I’m Vanessa Ikwang, founder of the iKWANG Fashion Label. iKWANG is a clothing line inspired by African prints and art but also expands into other numerous fabrics for all ages and sexes. The designs under iKWANG are simply different and are defined by understated elegance.
A dell, an HP and a MacBook. I’m joking. I have a dead HP. Well, it works, but its screen is as good as dead! Someone shut it with earphones still on the keyboard so it has strange patterns. It’s too dark to see anything so you have to connect it to a TV. I rarely use it, though. My phone and iPad are what I use most
Current Mobile devices:
iPhone 6 Plus and Techno A something something Katoochi.
Why these ones?
Both of them have really good batteries.
iPhone, I never have issues with viruses. I also do my notes and most of my work on it. It’s been good to me considering I’ve had it for close to two years now. My Dad, bought the iPhone for me as appreciation for the help I regularly give him with different tasks.
The Techno has no internet and generally no issues so it makes a great backup.
One word that describes how you work?
Don’t you have those days when the passion is so low and you are just mechanically toiling away at your sewing machine?
No, never! If I feel low, I don’t work.
How did you end up at your current gig?
I’ve always loved art and most especially fashion. I had two jobs before; I used to work at a court in Kololo, but I would do my sketches, and then I managed a furniture store where I continued sketching. By this time, people had started appreciating my sketches and they’d started pushing me to do this full time.
While still at the court, I met a workmates friend who liked my sketches and gave me my first batch of material, free, to encourage me to start. I carried that material around for a while and eventually started working on it on the side while still employed. Before I knew it, my friend posted a picture on social media of something I’d designed and next thing, I was swamped with work. Shortly after, I was suspended from my job and just decided to concentrate on fashion.
You were suspended for absconding from work duties?
Yeah, I was. I would escape from work to get material and clients would come over to my place of work to make orders and follow-up.
How long has the business been running for?
Close to three years.
Are there any career decisions/life choices/failures that were fundamental in making you the person you are now, doing what you’re doing today?
Yes. Absconding from my work and eventually getting suspended made me realize that I needed to concentrate on my fashion more. I don’t regret absconding from work, even though I’m not encouraging people to do the same.
Wouldn’t you encourage them if they were chasing something they were really passionate about?
Actually, yes. If you are very serious about something and you’re really chasing it, nothing should scare you. Don’t be afraid to take risks, I risked and it has paid off.
Tell me more about the friends…
There is a Kenyan friend, Jill Kui Njoroge, who would be on my neck all the time, ‘I don’t even know why you’re still going back to that place to work, Vanessa. You’re seated on talent here!’ That is one of the people that really put me on pressure. She’s actually the one who forcefully posted a picture of a skirt that I had designed for her on social media. I think she intentionally did it so that I get overwhelmed and kind of realize the talent I was wasting.
Bless her soul…
Bless her soul by the way. She was my first customer even. That girl put me on pressure, ‘Leave this job. It is stressing you yet you could be doing something that you love. No, no, no!’ She’s a lawyer in Kenya that studied here in Uganda and comes here quite often. She’s a very good friend, the kind who is one thousand miles away from me but literally checks on me every single day, and knows what is going on in my life, even more than my friends who are here. Everyone needs a friend like this that truly unconditionally wishes you the best.
Is your startup able to fully support you? Do you have side gigs to sustain you as it grows?
My startup is able to fully support me and even support the homestead. Not entirely, but most of the time. I am the one that pays bills, buys food and I also pay fees for one child on top of that. Thankfully, there is no rent to pay so that reduces the burden.
Any stories of some of the struggles/sacrifices you’ve had to make to see this dream come to life?
Not enjoying my profits much because I have to keep re-investing, buying better machines and materials, to avoid the business becoming stagnant. I didn’t have anyone to give me the capital to start so I saved for a long time. My job wasn’t paying very well, so basically all the money that I was given would go back into transport and food. But, while I was working, I used to make hair buns, earrings and bow ties. I made good money from those items. I also joined a saving circle, the type where everyone contributes monthly and one member of the SACCO gets the entire amount each month. When it was my turn, I utilized the money well for business.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
WhatsApp. I mainly transact business there. I have clients who will not even make a single phone call. They place the order, send you measurements, I send them samples of the material I have, do the outfit that they want and have it delivered, all using WhatsApp. I also use Facebook and Instagram for marketing.
I also can’t do without phone notes. I have like a thousand. I don’t move around with my notebook for measurements because it’s very big and bulky so I do everything on my notes.
What’s your workspace like?
Our house is a two in one and my mom uses only one of the houses. I, therefore, have the second one all to myself for work.
How big is the team of people you work with and do you have a formula for managing them?
We are a small team of just three people. My kid sister, who is my assistant, a gentleman and myself. Management is not that hard thanks to the small size of the team. Sometimes, though, we get overwhelmed and extra hands would be appreciated.
What’s your best time-saving trick?
I work best under pressure. That’s when I usually get most of my crazy creative ideas.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
My sticker notes.
Besides your computer and phone, which other gadgets can’t you live without, and why?
My iPad. It has most of my albums, portfolio and other pictures. A phone is a bit private so I also prefer giving my clients the iPad instead so that they can go through pictures. Some times when I have big teams, like a whole group of bride’s maids that I’m meeting outside my workshop, I prefer to do the notes on the iPad because it’s easier to type on.
What every day thing are you better at than most?
I think it’s socializing. Truth be told, I am too social. I can’t leave a place without making friends. I don’t intend to, I don’t force it, it just comes naturally. That’s why I think it gives me an advantage.
What do you listen to while you work?
Since most of the time I’m working under pressure. I don’t usually listen to anything. But, I like listening to old school music.
What are you currently reading? What usually leads you to buy a book? Books you’ve read recently that have impacted you deeply? What kind of impact did they have?
I’ve been too busy to read a book of recent. The last one was ‘Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!’ by Robert H. Schuller, and this was about six years ago. Despite the time, its message has helped me in this business journey. A friend also recently highly recommended and then gifted me, ‘The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories’ by Simon Rich, but I’m yet to read it.
Oh, I’ve also read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.
Was it worth it?
I’ve heard the criticism for the writing, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t just read books that are showing me how a writer is so good at writing and how they are capable of using all the fancy words. I want a story that’ll make me feel and leave my imagination on fire.
Any mentors/role models that you are working with/that have inspired you, and what lessons have you managed to learn from them?
My father. He’s my mentor and always gives the best business advice. There are certain months when business is extremely slow and you’re on the verge of, ‘You know what, to hell with this!’ but he’ll be there to tell you that ‘Every single business is like that. You have to persist. You have to hang in there because the hard times will pass.’ He is the one that is helping with the website.
He has really been supportive, but not financially, yet. He told me, ‘I have not given you capital yet because I want you to know the value of money so when I give you capital, you know exactly what to use it for. If I had given you capital in the beginning, you probably wouldn’t have known where to put it and might have misused it.’
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
What’s your sleep routine like?
Most times, I sleep about midnight or 1 am and I’m up by 7. Most times I’m on the phone responding to people’s requests.
How do you strike a balance between work, family, friends and other big social obligations?
The balance is very bad right now. Work has really taken up most of my time so hanging with my friends and social activities are usually from 8 pm to 9 pm onwards.
I work from home which makes it easier to spend time for my mother and siblings.
Who else would like to see answer these same questions?
What’s the best advice have you’ve ever heard?
My dad, ‘What you do in your twenties will determine how you live in your forties. So, work hard right now so you can have a good life later on in my forties instead of working as hard as the 21-year-olds when you are supposed to be planning retirement.’
“Never let one bad day make you feel like you have a bad life!” It’s my daily motivation.
What are your expansions plans?
I want to open an outlet shop. My workshop will still be home, but I want somewhere where I’ll be able to display items that are ready to buy and act as a place for customers to easily pick up their orders, as opposed to coming all the way to Bweyogerere.
Sylvia Owori infamously called your work ‘trash’. How did that make you feel?
Of course, I felt bad but I’ve had to develop a thick skin over time. This business is not easy at all so if you do not have thick skin, you’ll easily get taken out. It’s not for the faint hearted and you, therefore, have to find a way to be strong during hard times because you’re not going please everyone 100%, all the time. No!
On the plus side, thanks to my friends and customers who came out to support me, it has given me so much publicity. I have since received a crazy amount of orders so it ended up being a great thing.
If you have any additional questions for Vanessa, feel free to drop them in the comment section below. She will try and answer those he can. Click here to read other Hustle Tales
The Hustle Tales (adapted from LifeHackers, How I Work series) asks people that are doing epic things how they go through their daily routines to make sure whatever is needed to get the job accomplished is done. If you are interested in doing one these interviews or know someone you think should do one, inbox us with the details and we’ll see if we can make it happen.