WazaWazi is a fast-growing, high-end Afro-centric brand producing luxury bags, wallets and other leather accessories by designer Chebet Mutai. She spoke to our writer ELIJAH CHEMOBO on her entrepreneurial journey
Tell us more about WazaWazi, how it started and where it gets its inspiration from.
WazaWazi is an accessories label that uses leather to create statements to show modern-day Africa. It started as a clothing line but currently it specialises in crafting leather bags. Our inspiration is basically acquired from nature, people & places.
What does WazaWazi mean?
WazaWazi is a play on two Swahili Words. Waza means ‘to think’ & Wazi means ‘open’. It’s about having the mindset to embrace diversity through appreciation of life & encouraging people to be themselves by telling that African story.
What inspired you to create WazaWazi?
A stint at World Bank while managing development work for Africa necessitated and boosted creative grounds to define employment, nurture skills to enhance creativity & talent across all borders.
My love for fashion made me take a detour from my economist job at World Bank to being fully WazaWazi.
I believe if you do what you love, you don’t have to work a day for it.
What audience relates to WazaWazi?
Our clients are intrigued by functional, timeless pieces with an edgy touch. They also pay attention to aesthetics, value, quality and craftsmanship.
What makes your accessories unique and appealing to buyers?
They’re expressions of various states of life that capture special moments. We don’t follow trends; we highlight a sense of belonging and individuality.
What is the concept behind your designs?
To package and brand Africa as a creative, beautiful and expressive continent through fashion. Basically, our fashion attitude is to change negative stereotypes and perceptions of what Africa is all about.
What is your favourite piece in your collection and why?
The Kittony Bag. It’s the embodiment of what WazaWazi is all about. Bold, Uninhibited and Unapologetic.
Designers have often looked to street style to inspire their work and the internet is the new street. What’s your take on this, and how does it play out on your brand?
It’s good to be aware of the volatile fashion space but I believe its better staying true to authenticity and maintaining your creative drive. I also have to acknowledge my production team which is amazing and lovable. They are beautiful impressions of what WazaWazi is made of.
Any experiences that shaped your resolve as an entrepreneur?
The drive to change my reality as an African. Africa needs me and you to bring positive impact and change towards our different spheres of life and occupation such as creating employment, appreciating skill and empowering creativity.
What are some challenges you encounter as a designer?
Lack of supplies and access to quality leather especially when big brands buy all the leather. Also something needs to be done with regards to the Kenyan fashion industry through organizing abundant skilled labour and defining a unique fashion calendar that will in turn shape the industry.
How would you as a designer rate the fashion market in Kenya?
I think there’s still a lot to be done in the local fashion industry. We’re nowhere near where we’re supposed to be. I believe we need to question ourselves and ponder on issues such as negative competition, lack of cooperation and copyright issues.
Who are some of your favourite African designer(s)?
Anna Trebinski: she’s herself and replicates her individualism in her designs; Adele Dejak for her stunning, bold and contemporary creations that pays homage to African heritage; and Babatunde Styles for embracing African heritage through fashion.
What next for WazaWazi?
We would like to increase local presence and appreciation. We’re also working on growing a team that’s strong and robust to bring in more people especially young, vulnerable women and train them to be super-crafters.
In five years, we would like to be a Pan-African brand with the much preferred support of Kenyans and local market.
Advice for emerging designers/start-ups in the fashion industry?
Do what you love and stick it out. Be creative, be original and reach out to people for any useful guidance or support that you feel will propel you to greater heights.