My Afrika Magazine reporter held an interview with Kenya based fashion designer, Lorna Abwonji to share her success and journey with our readers. Enjoy
Hi, welcome to My Afrika magazine where we profile talented Africans like you. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Lorna Abwonji a fashion designer based in Nairobi, Kenya. I have lived in Nairobi all my life but my parents are from the Western part of Kenya known as Nyanza. I am currently running my fashion brands. Mia Mara Creations which is a ready to wear brand that I started in 2013 and the new brand Cinched by Mia Mara which is a made to measure brand that specializes in corsetry and gowns which I started in 2019.
Two brands under your name, that’s impressive. Take us through your journey, how was your childhood like.
I have always been a creative and sometimes it was difficult for me to narrow down on what I really wanted to focus on because I’m versatile. My dream as a child was to be a Disney animator because I just loved cartoons. I would always sketch the characters in my drawing books and would always doodle in my school books. I was also very good at writing and was known to write a lot of “novels” that my classmates enjoyed reading. Some are shocked that I did not take writing full time.
I am privileged to have always had supportive parents who encouraged me to explore my talents which is not the case for most people wanting to pursue the arts. As much as I did not do any extra curriculum artistic classes I always seized the opportunities to participate in most competitions just to challenge myself. I still do this till this day.
My love for fashion came from a need to find clothes that actually fit me. I was always too tall for my age and never found clothes in the market that would suit my taste or my size. I always said I design for myself and to this day its very true, a lot of my work is an extension of who I am and its very obvious when I do not like what I have put out. What surprises me is that I found people who actually like my work and want to pay for it. That is a huge compliment to any creative who has poured their heart and soul into anything they do.
Over the years I have done mostly made to measure clothes for different clients and mostly with locally available fabrics.
That’s impressive. Any milestones you have achieved with your brands?
Over the years I have focused on building my brand and have participated in various shows both in Nairobi and at the Coastal part of Kenya. Some that I have taken part in include Casino Malindi Fashion Show, Brads Fashion Show, Samantha’s Bridal Show, FAFA and Kenya fashion Awards.
What impact did COVID 19 have on your business and how have you adapted?
The pandemic made me rethink how I do my business and I realized I needed to pivot into more ready to wear clothes that I could sell globally and had to think as well of how that would reflect on my brand identity. Since my brand has always been about color and print and the fabrics I was well known for was the khanga, I decided to explore that because it also truly reflects the spirit of the East African region.
Recently I have ventured more into the world of corsetry after learning that it is a very important skill to learn if I intend to get more into the costume world and just to further boost my technical skills. I have had to explore the internet and import supplies because they are not locally available. I even bought second hand corsets just to see the structure and understand more about its construction.
With what I learn I have created a few pieces and will continue to do more as I horn my skills. I even dared to get into an international costume sewing competition from Foundations Revealed and I am proud to say I have gotten very good responses.
What have been your milestones and achievements to date?
In 2010 I founded DRESS UP KENYA the first show in Kenya that was strictly for upcoming talent at that time at the Nairobi national Museum Centennial celebrations that eventually paved the way for similar shows that are common now. In 2014 to 2015 I was a finalist in the AFRICAN DESIGNERS FOR TOMORROW competition. A year of training on how to prepare as a brand for the European market and a workshop with teachers from Esmond International Fashion School at for a week and got to work with a local production company that produce clothes for luxury brands abroad. In 2021 I was part of the FOUNDATIONS REVEALED COMPETITION PARTICIPANT internationalcostume competition.
Do you have any people that you look up to? Any role models?
I have many role models I look up to in various areas of my life but for this purpose I will highlight three Kenya based ladies in the fashion industry and what they are doing.
Wandia Gichuru of Vivo active wear that has revolutionized how we think about ready to wear clothing in Kenya. Wandia will always be willing to give information about her business, her wins and her struggles and is passionate about made in Kenya brands. She even opened up a marketplace platform to emerging fashion brands called Shop Zetu .
Ann McCreath the founder of Kiko Romeo who managed to pivot her fashion brand after reaching a plateau and re-strategizing to make it a more global brand. I also like that she is very real with her experiences and is a mentor to many designers in Kenya, myself included.
Ogake Mosomi of Ogake Bridal has done a fantastic job building her luxury bridal brand and I have seen a real shift in Kenyans embracing more made in Kenya clothing because of brands like hers. She is also a university lecturer and teaches the next generation of fashion experts at Nairobi University
These three ladies have inspired me that no matter what level you are at, its never too early or late to give back in whatever capacity you can. If we all build each other up, we move forward and go farther and grow the industry.
What’s your vision for the future?
I would love my brands to be globally recognized and would love to empower the next generation of designers. I have recognized that they actually go hand in hand and in order to grow you have to take others with you.
I believe that fashion has a capacity to create many jobs on this continent because it is skill based. There is a benefit to that because it’s doesn’t matter your level of education as long as you can work with your hands and love the skill you can go far.
I would love to see more African fashion brands get global attention as brands and not just be the continent with the narrative of being producers to global brands. We have a lot more to offer the world than just labor.
Thank you Lorna and all the best in your work. Where can people view your work?
My website and social media platforms