Tell us about your journey of being a fashion designer?
I am a self-taught prodigy. I didn’t study fashion as my father considered it a lesser career. However, my love for fashion can be traced to my childhood. My mother passed on when I was only nine years old leaving behind wardrobes full of clothes as she was a very fashion-forward woman. I only have one sister, so this means we had plenty of clothes to share between us. After my sister had her share, I remained with a lot of oversized clothes. This is where I discovered my strength. I knew I had a special talent. I adjusted all the clothes to my taste and size. Years later, I pursued Public Relations and Communication at The University of Nairobi, which I also liked, but I just didn’t settle. After graduation, I secured a communication job at a PR firm. This was short lived as 2 years later, obsessed with my ambitions, I tendered my resignation and stepped out to build my dream.
I started Nato about 6 years ago now, and I have no regrets. Despite the challenges, I love what I do.
Who is the Nato woman?
A woman who loves exclusive quality pieces, she is a risk-taker and knows she is hot but tries to be modest about it. In other words, she knows exactly what she wants and how to wear it.
If I wanted a customized Nato gown, what would be the process?
First, we would work together on figuring out taste, shape and style. Second, we work on how often, when and where the client will be wearing the design. Is it everyday wear, travel wear, business or official wear, dinner wear, wedding wear or red carpet gown? The list goes on….
Once we figure the silhouette, I present 2-3 sketches as discussed. After we choose the fabric and the approved beautiful Nato gown will be tailored with love. The working hours vary, but the range is between 20-30 hours for completion. All this can be done within a period of two weeks.
Your textiles and designs are very unique. How do you develop these designs and what sets you apart from other designer lines?
I love to design gowns which are timeless, with unique, minute and innovate details. I produce small quantities so that I can play with details and finishes. I also tend to stay away from trends because my main inspirations are drawn from the seventies when my mom was a girl of my age. Trendy can be available in every store and any one can carry them, so that’s not unique.
Again my collection is limited edition, every girl wants to feel like they have that one kind of piece that they cant find anywhere else.
Does that make it challenging to develop new and innovative designs? How do you keep up the creativity?
To be very honest, I think I am limited by my society. I don’t think Kenya is ready for me…. I am extra, I would want to be extra with my clients too… but sadly they can’t let me. This is my biggest challenge. I feel I cannot completely do me. This will always be a challenge. It’s a good thing I love challenges. I draw my inspiration from countries that are known from their innovative designs and concepts apart from my mom’s memories.
I also love buying second hand imported gowns. They will always have avant-garde finishes that I have never seen before. This at times makes it even more challenging to design. It makes me learn more and I must compliment these kind of gorgeous works that make my work fun.
If you could describe your designs in a handful of words, what would they be?
Minimal, clean, sexy, fascinating and daring.
Do you think you will ever expand into other products or you have found your niche?
My love for gowns and clothes will always be first, however, I have also been keen on dealing in the real estate business.
Tell me about fashion in Kenya and Africa as a whole?
My take, Africa and especially Kenya is going to be the next fashion hub, like New York, Paris, and Milan, among the rest. I think Africa has a rich culture and resources that are untapped. The West is running out of ideas, so, in my view, all eyes are going to be looking at us.
Which celebrity is wearing your gowns?
All of our Kenyan celebrities wear my gowns or want to be in a Nato gown, but for now Julie Gichuru is a Nato woman.
Of all your gorgeous gowns and collections, which one is your favorite?
Hands down, I love all my creations. However, I really love my “champagne collection”. This collection was created with a lot of love, to my exact expectations and I felt very proud of myself.
I know last year you showcased at Cannes Film Festival. Was this the collection that was showcased? Also, tell me about your awards.
No. I had a different collection in Cannes, but I believe it was the collection that got me invited.
I have three awards. One was “Rising Star 2018” from Kenya wedding awards. The 2nd was from Nigeria’s prestige awards, ‘’Outstanding Contribution in the Fashion Industry, 2018,’’ and the 3rd was from the UK, Aberdeen Fashion Week – Fashion, Media and Arts, ‘’Best International Fashion Designer, 2018’’. I’m very humbled by my awards.
Where do you see your brand in the next few years?
I hope to have a more wide spread exposure to clients that have discerning tastes. One day, possibly worldwide, I want to create a brand that would out live my life.