If you are a cream liqueur lover, you must have taken Amarula, the famous South African drink. In 2018, the manufacturing company invited a few African artists to design limited-edition packaging inspired by Africa’s cultural diversity and called it African Design Collection. One of those selected was Ms Kate Mayeye Okaranime, 34, a Kenyan creative, CEO of African Fabric & Designs Kenya.
Kate’s use of unique African prints in her designs, especially those favoured by Nigeria’s fashion industry, has made her one of the most sought after designers in Africa. She recently had a chance to style award-winning Nigerian singer, Yemi Alade, and actress Angela Okorie for three high profile red carpet events.
Other notable personalities that she has dressed include former Miss Kenya, Juliet Ochieng, Kenyan personalities such as Amina Abdi, Diana Marua, Bahati, Joan of Yummy Mummy and Susan Owiyo.
Finest tailor-made designs
The business woman says she prides herself in dressing her clients in the finest tailor-made designs, all made in Kenya, while at the same time selling African fabrics, African tailor-made outfits and contemporary urban outfits.
“I started my business in 2015, a business my husband invested in after reading through my proposal. We started with a capital of about Sh550, 000,” explains Kate, a marketer by profession.
Her creativity spurred from her mother, a teacher who runs a fashion business on the side.
“My love for unique African prints, in particular those popular in Nigeria’s fashion industry, inspires me, that, coupled with determination to be successful in all areas of life is what brought me here,” she says, adding that her love for the impeccable finishing on Nigerian designs inspired her to incorporate it into Kenyan designs.
Different fashion culture
“I also wanted to introduce a different fashion culture in Kenya, and Nigeria has been the perfect reference as it is at the forefront of the African fashion market,” she further explains.
Besides designing outfits, she also has a business that deals with Kenyan Beads and Maasai trends and merchandise, which she hopes to expand to the rest of the world soon – the business is based in Nigeria.
She says she appreciates every client, celebrity or not, and she strives to satisfy each one of them because each of them keeps her business growing.
“I always strive to make a better design than my last one and ensure that each client I dress leaves a lasting impression where they wear my brand, this is all I need to ensure longevity of this business,” says Kate.
Commenting on the Amarula project, she says,
“I got a call from an agency in South Africa that explained about Amarula seeking designers for their Limited Edition, AfricanDesignCollection. They said they saw my work on social media and it jelled with what the client wanted, that is how I got to design a bottle for the limited edition of Amarula infused chocolates,” she says.
The bottles were officially unveiled in the 2018 Tax Free World Association, Asia Pacific Exhibition and Conference, that took place in Singapore.
The global travel retail-exclusive range featured designs from Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.
“When selecting a fabric, I look out for the uniqueness of the print, the thread count, colour-fast quality and the strength of the fabric, I do not use fabric that shrinks or fades,” she says, adding that African print has the most vibrant colours and designs and is easy to manipulate.
The entrepreneur, who ships Ankara fabrics from West Africa, sells six yards for Sh4,000, inclusive of cost of fabric and overhead costs, which vary depending on the shipping rate changes.
“We also stock handwoven kente from Ghana and Togo, guinea batik, South African prints, Nigerian adire and asoeke fabrics and look forward to add more authentic African fabrics to our portfolio,” she says.
Challenges she goes through include perfecting customer orders in cases where she has to depend on hired hands.
But the biggest challenge is power blackouts, followed by traffic, courier clearance bottlenecks as well as building a strong team, something that takes time and lots of training. Once in a while, she and her team also experience creative blocks.
Kate, who has a staff of 16, says that she wants to be able to transcend international markets effortlessly, a factor she is working towards, given that she already has a global clientele base that is growing steadily.
“I am focusing on growing my company by incorporating other smaller businesses carved from it, having multiple sources of income is key, so I am also investing in crypto trade to see where the future will take me,” she says.