(Lorna Abwonji )
Mia Mara Creations is a local fashion brand founded in 2008 by fashion designer Lorna Abwonji. The brand specializes in made to measure men’s and women’s apparel and has participated in various shows like Casino Malindi Fashion Show, Samantha Bridal, Brads Fashion Show ,FAFA and many others.
The brand name Mia Mara which means ‘Give me Mine’ in Luo was actually her father’s innovation after his disappointment with the “non authentic” names she had come up with.
Lorna was first an artist before venturing into fashion design. She loved to watch cartoons and animation as a child and would draw out cartoon characters on her drawing book. She got a lot of support from her parents who bought her art tools and equipment to nurture her talent at an early age.
High school is where she began to define her personal style through sketching. At the time, she was only interested in the artistic aspect of fashion but didn’t think of the practical part of it in terms of wear ability.
Her first encounter with the practical side of fashion design was at Vera fashion institute in Nairobi where she learnt to translate her designs into a more practical form. In college, students were always encouraged to think outside the box and create new concepts with what they had in terms of materials and not necessarily have to keep buying materials to create designs. In addition, they attended a lot of local fashion shows in order to interact with designers already in the industry. In 2008, she participated in The Redds Africa Fashion Design Awards which opened a whole new level of exposure to the more creative high end side of fashion.
After being unable to secure internship at a local fashion house, she took it upon herself to practice her skills in clothing construction. She bought magazines with challenging designs and tried to make the outfits herself. In the process, she learnt to be more creative and take more risks.
(Men’s Shirts by Mia Mara Creations)
She registered her business in 2008 and most of her first clients were supportive friends and family. She stuck to making more wearable clothes for clients and creative pieces for runway shows. ‘You have to make money despite the arts. As much as the creative pieces draw the crowds, they don’t sell well. Editing my designs was one of my first and toughest lessons.’
The brand has taken part in various shows as mentioned earlier. Lorna tries to participate in shows every year whenever she gets an opportunity as they are a great marketing and networking forum. ‘I believe in working together with other designers so that the industry can grow’.
Her Advice to young designers;
- Take time to discover yourself as a designer. What I’ve learnt over the years is that it will take time to know who you are as a designer, that’s not something that just happens. A time will come when you’ll make something and finally, it will just click and make sense. If you do not allow yourself to go through that process, you will be stuck in the copy cat and jack of all trades stage for a while. Nothing will satisfy you and you will easily give up on the industry.
But when you discover who you are as a designer, you become more confident, you develop a signature look and your passion finally starts becoming a business with a long term vision and direction to the point that when you are ready to hire, you can already tell if the person will fit into your company or not.
In addition, you will know what clientele to target, which shows to participate in and which business models or platforms you want to sell in.
- Be patient with yourself. There is a lot of trial and error and I will not lie to you that there are something’s I’m still trying to figure out considering I am not yet a millionaire.
- Invest in training your staff. Be nice to your tailors and other staff and treat them how you would like to be treated in their shoes. Remember not everyone is like you. If you have a standard of doing things, teach it to your staff. It’s not always obvious that every designer has a different way of doing things.
Take care of the most basic needs of your staff like making sure they’re paid on time, they get time to rest and have snacks and entertainment as they work. It makes a huge difference and they tend to be more loyal.
A tailor who is willing to learn is a good tailor but the one who isn’t will not last. Female tailors are just as good as their male counter parts. They however tend to be more loyal and more willing to learn from you.
(Evening Dress by Mia Mara Creations)
- Build a reputation of reliability and consistency. Always keep your deadlines and never take more work than you can handle. If you know you can’t sustain rushed jobs, don’t accept them. This will make the client bring work in good time. In addition, you don’t want to have staff that are always stressed out. They tend to be less productive and make more mistakes.
- Stop seeking fame. The millions of fashion shows that you run to participate in DO NOTHING FOR YOU if they don’t translate into Sales. Ask the show organizers questions about their events and how it’ll benefit you. Make a decision based on a proper SWAT analysis. Do not let them benefit from you more than you benefit from them.
- Specialize- don’t be a copy cat. As a fashion student, you learn all sorts of techniques and skills that by the time you graduate, you want to try them all. And then the pressure of trying to make a living in an industry that is not fully developed kicks in. There is also the pressure of just making what’s already selling in the market especially in a society that is not educated in what a fashion designer really does.
I always say, no one goes to an architect and asks them to copy a building to the exact replica. Most of the times, its bits and pieces of the other building you like but generally you would allow them to come up with a new concept for you. Well, that’s exactly the same as a fashion designer. You are an Artist, find your strength and stick to it and yes, you are allowed to veer off once in a while to discover the new sides of your art.
- To the Kenyan fashion industry at large, we need to work on the whole industry not just a few aspects of it. There is more to fashion than having a fancy boutique in your name and participating in shows. We need to feed the mass market in this country if we will ever get rid of the mitumba culture. We need Kenyans to take pride in wearing brand new clothes, not hand me downs from first world countries.
- Lastly, I am willing to work with anyone who wants to take fashion in this country and continent to the next level. Since we are still developing the industry, there will be a lot of trial and error but we should work together to create jobs and build our economy.
(Massalah Half and half shirt & A-line Dress by Mia Mara Creations)