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Building success in a two-piece

With a little cash and faith of a parent, Nkatha carved a niche in Sh2.9 trillion bikini and truck industry 

Grace Wachira @yaa_grace

At 24, Neema Nkatha Kinoti is building her own empire. What started out as whim to get African print swimwear in the mainstream opened up a niche she has since exploited

Neema now sells her original self-designed bikinis and trunks under the brand Ohana Swimwear. “Contrary to popular belief, Africans do swim,” says Neema.

She smiles as she invites me to take a look at the swimwear already packed in neat clear bags waiting to be delivered. It all began in July last year when she and her friends planned a trip to celebrate the end of campus life.

“I studied International Business Administration at United States International University where I majored in finance and the breather was well required, and welcomed,” she says.

Before she set out on her trip, Neema wanted to get a new set of swimwear.  “So I looked for something unique, specifically African print,” she says.

She went online and could not find any African swimming costume; everyone was making African-inspired bags, hoodies, dresses and T-shirts, but no one ventured into swimwear.

A month and a trip later, Neema received her first self-designed bikini.  When she wore it later, all her friends wanted swimming costumes just like hers.

“I saw a niche. I told my father about it and together with my mother bought into the idea and lent me Sh30,000, which I used to have 20 pieces made and shipped into the country,” she says. She went a step further and asked her friends to model the outfits.

“At this point, I needed a name for my budding enterprise and settled on Ohana. The inspiration for the name came from the cartoon, Moana. It is Hawaiian for family and I wanted everyone who purchases our product to feel part of this stylish swim family,” the 24-year-old chuckles.

A lot of Neema’s clients are based online.  “At first, I marketed the bikinis myself. I took pictures and posted them on my social media pages. I come from a religious family and posting pictures in swimwear was construed as posing in the nude,” she says.

This did not go down well with older folk.  “They thought it was wrong to parade my ‘nudity’.” The bashing came in its numbers.

“You could say I was cyber-bullied but I grew thick skin. I only paid attention to constructive criticism and my entrepreneurial parents supported me morally,” she says.

Her online community grew and she went ahead to set up proper pages for Ohana and redirected traffic from her personal pages.

“I decided to take things a notch higher, took out a loan shy of half-a-million shillings (which she has since repaid) and restocked. My father was my guarantor,” she says.

Her target clients are aged between 16 and 35.  “Most are tech-savvy and prefer to make their selections and order online,” she says as she asks her boda boda rider to deliver Ohana trunks to town.

Early this year, she moved into her own office space.

“To sell to people who are online-shy, I decided to set up an physical shop where they can come and fit as well as choose what product they want. I also needed to move away from home because of the picking and delivering logistics. You could say, as business expanded and the need for storage space arose, there was need to upscale on space,” says Neema.

Global clients

In December last year, Neema sold out her first collection.  “I sold all the 40 pieces during a certain festival as well as those we had stocked in our Mombasa outlet. I design the swimwear in collections because it is cheaper,” she says.

On rainy months, Neema sells 10 pieces.  “The prices dwindle between Sh2,300 and Sh2,700. We mostly get our clients based on referrals and word of mouth,” says Neema.

So far, Neema has sold to clients in Rwanda, Portugal, UK, Sweden, South Africa and Tanzania.  The feedback she gets from her clients fuels her to make better designs and sell more pieces. “Determination and zeal is the difference between running a successful venture and being run to the ground,” she says.

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