Entrepreneurship is not foreign to one Wacu Kihara. The 47-year old has tried her hand at various profitable ventures including dairy farming, event planning, décor and flower arrangement and at one point she grew and supplied potatoes to hotels in Naivasha.
However, life has a way of steering us back to our true north and for Wacu, that meant being a fashion designer. This had been her dream career since the tender age of 11.
“When I young I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer but I kept being told to think of a more conventional career,” she says.
Fortunately, one of her aunts encouraged her to follow her heart and this kept her dream alive.
After completing her A levels in 1995, Wacu went to Italy where she studied Fashion Design at an institution called POLIMODA: Istituto Internazionale Politecnico Della Moda.
She completed her course successfully and came back to the country, excited to put what she had learnt abroad to practice.
Her first career move was to register a fashion design company called Back to Black designs that specialised in African attire. For the next four years, business was great.
Her designs saw her bag a number of prestigious awards including 1st prize for ladies and 2nd prize for men in the ‘Search for a National Costume competition 1995’, as well as a 3rd prize under the professional category in the Smirnoff International Fashion Awards(SIFA).
In her fifth year running the business, things started to go wrong. A disharmony developed between Wacu and the tailors she worked with. Sometimes she gave them designs but they could not quite grasp and produce designs that matched her specifications.
This continued for a while and the harsh reality sunk in: things were not working. And so, she quit.
Discouraged, Wacu sought employment and secured a job as a business administrator. The entrepreneurial spirit in her made her restless as an employee and in 2006, she quit employment and relocated to Naivasha to pursue farming.
“I planted wheat and potatoes which I supplied to hotels in Naivasha. I also got some dairy cows whose milk I supplied to Brookside Dairy Limited,” she narrates.
In 2010, Wacu ventured into events management. Her company, Back to Black, was still registered and she ran her event organising activities under it.
She was closely affiliated with a restaurant in Naivasha and organised most of their events. She also did décor and flower arrangements alongside managing events.
Once more, Wacu was in a good place running a profitable venture. In 2014, her aunt mentioned in passing that she still wore a skirt Wacu had designed for her years back when she was designing clothes.
In July 2015, Wacu revived her fashion design company and named it Khangadelic Enterprises dealing in khanga–a colourful fabric similar to kitenge, but lighter and quite common in East Africa. Her company is based in Mombasa.
“I was challenged by a friend to take my samples to an (Export Promotion Council) EPC exhibition. The sample I had in mind was a bucket hat but I was too broke to afford the materials. I called my mother and she helped me out. We went through a training and did a product development workshop. My friends were very supportive,” she says.
She qualified to showcase her designs at the New York Expo in 2016.
“Khangadelic produces fashion accessories such as hats, bags, polo shirts and infinity scarves. I aim at making the most with the Kenyan fabric,” she explains.
This venture has seen her tour various countries across the globe such as United States, Cuba and the UK where she has gotten an opportunity to market her designs and sell it across international borders.
She has showcased her attires in various exhibitions including Havana International fair 2016, She trades Global 2018 and Magical Kenya Tourism Expo 2018.
The most remarkable moment for her was when Kenyan veteran actor Kenneth Ambani wore a shirt she had designed to the African Prestigious Awards 2018 in Ghana.
Makadem, the nyatiti player, also wore one of Wacu’s creations–a long-sleeved T-shirt–during his 2018 Europe tour.
Khangadelic is also working with the Green Gang enrichment club of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa on environmental and recycling projects.
“It is not just making money for profits. One should also be a social enterprise. We recently conducted a clean-up at the Likoni Ferry area but there still remains a lot to be done,” she says.
Wacu urges Kenyans to appreciate and buy into the African wear as most fashion designers give their best effort to come up with unique and authentic attire that reflect the pride of Kenya.