Shingai Nyagweta on what it takes to tap into the African kids fashion market

Kuna founder on finding your niche and staying competitive


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This article forms part of the Women's Month 2015 series in which SME South Africa, throughout the month of August, will shine the spotlight on female business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Shingai Nyagweta (30) is a Johannesburg-based designer who five years ago took the leap into an industry that very few fashion designers are playing in - children's fashion. 

According to 2014 Global Apparel Market report by IBISWorld, a business intelligence research company, the global childrenswear is a growing market and is expected to exceed USD 186 billion globally, marking a 15% increase in five years.

Nyagweta is the owner and designer of a contemporary childrenswear brand Kuna  a label she says was influenced by her niece, Kunashe.

The brand creates clothing items for boys and girls in the zero to eight years age group. The brand's signature look is bright and bold with a decidedly African twist. The label also makes a range of accessories and stuffed toys. 

Nyagweta got her start in the fashion industry working for prominent fashion designer, Marianne Fassler. She then moved on to the Foschini Group, after which she took the leap and went into business for herself, with funds from her pension fund payout. 

Initially, Kuna operated as an online shop. When the platform did not bring the sales she was hoping for, Nyagweta then decided to hit the streets and started selling at various markets. She also took advantage of a trend that was beginning to grow in South Africa, pop-up stores, and was supplying various boutiques around the country.

Sales on the KuNa online store have over the past two years started picking up as more South Africans begin to shop online. Research by Wide Worx, The Online Retail in SA, shows that the total spent on online retail goods in South Africa passed the R2-billion mark for the first time in 2010. 

Kuna clothing with her signature style of bright and
bold, with an Africa twist (left). The Kuna store. 

Earlier in the year Nyagweta launched her first bricks and mortar store at 27 Boxes in Melville - a design hub which is home to designers, artisans and restaurants. 

SME South Africa sat down to talk to Nyagweta about how she has taken advantage of the opportunities in this niche market, and how she has managed to stay competitive.

100% locally made designer childrenswear in SA is still a largely untapped market, what made you decide to go into this market? 
I've had a passion for art and colour since I was very young and a lot of life events have lead me into the fashion industry. I chose to specialise in children's clothing after graduating from the Durban University of Technology because of my vibrant happy niece who is my biggest fashion fan.

What has the experience of producing children's fashion been like? 
I love that children can pull off patterns and colours that most adults would be too scared to try. Children are the most honest clients. They know what they love and their appreciation is priceless when they find that one garment of their dreams in the shop.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
At the start, I only had an online shop. I truly believed that in 2010 if I built it, people would find me and buy. Truth of the matter, online shopping was not at all as common place as it is now, I was four years too early. Finding alternative distribution during the early days of the recession was difficult as many specialist kids boutiques were closing down.

You are competing with big chain fashion retailers, how have you ensured that your brand stand out?
Our small exclusive collections, our use of modern fabrics mixed with exciting African prints make us a favourite for those looking for something authentic and unique.

What has been your recipe for your success? 
Absolute perseverance. In addition, my parents never discouraged my artistic talents, but always reminded me that anything you choose to do, any passion you pursue, can be turned into a profitable business, if you have the right skills and enough passion.

What are your current expansion plans?
We are expanding our range to include children up to 10 years, and we are launching sandals which are African-made by another local entrepreneur, and will be available this summer. 

We would love to have multiple retail locations of our own and hoping to find a location in Cape Town very soon, from 2017 onwards we are looking forward to participate in international trade fairs and find distributors in Europe and Australia.

What advice would you give young aspiring designers hoping to break into the kids fashion industry? 

Be Patience. Keep learning, and associate yourself with the right people. 

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