Ogake Mosomi is a bridal and accessories designer extraordinaire. With the Ogake Mosomi brand, she ensures the African bride is classy, distinct and authentic to herself. She lectures at the University of Nairobi guaranteeing the future generation of designers doesn’t get left behind.
Was fashion always the plan?
I remember I wanted to join the police force! I also thought I’d be a lawyer. When the time came I was torn between law and fashion. A desire to be ‘different’ by choosing something a bit unexpected prevailed and I ended up studying fashion.
Growing up as a Kenyan child, what was your perception of ‘local’ luxury brands and now finding yourself running one, how do you feel Kenyans are embracing the Ogake Mosomi brand?
Elsa Klensch coloured my entire perception of luxury fashion. The only local designers I really knew about were Ann McCreath, Rialto, Carol Kinoti and later Patricia Mbela. I thought their work was inspirational but under-appreciated.
Now, I think the number of local luxury designers has really grown. Our individual interpretations of Kenyan luxury fashion are wildly different and I think that is a sign of progress. For Ogake Mosomi, we started out trying to convince people that they can get a high quality locally made gown and I am so grateful that the Kenyan bride has embraced us.
You studied in England, which is a fashion epicentre in its own right. Why did you feel like moving back home was the best plan and what specific things did you do to ensure a successful transition?
To be honest, it wasn’t entirely my decision. Work visas had become really difficult to get, I also felt that I could make more impact at home as our industry was still growing. Fortunately, I already had two job offers in fashion, I took that as a sign!
Right before I returned, I went back to a master tailor in London with whom I had interned while at university. I explained I needed to learn how to make made-to-measure clothes. The standard patterns which we learned in school were not going to be very useful because our bodies were very different. I will forever be grateful to Antonia Pugh-Thomas!
Next, I came back to Kenya for about three weeks just to reacquaint myself with home. I travelled around the country with my friend, and on that trip I saw Kenya in a different light, and I wasn’t scared anymore.
Lastly, my wonderful parents had given me a loan, and together with some money I had saved up from working odd jobs, I had managed to buy all the basic equipment I needed to set up shop in Nairobi.
What advice would you give to a new fashion business owner about investment particularly concerning who to approach and who to turn down?
Firstly, ensure that your investor has similar values to your own. Besides investing money, your investor will be involved to a fair extent, in your business so it’s important that you are aligned. Choose wisely, and don’t be in a rush.
The more favourable the terms of the investment are for you, the better. Weigh options carefully- whether you want to get debt or equity financing and how it affects your business in those early stages. It’s different for every business though.
How do you go about learning new skills?
Learning never ends. I recently went back to school to learn how to balance being an owner/manager and that has been a breath of fresh air for me. My background is in design, and the other functions that go with running a business are not as straightforward. It has really enriched my process.
On the design side, we also try to do a lot of research, to learn new design processes that can make us more efficient and help us differentiate our brand. It’s an every day, ongoing process for the entire team. We also put a lot of emphasis on teamwork, so that we are all learning from each other.
What is the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
You never ever switch off. Even when you’re not at work, or on holiday; it can be exhausting. Also making big decisions on your own can be very scary- if they go south, you’re more or less on your own. And many times, there’s no one to give you answers!
What is the most rewarding part of being a wedding dress designer at Ogake Mosomi?
The finished gown, the happy bride, being part of her journey and helping her bring her dream to life!
Name a woman past or present that you look up to.
My mother and her unwavering faith.
What is your no-fail inspiration or creative rut hack?
I am yet to find a sure-fire one! But traveling helps….. Seeing different places, ideas, and cultures is always inspiring, calming, rejuvenating.
The Ogake Mosomi brand also produces accessories, you also have dresses with intricate designs that involve materials like beads and feathers. How difficult is it to source these materials?
When it comes to the more unusual materials, we import what we need from different suppliers mainly in Europe and Asia. Every time I travel, I’m on the lookout for interesting materials. Sometimes they’re expensive so we just get small quantities for sampling and keep contact with the suppliers in case a client is interested, then we can order specifically for them.
Locally the suppliers are becoming more creative, and stocking a wider range of materials too. It costs significantly more to buy in Kenya, but it really helps when we do not have the luxury of travelling to the source. The disadvantage with uncommon materials is that they mainly stock one-offs so it’s not easy to get the same product twice. But thank God for globalisation and technology! Europe and Asia feel like they’re just around the corner now.
What does success look like at the end of everything? How would you know you have achieved your dreams?
The day when the business gets to the point where it can run profitably without me being actively involved in the day to day running, when I know it can outlive me but still maintain integrity and authenticity, I will know I have made it!
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