We recently caught up with Fredrick Gitari, a young entrepreneur and custom shoe designer who goes by the trade name Young Freddie. Young Freddie is a season 5 beneficiary of the Nailab incubation programs who has since gone ahead to make a name for himself in the fashion circles. Young Freddie can be found online. His contacts are on his website. He’s also on Facebook, twitter, Instagram and pinterest. We asked him a few questions and this is what he had to say:
Do you have a background in design?
I have never been to any fashion school. It started out of passion for fashion. I started way back in high school where I used to come up with costumes for the music and drama festivals for our team. Two years later after high school I joined Blackbird jeans who used to design jeans and men’s suits and that is where the fashion designer in me really started. Out of basic training I got from them I created a foundation in designing. I later watched YouTube fashion videos to learn more.
Would you rather expand your range of products beyond what you already make or keep things cocooned but intense?
Young Freddie is a footwear designing company and I wouldn’t like us to move out of track. All the other products we are coming up with are to scale up our business to fully satisfy our ever demanding. Since we have the skills to design what they want, we can’t afford to lose them.
What’s your capacity to deliver on big orders? Say a client wants dresses, shoes and accessories for a wedding or some other occasion of that sort?
Yes we can deliver big volume of orders. What I do in case of those is to outsource tailors and cordwainers when the need for extra labour arises. Currently we have a capacity to deliver up to 20 pairs of shoes a day, not to mention dresses and accessories.
At first it was very hard for us to convince people that apart from clothes, African fabrics such as Kitenge, Maasai prints and Ankara can make a pair of shoes. But with time they have gained confidence in us. Secondly, there have been pricing issues where some of the customers expect our products to be relatively low priced. They don’t count the cost of production and other expenses that we incur on producing shoes.
What do you think of the future of the fashion industry in Kenya and with emphasis to your kind of designs?
The future is getting brighter for local designers as people are slowly embracing their work not only internationally but also locally.
Your field is very specific. Any competition that you’re aware of so far?
Yes, that is very normal. For every viable idea turned into business, competitors will always be there. It is up to us to make sure that our products are of good quality, timely deliveries, reasonable prices and impeccable customer service.
What challenges do you face in your day to day running of this business?
Some of our major challenges are sourcing for the specified fabrics that our customers want. Most of them want exact fabrics and these may not always be possible to find. Our other challenge is the influx of cheap shoes from china, as well as the fact that that not all local people appreciate locally designed products.
I wanted to distinguish myself from many other Kenyan fashion designers who were mostly concentrating on clothes. A unique and distinct product was the way to go and since I love shoes, I decided to venture into that.
I later added accessories because there was demand from people who wanted their shoes to match with their iPad covers, clutch bags or even laptop bag to bring that extra sense of fashion in their outfits. This year I have introduced home décor. This was out of demand from our customers who wanted to extend the afro-centric look not only to their shoes and accessories but to their homes as well.
As an entrepreneur, what’s your impact so far to the people around you? For example, are you creating jobs?
I have created some jobs for the youth and I’m planning to expand to create more. So far I have 5 team players with whom we work hand in hard full time. I’m also running a campaign where I’m emphasizing on refurbishing worn out heels and wedges for ladies so as to conserve our environment.
How do you ensure that you keep up with trends knowing that your field is constantly moving and changing?
I acquire lots of knowledge about this field, online, at fashion events and from magazines.
Do you work on special orders? Can I bring my pillowcase for you to turn into a shoe for example?
Yes, this is in my campaign to keep our environment clean. “DON’T THROW THEM AWAY YET, WE CAN HELP” We can turn any clothes or fabrics into to a nice pair of shoes.
What would you say to young entrepreneurs wishing to join this industry?
This industry is gaining momentum because people are accepting what is designed locally. We would like to challenge Kenyan youth to think of their future and what is important to them. Do they want to rebuild our industry based on our culture, or should we just be fashion consumers? Do we care about where our clothing comes from, or do we just want to look like the global musicians on our screens?