Cleopatra Wanjiku is a young Kenyan fashion designer par excellence and the founder and CEO of Pabaa Collections. She talks with Manuel Ntoyai on all matters fashion and design
As an African designer, what are the challenges you face dealing with Afro products?
For the longest time, our main challenge has been people appreciating African-themed items because everyone has the perception that they are a little expensive. But I always tell them that when you buy something from an artist, you’re buying more than the object.
You’re buying hundreds of hours of errors and experimentation, years of frustrations and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just this one thing, you’re buying a piece of a heart, soul; a small part of someone’s life.
Are Afro materials easily accessible?
Access to these fabrics is equally a problem as most of them run out of stock within one week and you’ll find a customer will come and insist on a specific fabric and most likely it’s out of stock and it’s so hard to convince them they are no longer available or they have to wait. All in all, people are now embracing our products and willing to part with reasonable fee and get something awesome.
African products are steadily going international. Do you think technology advancement has had its hand on the trend?
Yes. Technology has created a paradigm shift and it has had a massive impact in the emergence and consolidation of African designer brands, catapulting them to the international market. For example, after posting my products on social media, I can get an order from any corner of the world and ship it to the client, and all that is done from a mobile phone. It’s a great moment to be an online retailer.
How else can a local designer reach out to the international market?
It’s our duty to make quality products and equally market them all over to attract that market. Again, I would urge stakeholders to attend symposiums where one can network and learn from already established firms. From my interactions, I know I have great products and the future is bright.
What would you buy if money was no object?
I would definitely get myself all the designs that I’ve ever wished including my favourite Calvin Klein suit.
Who are your favourite designers?
It must be Calvin Klein and Donatella Versace. These two have dominated the fashion industry for the longest time and have delivered.
What do you think everyone should wear?
I believe anything that shows a little skin during the hot season. With this I mean a pair of shorts and sandals.
What should be a permanent feature in everyone’s wardrobe?
Everyone should and must own at least three hoodies; they are probably the most disrespected items in wardrobes. When it’s cold, we rock a hoodie, when leaving at night, we must carry a hoodie. Isn’t that the greatest disrespect? Ha-ha.
Who would you most love to dress?
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta. She is a real African woman who loves our culture and many times than often she has rocked Ankara attires that looked so good on her.
What would you be if you weren’t a designer?
I would definitely be a media personality. My dream was to be a news anchor, but I ended up in the school of Public Health and somewhere between the clutter, I got into fashion.
What’s your best fashion buy?
Shoes! I love shoes because I realised that shoe love is the only true love.
Who is your style icon?
Neomi Ng’ang’a. Style comes along with confidence and comfort. I like how she has embraced herself, making her so beautiful in everything she rocks.
What’s your signature scent?
I’ll wear my Black Car perfume anytime, anywhere.