Kenyan fashion star thrives in men’s designs
By Lilian Kaivilu
A calm, composed and visibly busy Carol Nkirote Thuranira greets me as I enter her office along Ring Road Kilimani in Nairobi. But a brief chat and introduction reveals a humble, joyous and a strong-willed personality.
Carol Nkirote is a quickly budding fashion star in Kenya who came to the limelight earlier this year after designing one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign shirts. “It came to me as a surprise after waiting for more than seven months since I designed the president’s shirt,” Nkirote remembers. She is the CEO and founder of Naneuleshan Apparel, a high end fashion house in Nairobi.
noticed a gap in Kenya’s fashion industry, Nkirote decided to venture into male fashion. Having designed President Kenyatta and other politicians’ and local businessmen’s African-wear, Nkirote is now determined to design custom-made African attire for men and the boy-child.
She opines that the boy-child is seemingly neglected in many ways, including fashion, a gap she is determined to close.
Although Nkirote studied Hotel Management at Utalii College where she graduated in 2004, she would work in the industry for only seven years before venturing into fashion industry. “From a young age, I was very organized and had an eye for details. In high school, I was the kind of student who would ensure that my clothes were neatly done and my bed properly dressed,” says the now mother of three.
After her internship at Laico Regency and GreenHills Hotel in Nyeri, Nkirote then moved to silver Springs Hotel in Nairobi where she started as a secretary. She would then rise through the ranks while there. “You are what you want to be. I actually started as a sales girl at a supermarket for eight months.”
Nkirote would then resign from her job at Silver Springs hotel to pursue business. “I had saved enough at the company sacco. This gave me the confidence to venture into the world of business,” she remembers. And with Sh800,000 from the sacco, Nkirote set out to Instanbul, Turkey to fill a gap she had seen in the men’s fashion industry in Kenya. This was in July 2013, just two months after she left her job.
Having made good contacts while at the hospitality industry, Nkirote easily identified potential customers from her clients at her former workplace. “Most of them were high profile people who cared about fashion.” This made it easy for Nkirote to sell to them. She, however, advises fashion designers and other traders to identify the gaps in their sectors then go for the unique options to fill such gaps. “This is what made my start successful. Days before I travelled to import my stock, I would literally check in all the shops in town, to ensure that I did not bring what is already available.”
After selling her products via office deliveries, Nkirote set up a shop along Ring Road Kilimani in October 2013. A creative and well organized Nkirote now kept her eye on the business. Although not a trained designer, Nkirote admits that her personality places her at a better place to put things in order-and people’s dresses as well.
The mother of three initially designed president Kenyatta’s shirt in October 2016, oblivious of how and when it would reach the head of state. “Many times, friends who visited my shop and saw the shirt thought I was crazy. “How would I make a shirt for someone that I have neither met nor had links to?” they wondered.
But an optimistic Nkirote was determined to reach her goal-to have the president wear the shirt that she had embossed his name. And seven months after she designed the shirt, the shirt reached the head of state, thanks to a politician who bought an outfit from a shop. “One of the Nairobi politicians came to my shop with his family after being referred by one of my customers. Although he wanted to buy the same shirt that I had designed for President Kenyatta, I refused his offer. But I made him a shirt that he liked,” she narrated.
It was after Nkirote designed this politician’s shirt that he offered to deliver the president’s shirt. “At this time, I had already designed another shirt for the Deputy President William Ruto. The measurements for the two shirts were done on assumptions since I had neither met the president nor his deputy,” she explains. This would be the start of her breakthrough in her business. On the last week of April, three days after the politician delivered the shirts to the president, Nkirote received a call from the State House, asking her to go fix something on one of the shirts.
“There were times I regretted not selling the shirt during the seven-month wait. Patience pays,” advises Carol whose shirts fitted the president and his deputy. This gave her a chance to design more shirts for the two Jubilee Party leaders. She urges upcoming tailors to be patient and always ensure that they do a perfect job. “Even if you do your business in the low-end places in town, quality is very important,” she advises.
Nkirote’s tips to entrepreneurs
Bring something new to the market. This will make you stay competitive
- Don’t over price your products, just because the customer can pay more.
- Price based on value
Start where you are. But maintain high standards
- It does not matter where you are; the quality of your work will sell
- Amidst work and handling high profile clients, learn to balance family, work and social life
Be patient as you grow your business. Success does not come overnight