City fashion designer beats failure to spin profits from clothes



Getting a job after college can be a daunting task. But for Ms Lilian Maundu, that was not so after she graduated in 2008 with a diploma in fashion design and pattern cutting from Petite School of Design in Mombasa. She didn’t get a formal job alright, but she got a way of earning money, and that was all she needed.

In the same year she graduated, and with only Sh22,000 she had saved from her pocket money, Ms Maundu set up a fashion shop that now employs more than two dozens workers in its three branches of Mombasa, Meru and Nairobi, an impressive profit turnover, and a growing clientele base that has stretched to Kampala. Getting to the current position has not been a rosy ride though, hers has been a long and treacherous journey of navigating through various challenges that dog many startups.

After buying a sewing machine and an overlock device with the money she had saved, she set out working from her house.

“I started making clothes from home and told my friends about my venture for them to come and purchase something or say a good word about my business to potential client they knew,” she says. “I would also ask them to come and suggest clothes design that I could make for them”.

Business was good and in a few months, many people around Mtwapa, where she lived, had known of her fashion shop and frequented her home seeking her services.

“A certain client visited my shop and told me she was visiting from Zanzibar. A woman she was meeting was donning one of my Swahili ladies’ dresses and when she heard the designer was from the local area, she decided to come and have a feel of it herself,” says Ms Maundu.

After the encounter, the fashion designer says she felt the urge to expand because it was evident the potential for business growth was big. That was five months after she started, and teaming up with a friend from the fashion school, they rented a premises in Mtwapa town, and launched Limcom Fashion Creations.

Ms Maundu says the move set the stage for success in the venture, adding her new business partner seemed astute in handling customers and had an eye for creative design styles they had not experimented on.

That optimism, however, would soon turn into despair and uncertainty. Clients no longer flocked to the new premises as they used to at her house, and no matter how uniquely designed they thought their clothes were, nothing seemed to appeal to the wider clientele base they were now targeting.

This translated into recurring losses, bad debts from clients and inability to settle bills. After six months, her business partner could no longer take it, gave up and sought for employment elsewhere.

Ms Maundu, however, soldiered on. She had passion for fashion since her childhood. A trade she had learned from her mother. “Watching my mother knit beautiful dresses for us and her customers was a lot of fun and when the moment came to decide on my career, I figured out that (fashion) was my passion”, she says.

As such Ms Maundu’s desire to succeed in what she enjoyed doing couldn’t let her walk away. “Unlike my friend, I figured I had a lifeline in this job in form of new clients referred to me by old ones who appreciated the job I had done for them”, she points out.

And after earning trust of more customers in Mtwapa, her business began to pick up again. She employed two professional fashion designers to help her in the work.

But this did not give her the satisfaction she craved for and as soon as the business got back on the ground and running smoothly, Ms Maundu started considering opening another shop. This time, she wanted a shop in Nairobi.

“One thing I know is people in Nairobi are crazy about fashion. They don’t mind so long you have something trendy that will give them attention and make them appear fashion conscious,” she says.

Ms Maundu set up shop in South B Estate. She thought she would ensure the shop in Nairobi is stable and then return to Mombasa, where she had left her employees in charge of her business, but that did not happen. Instead, she got too engrossed in running the city shop and to date the outlet in Mombasa is still run by the employees.

Limcom Fashion Creations is now in its fourth year in Nairobi. It also has another fashion shop in Meru where Ms Maundu comes from.

Apart from expanding it to include décor dressings, furniture and car seats upholsters, wedding outfits, casual wear, official wear and interior design services, Ms Maundu says her time in Nairobi has been a learning experience about fashion.

“You wouldn’t believe how open minded Nairobi people are when it comes to fashion. This has taught me a lot about what customers want and how diverse they are. It is like competitive intelligence which helps me keep a step ahead of other fashion designers”.

But does the business pay? “It gives me enough to keep myself comfortable but it has also helped me kiss the matatus goodbye,” she says, holding up her car keys.

According to her, the future is bright for the business and she hopes to own a fashion school in five years as well as a big outlet for clothes she designs. In the next few months, says Ms Maundu, she plans to buy equipment for printing T-Shirts and other clothes that her clients want.