Standard Business

KikoRomeo: Fashion house driving artistry, social impact

Ann Mccreath, the owner of Kikoromeo. [Courtesy]

They say give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world. 

For Ann McCreath, her journey to conquer the world began 25 years during a trip to Kenya’s arid North.

But the story of the founder of fashion house KikoRomeo has been long and winding.

The Scott first came to Africa as a 28-year-old during a trip to Angola as an aid worker with Doctors Without Borders.

She would later end up in Northern Kenya in what would be the beginning of an amazing journey that would traverse different ages and times.

“The idea for KikoRomeo was born when I was working in Garissa and Ijara. I could see that there was a big problem, especially for women as they had no access to cash due to underdevelopment. This is when I started thinking of ways to work with women in rural areas to give them supplementary income,” said Ann.

After setting up the business in 1996, Ann got her starting capital from her parents to the tune of £20,000 (Sh3 million in today’s exchange rate).

“I wish I had taken the money, bought a property and borrowed against it, which is what I would advise other women in business to do if they get a lump sum. This is because business goes up and down, and you need capital at different points, so if you have an asset that you can borrow against. It makes it much easier,” she said.

The clothing label, co-designed by mother-daughter duo Ann and Iona McCreath, mainly focuses on sustainable, contemporary designs crafted by local artisans using traditional hand-dyeing techniques.

Two years after starting Kiko Romeo, she was still working from the garage at her house and revenues were not growing as fast as she had hoped.

“That is when I realised we needed to get bigger and get another location, so I raised funds by selling shares to clients and friends. Currently, I have about 14 shareholders, and a lot of people bought into the idea of the social impact of our business,” explained Ann.

So what inspired the name of her business?

Ann said she picked the name KikoRomeo, which is Swahili for Adams apple, as she initially specialised in men’s clothes and wanted what she said was a name that traversed all generations.

“I wanted a name in Swahili that people would relate to easily and that was easy to pronounce… a Scottish name would have been odd, and I wanted a distinction between my personal name and the business name… I didn’t want it to be all about me,” said Ann.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, her business, like many others around the world, suffered and even considered selling to someone who would take it to the next level.

But she remains optimistic that the pandemic will pass, with the business having survived past shocks, such as the 2007/08 post-election violence.

Ann reckons the true value of a business does not lie in money.

“The business’ value is infinity. It’s a willing buyer, willing seller as fashion is all about brand value and that it is tangible until it’s sold,” she said.

An outfit at KikoRomeo on average costs between Sh8,000 and Sh65,000, while a Kikoi will set you back between Sh2,500 and Sh8,000

Ann’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to be flexible to be able to cope with the market dynamics. 

“Do something that you are passionate about, and try and marry your passion and what you love about your passion so that your product is very different from everyone else’s,” she said.

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