“There’s very little money in modelling. At least that was my experience,” says Vincent Wangara.
“The most I ever made on the runway was Sh20,000. Though I loved the fashion industry, I needed to find a way to make a living.”
28-year-old Vincent, who’s more popularly known as Vinn Clizz, is a former model and the founder of suits enterprise Vinn Clizz Ltd, which specialises in designing and tailoring suits for both men and women.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to become. I studied aeronautical engineering, but after I graduated, I knew it wasn’t my passion. It was also a saturated workspace, and finding jobs was very difficult,” Vinn tells Hustle.
“Out of the 50 people in my class that year, I think only one stayed in the industry.”
Ironically, it was while studying aviation that Vinn stumbled upon fashion when his school hosted Mr and Miss Aviation 2011. He signed up for the competition.
Though he didn’t finish even in the top five, the event opened his eyes to similar pageants like Mr and Miss Sexy Curves, which he did win in 2012.
“The prize money was meant to be Sh140,000 but I only received Sh20,000 from the organisers,” he says.
“I was disillusioned when I realised this was just one of the challenges of being a model.”
Still, Vinn kept up with high fashion, gracing runways at events like the East Africa Fashion Week and Kisumu Fashion Week, and appearing in advertisements for products like Tusker, Trust and Safaricom.
“Adverts had money, but they were sporadic. Though I became a brand ambassador for my aviation school after I won the pageant in 2013, I still wasn’t satisfied being on the runway.”
In 2015, Vinn walked a runaway for the very last time when he competed in Mr World Kenya and emerged a finalist.
“I wanted fashion, but from an entirely different angle,” he says.
The idea to become a fashion designer came to Vinn after he spent months hanging out with a good friend who designed suits and whose reputation was growing in the industry. Vinn carefully studied, how his friend made his designs, which tailors he used and how he pitched and marketed to clients.
“One day, I decided to try it on my own. I bought some material worth Sh4,000 and made a suit. It came out badly,” Vinn says, laughing at the memory.
“I still sold it for Sh4,500.”
Bolstered by his first sale, Vinn set out to build a business.
“Good material for a suit will cost anywhere between Sh500 to upwards of Sh800 per metre. I bought the cheapest material possible at Sh200 per metre. I made suits and took pictures at a photo studio at Sh200 per picture.”
His total start-up capital came to approximately Sh20,000 for eight suits, five of which he bought second-hand from his fashion designer friend.
“The pictures I posted brought the customers. I made the suits at Sh3,000 and sold them at Sh4,500. I was making a profit, but none of my clients came back because the material was of poor quality.”
Vinn was saved by his unique designs and great marketing. Though customers didn’t return, he consistently got new ones.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I am proud of, that I didn’t retain customers. I couldn’t afford better material then, so I used what was available to me,” he explains.
“I sold my first suit in December 2013. Seven months later, I’d grown enough to upgrade the quality of my material and my suits. I started retaining customers even though the price for my suits went up to Sh6,000.”
Vinn, who previously made his appointments with clients at various locations since he didn’t have a shop, finally rented out a place at Sh9,000 a month along Nairobi’s Luthuli Avenue.
“It made a huge difference because it’s not always easy to tell a client, ‘let’s meet outside Mr Price,’ which is what I had been doing.”
With his reputation growing, in 2016, Vinn registered a turnover of about Sh140,000 per month. He expanded his product line from being purely male, to suits and office wear for women as well.
“Our male suits currently cost between Sh7,500 and Sh30,000 or more. The women’s suits cost Sh5,500 to Sh6,500. It all depends on the quality of fabric that a client chooses,” Vinn says.
“I design for people from all walks of life, from the ordinary mwananchi to the high-end clients. Even though the fabrics may differ, the finish and attention to detail is the same.”
Vinn says his growth has been systematic but by no means easy.
“If you’re doing something for fun or to pass time, yes it can be easy. But if you’re doing it for a living, no matter how much you enjoy it, you’ll sweat, and you’ll be discouraged many times.”
One of his lowest moments was in 2018, when he allowed an independent designer to use his shop to attend to wedding party clients.The designer failed to deliver the promised goods and when the clients couldn’t reach him, they came to Vinn’s shop.
Vinn was arrested by the police for fraud and spent a night in custody. The situation was eventually cleared and he was released the following day.
“I learned my lesson that brand association is critical. It didn’t do well for my name to be associated with a designer who failed to deliver work he’d been paid for,” Vinn says, “particularly because we get a lot of wedding clients.
“A typical wedding will attract a sale of six to 14 suits at a cost of about Sh7,500 per suit for adults and between Sh3,500 and Sh5,500 for kids. I felt like I put that at risk.”
Vinn won’t be making that mistake again, especially because of the painstaking growth he’s had to oversee to get his company to where it is.
Today, he runs his fashion house from a shop near Nairobi’s Ambassadeur Hotel, with a staff of four tailors.
He registers a monthly turnover of between Sh65,000 and Sh175,000, depending on the season. January is the lowest season, while August to December is the highest.
“I’m always finding new ways to grow and market myself. Currently I host a talk show, Fashion Diaries, which interviews fashion personalities from all over Kenya. Speaking with others in the field keeps me open to new ideas, trends and the things we need to improve to get to the next level as an industry.”