Entertainers take stake in the fashion business
In Kenya, more and more showbiz personalities are venturing in the fashion sector by launching their own brands. Harriet James looks at how this new found love is making impact in the style industry, as more entertainment personalities enter the market as one of the ways to supplement on their income.
The relationship between fashion designers and celebrities has created some of the iconic and celebrated clothing lines.
This resulted to a well-established symbiotic relationship between the two forces with musicians and other entertainers such as comedians playing the critical role of marketing and pushing these brands to the masses.
Usually, the partnerships happen with the showbiz celebrities getting sponsored by the fashion designers to wear all sorts of their products including accessories, shoes, hats, bags, hoodies and other wearable items, especially when on stage.
In recent times, however, a whole lot of different entertainers in the local scenes have taken this venture to another level by setting up their own fashion labels.
Internationally, showbiz moguls such as Kanye West, Beyoncé, Ciara, Rihanna, and Victoria Beckham have taken a leap of faith to create their own fashion labels.
For instance, Kanye has made numerous collaborations with high fashion brands that include French label APC, but along the path, he created his Yeezy Sneaker Empire, which is now established through giant fashion label Adidas, to forge a successful path as a fashion designer.
Also, after years of working with established global fashion brands, world’s richest female musician Rihanna set up her own brand, Fenty Beauty, in 2017, which began with beauty products.
It has now expanded to creating high-end clothes, shoes and other fashion accessories.
In Kenya, entertainers are following in their footsteps. Recently, singer Nameless dipped himself into this venture by launching his clothline N-zone, which currently focuses on children.
In a bid to supplement the income he generates from his deejaying career, DJ Crème De La Crème also runs a fashion line dubbed Esko Life Clothing. Gospel singer Rufftone made the move in 2003 to set up Ruffwear International.
Using Bible quotes, the Mungu Baba hitmaker has ensured that his fashion line stands out from the rest.
“The Bible says that as a Christian, I am the salt of the earth and light of the world, which cannot be hid.
As a minister of the gospel, I am a walking billboard; the first frontline minister of the gospel and that’s why I started this fashion line.
There is so much pollution in the fashion industry with people promoting dangerous ideals such as terrorism, violence, and drugs, and I wanted to use this avenue to stand out for Jesus,” he explains.
Rufftone also shares that it was his desire to start a clothline that would offer products that everybody would be comfortable in, and to show the world that Christians too can be skillful and excellent in business.
“Some people would express opinions that some of the stuff made by Christian business people were of less quality.
For me, I never compromise on quality. My T-shirts and hoodies are not only heavyduty, but also of high quality,” he tells to Spice.
For him, social media has helped him with marketing and selling, unlike in the past where he had to go from church to church to market and sell. “I get orders whenever I post online.
Fitting, however is a big challenge, as someone could tell you that they are a medium-size, only to realise they are large-sized when the merchandise has already been delivered.
I’ve also met people who feel offended by what I wear and the messages on my products, but I wear them like it’s no one’s business,” he notes.
Ever since self-proclaimed ‘The Godfather of Genge’ Nonini came into the music scene, he loved fashion and desired to one day have his own brand.
“I used to wear fashion brands from Gerald and also baggy jeans. I would also go to Gikomba and print T-shirts and had one for Wee Kamu and that’s how the popular Calif Records labelled T-shirts came to be.
I used to do these things long time ago because I knew the value of merchandise and music at the same time,” he says.
Through his Mgenge2Ru fashion brand, his merchandise has now become a craze amongst his fans who love his caps, hoodies, jackets, wooden watches and suits.
His latest addition is a unique and limited edition shoe wear that he has collaborated with Italian master crafts AliveShoes.
“Since I have no partner in the business, I have invested about Sh2 million in the business and that tells you that this is a worthy investment.
I am trying to create merchandise bussiness that is self-sustaining and one that earns for itself good international identity,” he intimates.
The Mchezo Na Ganji hit rapper adds that since he uses music as his marketing tool and has everyone in his team don his apparel, there is no real challenge in mixing music and fashion, as this has made marketing easier. The only challenge is that with business, it takes time to grow.
“It is only that Mgenge2Ru apparel is exploding now, otherwise what people are seeing is a result of constant work dating back many years.
It’s only the past two or three years when I took my fashion business to another level.
I came from grass to grace and anyone who wears my brand has that Mgenge2Ru attitude that lifts from grass to grace. They have the power to do anything,” says the rapper.
Comedian Timothy Kimani aka Njugush has also in the recent past started his own clothline dubbed Be Knit.
The father of one has teamed up with a local textile brand to bring a sense of style with a variety of looks catering to women, men and children of all shapes and sizes.
“We needed something that people are going to carry with them; something that reminds them of us when they are not watching us.
We didn’t want something that someone will wear once and throw away,” he explains.
Njugush adds that the fact that a lot of people in the industry interact with fashion on a daily basis made him see the gap in that gig, as it required a particular wear on the red carpet.
“We partnered with Spinners and Spinners so that we only do what we know best, which is pushing content around it.
Through our njugush.ke website, we are able to have our content and still have our Be Knit wear exclusively sold there,” he says.
Fashion designer Valerie Nyamwaya, who has been in the business for a decade now, says that it is a good thing to have musicians in the business.
“Ideally I’d be more pro-collaborations between musicians and designers because it means two people with different backgrounds coming together with different perspectives to create something big. This also allows both parties to leverage the other person’s strengths.
“For instance, the musician doesn’t have to go through the hustle of figuring out the production process of clothes because that is something the designer knows best, therefore giving them room to bring more creativity on board.
But even where musicians decide to go solo, we still applaud them and hope for more collaborative projects with existing fashion house to create more visibility for fashion and more so African fashion,” she says.
Gospel artiste Alice Kamande say there are a lot of great opportunities in the fashion industry for musicians, who opt for this route because they can work with people from all spheres of life and organisations.
And that’s when she started her venture of designing unique and personalised designer accessories.
“Just like music, fashion is a form of art, and most artistic people have their own way of expressing their own individual taste in fashion, especially through audio visual and live performances, which brings music into character,” she notes.
However, according to the Wewe Pekee hit singer, the challenge is how to balance the two.
“Music requires one to travel and that can sometimes be challenging to the other business.
But with good time management and human resource, there’s plenty of time to create both music and fashion. Find your niche, be innovative and never stop learning,” says Alice.
Rufftone believes that Kenyans have embraced their own celebrities and musicians and that anyone can thrive in the fashion business.
The only mistake that musicians do is building themselves and not the legacy.
“The late business mogul Chris Kirubi owned Miradi and Bic, and when he blundered, it was just him being attacked and not his brand.
Musicians should separate the two, as building themselves is too delicate, especially with the cancel culture,” says the singer.
On her own right, Valerie advises musicians that apart from just having a large following and engagement on social media, those in the fashion business must ensure that they sell.
“Even when you are dressing every other celebrity around and it is not converting into a sale, then you are running a charity organisation and you will close shop sooner or later.
You are better off being a brand not known by so many people, but you’re making sales than being known by everyone, but your sales aren’t sustaining the business.
“Not selling means that you’ll keep funding the business from your own pocket, which will drain you or you have to keep fundraising and this will get you so deeply in debt that it might drive you into depression.
Be careful to pay attention to the business side of fashion, your books, your margins, your strategic growth plan, and brand associations among others,” she says in ending.