MD VIVO ACTIVEWEAR
The co-founder and CEO of Vivo Woman, Wandia Gichuru, came into entrepreneurship relatively late in life, having spent nearly 20 years working in the international development space with institutions that include the World Bank, UNDP where she was a policy adviser and the British Government Department for International Development (DfiD) where she worked as a governance adviser after getting a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Western University (1986-1988) and a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in 1996.
She caught the entrepreneurship burg in 2011 when she took the plunge to “try something different”, with her close friend Anne Marie Burugu. Though widely travelled and exposed to Western fashion, two set out to fill what they perceived as a void in the availability of stylish yet comfortable clothing for Kenyan women of all body shapes and sizes. Hence, the birth of Vivo Woman in May 2011.
In just ten years of operation, Vivo is now widely considered to be Kenya’s leading ladies fashion brand, with 100% of their products designed and manufactured locally, and supported by a growing network of (currently 15) stores across the country, including in far flung areas like Eldoret in the heart of the Rift Valley, in the sleepy coastal town of Mombasa and in the hinterland in Nakuru.
Wandia credits this success in such a short time of existence to hard work, quality materials, exotic and unique designs, complemented by a committed team of over 170 employees. Through constant feedback, Wandia and her team deliberately and constantly stay in touch with their customers, adopting to timely improving the offering.
Vivo’s purpose is to inspire every woman to look and feel different, special and great. According to Wandia, how women look and how women feel are closely connected, and so Vivo seeks to contribute to women’s confidence, self-love and appreciation by availing accessible and all-size inclusive clothing that are also designed appropriately to seat in snugly with all body shapes and sizes. With Vivo wear, every woman experiences a sense of belonging.
Luckily for Vivo, the market seems to have bought into this objective and design thinking.
Due to its brand recognition, Vivo was voted Kenyan Fashion Brand of the Year 2016 and 2017, and won the Top Retail Award in the KPMG Top 100 Medium Sized Business Awards in 2018.
2021 is a particularly special one for Vivo as it marks ten years of operation in May. “Looking back over the last ten years, and seeing how far we have come, is humbling. Business isn’t easy, but you’ve got to stick in there through the good and bad times. Celebrate the wins and learn from the mistakes. One thing I know for sure is that we wouldn’t be anywhere without our customers, and we are grateful for their support and loyalty throughout this journey,” says Wandia.
What ultimately drives Wandia is a vision of seeing “Africa Dress Herself”. And whilst she acknowledges that imported clothing will continue to play a significant role in the markets, she feels there is no reason why a much larger share of what is available is not locally designed and manufactured. “It just makes sense. We are a country of almost 50 million people that get up and get dressed every day. Why should we have completely outsourced all our dressing to others? We have all the skills and capacity we need to build incredible local fashion brands,’’ adds Wandia.
‘When you design and manufacture locally you can tailor your products specifically to the market you serve, and you can respond much quicker to any changes in demand or style. Plus, it is really important to understand that manufacturing clothing locally employs more than 15 times as many people, and contributes more in taxes than when we import all our clothing. The impact this has on our economy is huge,” Wandia opines.
Wandia states that she was inspired when she visited shopping malls in Mauritius and Egypt, and saw that over half the stores were local brands, and they were selling just as much as the international brands next stall to them. The same with the Republic of South Africa.
According to Ms Gichuru, the local fashion space is a relatively small but fast-growing industry. As Kenyans are taking more pride in the “Buy Kenya, Build Kenya” effort, local designers are quickly responding to this interest by offering unique and increasingly more affordable products. Luckily, the buzz in the social media has provided an easy route to market, and has made it possible for brands of all sizes to showcase their designs online.
To help grow the awareness and accessibility of local fashion brands, Vivo launched a dedicated fashion e-commerce marketplace, Shop Zetu, in December 2019, and the platform proudly hosts an ever-expanding range of local fashion, beauty and accessory brands. “We really want to be part of growing this space, showing Kenyans and the world what incredible brands, we are building and making it really easy for everyone to have access to them,” concludes Wandia Gichuru.