Bicycles played a notable role in advancing women’s rights in the 1800s, an invention that allowed women independent movement without a chaperone, contributing to the emancipation of women. Not only this, it also brought about dress reforms.
The desire for comfortable, fashionable and stylish range of activewear is what inspired Alice Kivuva’s business, FiveStars Africa Sports Apparel, which she launched in 2017 with a small collection of cycling, triathlon and athleisure apparel.
Alice, an avid cyclist, (her cycling personal-best is a 10-hour ride that covered 250 kilometers) took up cycling in 2015, the sport that inspired her business. Her creations depict her love for African culture, as such, they feature bold beautiful prints inspired by nature and life.
“We believe that ethnic diversity adds richness to a society, and being able to look to our heritage and cultural diversity for inspiration and getting to share that with the world through sports, fitness and fashion is core for my company,” she says.
Before launching her business, while she liked the idea of being kitted, she could not find any cycling kits in the market that offered comfort and style.
“I found that there was a distinct lack of female-specific kits, and what was available felt like an afterthought. My disappointment led to the realisation of a gap in the market. This presented me with a unique business opportunity and a chance to disrupt the sports apparel industry,” she explains.
When she started cycling, the cycling community was not big and the market was very niche. Majority of the cyclists would get their kits from second-hand retail stores - she was not sure how her products would fair in the market.
“My first option was local production, but looking at the numbers and the kind capital investment it would require, it would have been impossible to get started. I decided to shelve the plan to a later period when the business had grown and was stable enough to attract investment,” she explains.
Alice started her business with a capital of Sh100, 000, with a small range of cycling kits, triathlon Kits and athleisure apparel. She explains that minimum order quantities and the range of sizes limits the variety and eats up on capital.
“Up until this point, I have had to take this journey on my own, including capital injections. It has not always been easy, and there are periods when I have suffered major setbacks, delays and had gaps in supply due to inadequate financing, slowing down the growth process significantly,” says the entrepreneur.
Having an outlet store was not an option for her as it would have required a whole new budget, yet she was trying to save as much as possible to be able to increase the variety of her products.
“I decided to stick to online sales and approached a couple of outlet stores to have them stock our products. We are currently working towards setting up a local production base. This will enable us to migrate some of our processes in the country as we grow our markets, have better control, and create employment in the process as we look to strengthen our economy.”
Alice handles all the artwork and designs, while she sources the main cycling fabric from Asia and Europe. Production is done in the same regions. Items that do not require large minimum order quantities, with fabric that is locally available are done here, for instance corporate orders for hoodies, t-shirts or caps.
She has had a long-running interest in business, business centered on her heritage, a celebration of culture.
She also believes in the transformational power of sports and its ability to inspire, strengthen and cultivate personal growth. She is keen on fitness, health and fashion and passionate about encouraging women and girls to work out “with purpose and on purpose” to cultivate and maintain a functional balanced and healthy lifestyle.
“We seek to shine a spotlight in particular to the Kenyan Cycling Community. There is under representation of the sport in the international scene, not because the talent is lacking, but because proper structures need to be put in place to ensure its growth and success,” she points out, adding that there is need to invest in the younger generations of both genders with the abilities to excel in cycling if only we can focus more attention to nurturing, investing and involvement in international events.
FiveStars Africa sell a variety of sporting gear. From cycling kits (road and mountain bikes) and accessories (jackets, jerseys, windbreakers, cycling bib shorts, shorts, trousers, leg warmers, arm-sleeves, gloves, socks, buffs, caps, triathlon sportswear and running, jogging, yoga and spin class gym apparel.
The apparel range from Sh1, 200 to Sh15, 000 depending on the quality and design.
Alice takes pride in kitting First Lady Rachel Ruto and the Nairobi County Women Representative, Esther Passaris.
“In addition to our physical outlet stores and online platforms, we have had the opportunity to work with international clients, team up with several local clubs, corporate organisations and government. I have clients from East, West and South Africa, UK, Switzerland, Europe and North America.”
She explains that her business is committed to developing an authentic African brand as a real competitive alternative to international brands through constant improvements on the quality, design and functionality of their apparel.
The business has collaborated with the government and various corporates. For instance, it has provided kits for the Standard Chartered Marathon-Kenya and the Commonwealth games and UCI Paralympics Championships, 2021. They were also Kit sponsors for the Kenya Cycling Federation Training, 2021, were the Kenya Cycling Race Series Official kit sponsors, 2022, and Kenya National Mountain Bike Official Kit Sponsor for 2022.