Muthoni Mburu : “The market is basically my biggest influence“
Published Wednesday, June 22 2022 | Muthoni Mburu by the-System *
How can fashion designers follow through their vision and still make a living? Such questions are constantly on the minds of aspiring and emerging creatives today. Muthoni Mburu, an emerging fashion designer from Kenya speaks to the-System * about the realities of being a fashion designer in an industry characterized by uncertainty. From making work that represents her country, to figuring out how to deal with energy mismatches on a business level, her process and how to chart your own path, the conversation goes deep on how to learn, grow, and stay well along the way.
So maybe we can start with you telling us a bit about yourself and the back-story leading to what you do today …
I’m Harriet Muthoni Mburu. The designer at Muni designs. The brand name was derived from my middle name. I’m 23 years old and have been in the fashion industry since 2017 as a student and practitioner. My love for fashion and design started in form 3, my new school’s home science teacher was so fashionable and from there I started researching about the career, made fashion related movies and shows my favorites and boom here we are.
I’m a scout and an entrepreneur so much of my understanding of sustainability is leaning towards conservation of the environment by safe fashion practices and being profitable while doing it. – Muthoni MburuTweet
How would you describe your brand, what’s the philosophy behind it?
Muni has culture at it’s backbone, she’s a creator of elegance. Basically elegant fashion curated with an original cultural aesthetic.
Print fabric is heavily featured in your work, is that by default or is it intentional, also how do you decide on the fabrics to go for and would you like to eventually create your own fabrics?
Definitely would love to create my own fabrics in the near future. I work with a lot of African print as I love the way the blend of colors, shapes and beauty represents Africa vastly also Kitenge has an amazing texture to work with. I worked on my first collection in 2021 called Africulture that featured a lot of Ankara and that drew a lot of custom-made Ankara orders my way. I decide on the colors of the collection but moving forward my target client decides the specific print they’d love while some want the exact same design but in plain fabric.
So does that mean your brand leans more towards custom made than ready to wear?
My brand deals with both ready to wear and custom made with custom made drawing it’s customers from the ready to wear corner.
How do you incorporate the market needs with your personal vision, and does it help or is it a hindrance to your creativity?
The market is basically my biggest influence creativity wise . Doing a survey from different people in real life then knowing what lane I need to lean more on then blend that with my brand vision. It’s only a hindrance when it comes to Avant-Garde collection but otherwise market needs is like leakage or a ladder.
How would you define the local market? In terms of awareness and willingness to participate in the fashion system…
It’s conservative but curious at the same time.
We don’t have a proper or what I’d call a straight forward fashion system in Kenya as far as supply chain is concerned, how are you navigating the system while still maintaining your original vision?
I think we are doing better than before. I’m putting myself as out there as I can , surrounding myself with people I can learn from and also trying to be part of the people creating a sustainable supply chain for fashion products.
Talking about sustainable, sustainability or sustainable fashion is equally vague as it is trendy. How are you tackling the topic of sustainable fashion yourself?
I’m a scout and an entrepreneur so much of my understanding of sustainability is leaning towards conservation of the environment by safe fashion practices and being profitable while doing it.
Handling fashion waste in the safest manner and producing the needed amount of pieces instead of too much that’ll only be dead stock.
Fashion itself is used as a tool for direct social and economic empowerment. Are you in any capacity engaged in any programs to help create social change?
My home county (Kiambu) has initiated a free youth training programme in partnership with an aspiring member of parliament and Muni Designs . We basically offer free training on basic sewing skills and jewelery design.
Amazing, how do you think the local fashion system can improve and what are the general issues you see – that others should look at?
The biggest impact would come from a ban on second hand clothing and a change of mentality about locally produced clothing. Fashion designers should ensure to produce good quality products and also create a capacity to dress a nation if the ban on Mtumba goes through .
So you think Mtumba is a hostile competition to local fashion, what would you say to people that claim lack of originality in local fashion or high price of local fashion as well as fashion designer snubbing the general mass are those allegations that have come your way and how does the industry tackle that?
It’s not only hostile but degrading too. I’ve never heard any claims of lack of originality I’m hearing from you but whoever is claiming that needs to explore some local brands. High prices comes from low clientele and high cost of production which also is a thing to be looked at . Designers don’t snub the general mass the general mass snubs us. We are trying to work together but sometimes get attacked from all corners: Mtumba, “lack of originality” claims , supply challenges but the general mass is my brands target market. How I deal with that , I make merry and keep creating because that’s my therapy I know one day it’ll shine.
“The biggest impact would come from a ban on second hand clothing and a change of mentality about locally produced clothing.“
So is it that the market is not properly educated of the fashion industry or is there a general lack of awareness in the broad market?
I cant generalize on that but it’s time everyone played a part.
What do you think is medias role in that and what do you think is the relationship between the local media and the local fashion industry?
In the time that I’ve been in the industry the media has vastly accelerated my brand growth. The local media is a medium for us designers to educated the vast majority of people about our existence and it’s an amazing marketing platform. The relationship between the two is like two favorite cousins when we meet we make the best moments.
Do you feel direct support from media and in this age of social media do you think the role of mainstream media has diminished, is it still as important or helpful to be featured in this spaces?
Both are equally important especially for my brand where my target market includes different generations of people …social media is good for capturing a youthful audience and mainstream is amazing if one is targeting a different generation audience.
You’ve been in fashion for now about 4 years, and you are still young, what barriers are you guys facing today when trying to establish a profitable business, whilst aligning with sustainable practices and maintaining that vision?
The changing economy is a big mess. The fabric prices can hike in a matter of days that makes it challenging to price. Kenya has low production of textiles which are of a high cost too , big challenge. Second hand clothing carries the bigger fashion market still which is not only bad for the industry but degrading to Kenyans.
What do you think of fashion design in the digital world? Is it something you are exploring ie NFTs and the METAverse?
Definetly yes. I’m looking forward to understanding that more and incorporate in the brand. It’s the future.
You have presented in some organized fashion shows tell us about that experience and do you see yourself doing your own shows and how many collections do you intend to be showcasing annually?
Showcasing is amazing it’s a very awesome experience and a nice marketing and networking platform. Definitely would love to continue and curate my own shows in the future but in a different way. If not one, two shows annually would be awesome but mostly just one show . As for collections, in Africa the weather doesn’t limit us to a number of collections so I think I’d do as many as humanly possible once I have the capacity to.
How do you come up with your collections how is that process?
I find a theme and work around it. The process is equally awesome and challenging . Includes a lot of research too.
Who is your inspiration in the fashion world and how does your work compare to their work?
It’s a lot of people but my work doesn’t resemble theirs all I admire from them is their work ethic . They are models, Fashion entrepreneurs and some are just fashion researchers.
So far what do you think is more important to succeed in this industry, to have a strong relationships within the industry or to just have a strong creative vision and a good marketing plan?
Strong vision and amazing marketing plan for sure.
If you could give advice to those trying to get into the fashion industry now what would it be?
Create a extraordinary, seemingly impossible but possible vision for your brand and one for the Kenyan fashion industry , stay true to yourself and Network as much as you can within the industry.