I have a lot of creative styling sketches I have done, and the plan is to make a comeback with a bang.
Most people are eager to get back on their toes, so I see amazing projects happening; the industry will definitely be back on high note.
And the most important lesson I have learnt this season is to always plan for tomorrow, live to your fullest, and if you are doing something, give it your best shot, you just never know what tomorrow holds. So, break the barrier and don’t let the sky be the limit,” says Nyles.
For Cess Munyoro, a fashion stylist and founder of Glam By Cess, being the wardrobe consultant for Mediamax Ltd has greatly helped her company stay afloat.
She intimates that she has been working all through and there is something coming in every now and then, despite the industry being in the red zone.
Route to normalcy
“If there is anything that Covid-19 has taught me is to never put my eggs in one basket.
We have to keep being creative and innovative and broaden our horizons. That way, if one thing is not working at the moment, you have something else going for yourself.
I have personally channelled my energy to personal styling from celebrity styling, since the ordinary citizen needs my services more now as compared to a public figure.
“We have been doing a lot of birthday and family photo shoots during the pandemic period, which has helped a lot.
As a business owner, I believe one has to be able to study people’s needs and behaviour at a given time; make them aware of what problems are there and provide a solution,” says Cess.
However, she thinks it’s going to take some more time for things to get back to where they were pre-Covid.
“But I am also grateful for this period because we have had enough time to reflect, find solutions to past problems and come up with new ideas.
As much as it won’t be easy, I think we will eventually and most definitely thrive,” she says.
Kilifi-based designer, business owner and artiste Kitole Kenda of Kenda Apparel, shares that his business was greatly hit by the now vacated restrictions on movements.
“Restriction of movement to business essential areas led to more cancellation of appointments and purchase orders due to the then paralysed transport system.
My recovery plans are to ensure smooth and timely product deliveries into the most remote places our clients will make an order from, while also making clients used to online real time meetings as opposed to face-to-face engagements.
My post-Covid projections for the industry include more cashless transactions and virtual meetings.
Some things will change forever,” says Kitole, adding that the pandemic has taught him resilience and adaptation.
Mavazi Medit is one of Kenyan top fashion designers. Just like Kitole, he says his work was also greatly affected by the restriction on movements.
Being unable to move around to find clients or even buy fabrics, he says, was a big challenge for him.
He cites difficulties, especially when it came to delivering his products to clients.
In turn, this made the cost of production to shoot up, but he is looking forward to better days ahead.
“I have been working on new designs to keep up and marketing my products mostly through online channels.
My hopes have been on my loyal clients who have been very supportive, especially during this season.
I’m now working on new unique ideas for the Kenya fashion industry,” shares Mavazi.
Kenyan International supermodel and entrepreneur Yvonne Achieng says her greatest hit as a stakeholder in the industry was in the ban on public gatherings. As a model, she greatly depends on events and shows for business.
“We are now curving and venturing into different production of masks, which is not so much as before, and stuff that would cost less to bring in business our way.
At the same time we are reducing prices to accommodate everyone’s needs. We have now ventured into ready-to-wear outfits, which is taking us quite well so far.
I am optimistic things will definitely get better soon as people are learning to live with the new normal.
“The biggest lesson I have learnt from this pandemic is that things can change at any given time, and so, don’t get too comfortable,” she shares.
From the interactions, industry players are exhibiting absolute optimism that the fashion sector will rise from the Covid-19 ashes with renewed energy and hope for greater new opportunities.