Designers

Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . . Fashion Designer Kiki Kamanu #Africanfashion

The “Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . .” is a feature on Ladybrille® Magazine that is focused on entrepreneurs in Africa’s fashion industry, with a heavy emphasis on fashion designers. This feature highlights business principles, business practices, follows the money, discusses the challenges faced by fashion startups as well as offers pragmatic tips that should help stir the Ladybrille fashion entrepreneur towards success. If you would like to be featured, send an email to our Associate Editor at (associateeditor@ladybrille.com), indicate the kind of fashion business you operate and what you intend to share with our audience that you feel will be beneficial to them.

For today’s feature, Ladybrille caught up with Fashion Designer Kiki Kamanu to discuss the business of fashion. Enjoy.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Share your background with us?
Kiki K.: My background certainly begins with my parents who were and remain very influential. My American mother, whom my Nigerian entrepreunerial father met while studying in the US, changed careers later in life. I am proud to have inherited some entrepreneurial skills from my father and my mother has shown me that it is never too late to switch careers to pursue what you love. This environment, in addition to my travels, formed the basis of my sense of adventure. I went to school in Nigeria, France and the United States and I am forever curious about the world around me whether it is people from different backgrounds or cultures in stark contrast to mine.  This inspires my designs and desire to comfortably and stylishly dress people of different shapes and sizes from all walks of life.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us, briefly, how and why you decided to strike out on your own as a fashion entrepreneur?
Kiki K.: The idea of a business per se was secondary. It was the pursuit of my interest and passion that was the genesis of KIKIKAMANU INC. I view entrepreneurship as a vehicle for the realization of one’s vision, dreams and passion. As a child I would dress my twin sister and myself. I recall being the belle of the ball or at least feeling like it at my 6th grade dance. I still remember the sky blue dress with the asymmetrical hem I wore. As I matured, I observed how women appeared empowered with a simple change of attire, and emerged with a sense of confidence. I found that I enjoyed being a part of that transformative process. Allowing one to express their individuality as a manifestation of freedom is empowering as it is life changing.  I have found that in some societies this is the jumpstart that a woman needs to redirect the chapters of her life.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Very well said, Kiki). Describe the exact products and services you provide?
Kiki K.: The Kiki Kamanu label consists of four lines: Z.bird (womenswear casual ), Omaáka (women’s wear luxury ), E.K.Z. ( menswear ), and Arm Kandy (handbags and accessories).

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is the core mission of your business?
Kiki K.: Our vision is to become the first internationally recognized (African) fashion brand serving a global customers from a world-class production and manufacturing base in West Africa. To help us get there we need to continue to stay relevant in the ever fickle world of fashion and maintain our international standard of quality in our pieces.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What clearly defined business goals do you have for your brand within the next two years?
Kiki K.: Reach sales of at least US$250,000 per annum and expand retail sales distribution into Europe, the US and Asia.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (W)hat is the distribution system you have in place to make sure customers get your products when and where they want it?
Kiki K.: Kiki Kamanu products are available through retail outlets (currently at Grey Velvet, Ikeja City Mall; Designer’s Outlet, 4th floor of Mega Plaza, Victoria Island; and Quintessence, Falomo in Lagos) as well as online through sabunta.com and kikikamanu.com. We are constantly working to expand this network to be as close and accessible to our customers wherever they may be.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has been your biggest business success to date?
Kiki K.: Ah, several. Being selected as a top 5 finalists out of 300 applicants with Bidnetwork. A competition which matches entrepreneurs from all over the globe with potential investors. Also, I was humbled when I showcased twice at London Fashion Week. Seeing my name listed on the official Canon schedule along with well known designers such as Chanel and Stella MCcartney was amazing! I have truly been blessed.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Definitely major moments. Congratulations!) What has been your biggest business mistake so far?
Kiki K.: Underestimating the operational challenges of production in Nigeria.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (W)hat have you learnt from that mistake?
Kiki K.: I have had to really focus on incorporating tools and systems into our process to ensure consistent, timely and cost-effective production quality. At the same time, I have had to develop a strong pipeline to identify, attract and train staff to meet our discriminating world-class standards.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: As a business, what is the customer experience you want each customer to take away every time they experience your fashion brand?
Kiki K.: Each time a man or woman sees a Kiki Kamanu original piece, they will certainly look twice, at least. When a man or woman wears a Kiki Kamanu original, they will confidently walk into a room and own it. We do not create pieces which can be found any where else, we create to make a client not only more stunning, but also to instill more confidence.  I am always encouraged when clients send photographs of themselves in my pieces and take the time to say how good they feel in them!! Susan Taylor, Editor–in-Chief Emeritus of Essence Magazine one of my favorite clients was one of those who took out time to send a note!

LADYBRILLEmag.com: ( Oh wow, that was nice of her.) What kind of challenges do you face when it comes to sourcing of materials for your fashion business?
Kiki K.: I moved my production from the US to Nigeria yet I continue to source primarily from outside Nigeria. Not having everything I need readily available is frustrating and is often expensive; which in turn makes it difficult to keep sales prices low.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What do you believe are the key qualities of a brilliant (Ladybrille) entrepreneur?
Kiki K.: Resilience, Resilience, Resilience!

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I agree with you, for anyone chasing a dream, resilience cannot be over-emphasized.) Can you share with our audience some few tips on financial management of a fashion business? 
Kiki K.: Partner with a good finance team or accountant. Whether it is using a simple excel spread sheet or an expensive software, start to keep records with your very first business transaction. Do not postpone  this crucial process till your business picks up.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: How have you been able to integrate new technologies into your business to make it successful?
Kiki K.: We currently use software for the back office – accounting function but are considering a suitable software solution for our core operations – design, production, finance/credit, inventory and customer relationship management.  Besides software we use other technologies such as our website (kikikamanu.com), e-mail, social media and sms platforms as part of our marketing efforts to communicate and inform our clients, partners and press about new products, promotions or events.  In addition, we are please to have an e-tailer (sabunta.com) as a partner that resells our brand on their site. These tools have become an integral and essential part of running our business efficiently and effectively.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us the three ways you have used social media to increase brand awareness and gain recognition for your brand?
Kiki K.: Kiki Kamanu has a Facebook (Kiki Kamanu Inc), Twitter (@kikikamanuinc)  and Pintrest accounts.  We have used Twitter in the past  to provide live updates from our fashion shows and other events.  In addition, we also currently actively use Facebook to share updates on new products, promotions and any other important Kiki Kamanu news.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: In your opinion, why do fashion businesses, especially African fashion businesses, fail?
Kiki K.: Worldwide, fashion businesses fail because while fashion inspires strong passion, entrepreneurs sometimes do not fully understand that at its heart they are running a business which happens to be in an area of their passion. Like any business, the dynamics of both the overall industry and the entrepreneur’s specific area of interest and customer trends needs to be understood.  Some questions to ask are: is it a growing area with strong demand? Are there suppliers for your raw materials readily available?  How will your product and company stand out? What human resource skills do you require for this kind of business? How will you sell or distribute your product? etc. This understanding, in turn, has to be combined with a clear first-hand grasp of how the company’s marketing, operations and finance will be managed to ensure the business just born not only survives, but thrives.  In this regard, an entrepreneur should recognize that no person is an island of wisdom and actively network and leverage the counsel and advise of people who bring relevant experience that can be beneficial to their fashion business idea.

Finally, every entrepreneur must be grounded in the very real expectations not only about the potential joys and success of their business but also the difficult challenges that will undoubtedly lie ahead. That initial passion will need to inspire many days of discipline and (re-)commitment to ultimately overcome all the obstacles in your way to achieve the dream that it inspired for you.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What do you look for when you hire employees? 
Kiki K.: For starters they are members of my team and not just mere employees. For my technical team it is skill and performance which are tested before they are hired. For administrative staff, it is all in the attitude. I look for not only a ‘can do’ approach, but also I prefer those who are green and  malleable.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you as a business owner? 
Kiki K.: I love what I do and I do what I love and there is nothing else I would rather be doing. My team depend on me and I don’t have the luxury to disappoint.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What makes you get up to do what you do everyday instead of throwing in the towel and getting a 9-5?
Kiki K.: Again, c’est simple. I love what I do. It is as simple as that. It has been said that if you do what you love you will never have to “work” any day of your life. I often tell people whom I mentor that ‘When you look forward to Mondays versus Fridays, you have mastered your life…you have found what has remained elusive to many seemingly successful people.’ That still rings true for me.


Courtesy photos
~Copyright 2012 Ladybrille Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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