The Nairobi Innovation Week went down between the 6th and 10th of March and was hosted by the University of Nairobi. It was an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to showcase their innovative creations and get feedback on their products and services, publicity and even financial backing for them. The Insyder caught up with Sam Omindo, founder and Chief Creative Director of Genteel Fashion, who chose to venture into the fashion industry in men’s wear with a difference. Dressed in his own designs and looking dapper, Sam took us through his business journey. Here’s his story.
How did Genteel come to be?
Before we started the brand we did some research. We saw that before the colonial era, Africa was full of colour, our forefathers were very flamboyant. Different cultures were attracted to certain colours, the Maasai had their blue and red, the Agikuyu had brown and green, the Akamba had yellow and brown and so on. These colours represented the personality of their culture. When the Britons came, they taught us to embrace a new scheme of colours; black, blue and grey especially for the men. The suit became a standard and couldn’t showcase personality. So we decided to try and infuse our traditional colours into the suits as a statement of individuality.
How long has this whole process taken you?
The research and development process took us one and a half years and we only went into our first production 11 months ago.
What challenges have you faced in your time in the industry?
As with any other business, starting up is always a challenge, unless you’re given a small loan of 1million dollars (adds cheekily), because you need to raise the initial capital. We also had to understand the business model. Getting your market space among the consumers was a little tricky and because we wanted this to grow beyond the here and now we set up Genteel as a Start-Up and not an SME meaning we had a lot more to cover before we could get going.
What successes have you achieved so far?
Eleven months in we managed to dress Sauti Sol for the cover of Drum Magazine, March 2017 issue. Personally, I think the biggest success is to see the brand continue to grow every day and get exposed to more and more people as a Kenyan creation.
The clothing industry is a very diverse one and Kenya gets a lot of its fashion second hand from outside; how does Genteel compare to other products from abroad?
The truth is majority of the international brands have access to assets that are harder to come by in Kenya. It’s interesting that clothing items is a matter if aesthetics. The technic of production id more or less the same across the board but the point is the possession of the brand. As Genteel we have positioned ourselves to be a top notch brand of quality. Our tailors have a minimum of 20 years of experience in their trade. Also, Kenya lacks in quality textile so we currently import our fabric from India, Belgium, England and China. However, I feel we can grow as a country and get to the point of having it all done from Kenya by Kenya.
Who do you consider as your prospective clients?
We target career forward men in the age range of 25-49 with an average disposable income of KES 45,000-60,000.
With that margin, how much would a Genteel suit cost a buyer?
The average Genteel suit goes for KES 27,500 but with higher end material we have tailored suits for as high as 100K – 150K
That’s quite the figure. What’s the process of getting a Genteel?
At the present all our suits are tailor made for the client, something we don’t see ourselves changing yet, so we work on appointments with prospective clients. We don’t have a physical store but we’re in the process of getting established stores to being fronts for Genteel. The first thing is a call to us and we come to where the client is. We have a 30 minutes’ discussion with him about the suit to get a sense of his personality, take measurements and show the client fabric samples. After that, the suit goes off to tailoring and for the first suit it takes up to 3weeks to get it done. For repeat buyers it takes 10days because we already have the measurements but we still have the 30 minutes to determine what they want this time. It’s about the statement of the client.
Clearly, Genteel is a niche market product. What wisdom would you pass to potential entrepreneurs who hope to venture into high fashion?
Study your business model. The objective of any business is to make money. To make money you need to know and understand who your target market is and focus on them and what they want. If your product is lowly priced, you know you’re going for mass market and their wants are unique to them. Once you get there, you delve deeper into research and development, marketing and other business necessities. It all starts with going into it.