Wandia Gichuru, the CEO of Vivo Activewear, believes that women entrepreneurs should not be afraid to go against the grain by making bold decisions. To her balancing family and work is an art best learnt on the job
Njeri Maina @njerimainar
At exactly 15 minutes to the slated interview, Wandia Gichuru calls to confirm if we are still on our way to her office and if we will make it on time. We learn that she is not only meticulous about time, but about every single detail that goes on at Vivo Activewear, the clothing and accessories company she co-founded with Anne-Marie Burugu.
Vivo Activewear was founded in 2011, out of a passion for fitness and dance and lack of a provider for good quality dance and fitness wear. The company has over time evolved to be one of the leading apparel stores for women’s fashion with outlets in several malls across the country. We set out to find out about the seven-year journey that Vivo and its CEO Wandia Gichuru have travelled.
It has been a learning curve for Wandia both professionally and personally.
“I had to learn a lot about sales, fashion and even manufacturing,” Wandia explains.
She learnt a lot about the Kenyan fashion industry on the job. One of the major tests of her mettle was in 2013 when she had to make the decision to stop sourcing clothes from foreign markets and start manufacturing locally. The company today partners with local factories and is the first in the country to start using Computer Aided pattern making. Vivo Activewear employs more than 70 people, something Wandia is proud of.
Wandia is a firm believer that no skill learned in school through a degree or at a previous job is ever wasted.
“It is quite interesting that I had transferable skills from my previous banking work such as managing projects and managing company finances. As much as I was learning a lot in such a short time, it was interesting that I had all these skills that I could use in my entrepreneurial journey,” she enthuses.
The highlights of her career as co-founder of Vivo are many and run from everyday triumphs of opening branches in other cities apart from Nairobi, thereby employing more Kenyans, to unexpectedly winning awards such as the Fashion Brand of the Year in 2016 and 2017.
Asked about the challenges she faces as an entrepreneur, she is careful to point out that most challenges affect every entrepreneur regardless of gender. There will be barriers to entry into different markets as well as steep learning curves. She, however, warns female entrepreneurs against going with the mould.
“As women, we are taught to be risk averse while men are taught and even designed to be more daring. This might subconsciously affect the decisions you make. We all need to be bolder,” she says.
About the idea of having it all, Wandia is careful to point out that this notion is only cultivated amongst women and not with the men. Men can dedicate a sphere of their lives to say work and not have to juggle, while women feel the pressure to be everything to everyone.
“Balancing it all is hard and unrealistic. I am still learning how to balance my work life with my family life. Fortunately, I have a great support system who are willing to help out whenever possible, keep me grounded and true to myself as well as help put things into perspective,” the mother of two explains.
Wandia tells us of the importance of choice, how one should learn to prioritise and know what they can and cannot afford to neglect or put on the backburner. Everything from starting your entrepreneurship journey to staying the course and balancing it all out boils down to the power of choice.
To anybody looking to get into entrepreneurship, her advice is to learn everything they can on the area they want to venture into and to be more action-oriented rather than being solely focused on the big idea without actualising it.
“Translate your ideas to practical steps. It is amazing to have a big goal, but you need to break it down practically and see how you get there,” she says.
“While at it, make sure that you enjoy the journey. The journey has to be as rewarding as the destination. Enjoy the process,” she concludes.