Africa is the economic landscape of the future and the world has taken notice of the continent’s potentials. With belief in the prospects of the region turning it to a major hub for investments, African entrepreneurs are not slacking, with several in diaspora returning home to key into the continent’s economic growth.
Mugo Muna, who relocated to the United States when he was 11 returned to Kenya after graduating from Cornell University. He is back in Kenya to empower local artisans through fashion with his brand called Bora Wear.
“The whole idea was that we were going to both make great products and support Kenyan artisans,” he says.
With locally sourced quality leather, Muna is producing handmade men’s belts that Africa can be proud of anywhere. In this chat with Ventures Africa, he speaks on Bora Wear’s beginning, present and what the future holds.
Ventures Africa (VA): Kindly introduce yourself.
Mugo Muna (MM): Mugo Muna, here. I run a brand called Bora Wear which just launched its kickstarter. We make handmade men’s belts right here in Nairobi, Kenya.
VA: What inspired the launch of Bora Wear?
MM: Bora Wear is inspired by the adjacent possible. It is all about a dissatisfaction with the way Kenya is and a drive to reshape it into what it should be.
I grew up in Kenya and moved to the US when I was eleven. After the initial excitement of being in America wore off, I was gripped by this need to return to Kenya and do something. I mean, everything just worked in America. Why couldn’t Kenya be like that? What do we have to do to make it like that? What can we create to achieve that? So, the whole company is about striving for that vision.
VA: What were the challenges you faced when starting?
MM: Hahaha. What challenges haven’t we faced? I can say that the biggest challenge has been adapting to the way people do business here. I speak with an American accent which turns into a liability in certain instances, especially when you are negotiating prices. On top of that, there is a constant need to put “pressure” on people to deliver what they said they would in the time frame. At first, it seemed like isolated cases, but as time passed, it became clear that its not enough to simply expect someone to get things done. You have to follow up. Or you could be waiting for a deliverable that will never come.
VA: Why did you decide to work with local artisans?
MM: It’s all about a physical product. Because a physical product means you need a human to make it. It also means as you grow you are going to need more human beings working to keep up with demand. So the artisans are an excellent group to work with since we can see a direct impact of what we are doing through employing them.
VA: What criteria do you employ when selecting artisans that work for the brand?
MM: Well. First, you have to see if there is a match between what we want and who they are. So far, we have worked with artisan groups that work in and around Kibera, a slum here in Nairobi. If your group doesn’t have a goal to improve people’s lives then we probably won’t work with you. After that, we do some samples with the groups to see if they can actually produce what we want.
VA: What has limited an expansion to other African markets?
MM: We are still validating a lot of the business model. We just aren’t ready yet.
VA: How would you measure the growth of Bora Wear?
MM: Obviously revenue is a key metric, but on top of that is the number of artisans we are working with. From the beginning, it was important to me that we pay people for their work. There is a lot of research to show that individuals value what they earn far more than what is just given to them. Therefore, growth cannot simply be measured by revenue but is inherently interlaced with the lives of the individuals that we are working with.
VA: What made you choose kickstarter as the best place to list your business?
MM: Kickstarter is all or nothing funding. Either you reach your goal or you get absolutely nothing. I like that pressure that it creates. It keeps you fighting to figure out what is working and how can you amplify that effect. On top of that, Kickstarter has such a vibrant and active community relative to other crowdfunding sites.
VA: How do you get backers for projects?
You have your bottom-up strategy and your top-down strategy. Bottom-up is your friends, family, and personal network. These are the people who will share your project widely and most importantly with a personal touch. Top-down is getting online magazines, blogs, and the like to share your story. Both of these strategies want to get the campaign in front of as many people as possible so that they can learn about and back the project.
VA: Are backers profit seeking investors?
Backers are early adopters.
VA: What other products do you plan to add to the Bora Wear brand?
There aren’t any plans to add any new products in the short-term. We want to build on and expand our offerings within men’s belts. How can we be even better? How can we push the craftsmanship to its peak? There is still so much room to explore.
VA: What are your short-term and long-term goals for Bora Wear?
MM: Short term, we have to focus on truly understanding our customers and expanding stores where you can find our wares. Long term, it becomes a matter of increasing revenues and impact.
VA: Where do you see Bora Wear in the next decade?
MM: Changing Kenya. (VENTURES AGFRICA)