Meet Fashion entrepreneur and JW Show CEO Jeffery Wilson
Was getting into fashion and design an intentional move after launching the JW brand in 2013?
Before getting into fashion business, I was doing event management. I was also a fashion model and did some gigs where I saw people being mistreated; designers were not getting value for their work and models not appreciated. This prompted me to start my own brand and find ways to change how things were running in the industry.
How tasking was it to make that move?
It was tough. I got into it out of passion and desire to make change and when we started, we didn’t know anything about how it’s done.
When the JW Show took off, we didn’t know how models should be trained, how to invite designers to shows or which media houses to talk to or approach. Securing venues was a nightmare and those we worked with extorted us.
It was through these hardships that I understood how things work and positioned myself in fashion design.
We learned from that deep dive and eventually perfected our skill. We are still learning and growing, but we now have a better grip of the business.
How was the fashion design scene like at that time?
Back then, there were a lot of fashion shows held by bigshot designers who were not making room for upcoming designers. It was hard and competition was stiff.
There were days when there were almost four shows a night. I would do mine in town to make it accessible to people. So far, we are among the designers existing with proper structures.
We are paving way for and welcoming budding designers while working with the so-called industry veterans at the same time. We created the movement ‘Made in Kenya by Kenyans’ to support each other.
Modern designers are coming up and are impressive at what they’re doing and it would be good if they had guidance from those who’ve been there for long.
So, JW Show was not created to market your brand?
No, that was not the idea. It was created out of the need to bring change in the industry and give value. But that is not to say that the brand has not gained from the show. It has increased our brand visibility.
JW is a movement that is campaigning for the improvement and support of the local industry, hence our theme: ‘Made in Kenya by Kenyans’. This is important because local designers are still sidelined even by the state.
The other day, the national football team went to AFCON dressed by a French designer and yet there are many talented and capable designers in the country. We are still fighting for such things; fighting to be seen.
As an annual show, what elements have you added in this year’s edition?
We have gone to institutions in various counties in search of best talent to bring on the show this year. We have partnered with institutions and selected two students from each. A lot of them have the skills, but lack resources; have no proper guidance or mentorship.
We are working with these young designers whose creations will be on the runway at the show. We have a designer coming in from London and we have partnered with another one called Africanaid. There are a lot of new twists to look forward to.
When you say ‘we’, you mean there are other people involved in the running of JW Show?
Yes. I work with a team of 10 people; a production manager, floor manager, stylist, make-up artist, branding manager, sales and marketing person and others on internship. Through them, I have come to understand the importance of working with a dedicated team that must be well taken care of.
What kind of designs does the JW brand produce?
We focus on two, in which we’ve partnered with Undisputed Man, which designs luxury also known as bespoke suits. For these suits, we have brand ambassadors such as Jefff Koinange, Betty Kyalo and Amina Abdi.
We also have women suits called Undisputed Woman and this year, we are introducing the curvy touch for the plus size woman. We also make active wear such as hoodies and sweat pants.
When outlining your designs, are your sketches hand-drawn or you use a software?
All the final designs on shelves are first created by use of hand sketches. We have never felt the need to computerise our sketches. It’s also fun and satisfying to play with creativity in that raw manner.
What do you consider to be important facets for the growth of Kenya’s fashion industry?
The first thing is not compromising on quality and integrity. Quality is everything and we work on ensuring that our product carries that.
And that is what we want to bring to the show as it is expected of all designers. If you promise a client to deliver within a certain time, then do that and give them their money’s worth.