Wan Fam Clothing was founded by Jeff Wanjala, 30, and his brother Emmanuel Wanjala, 25. And no, Jeff says, Wan Fam is not an acronym for Wanjala.
The business grew through referrals and word of mouth from a close-knit family of friends – hence the name Wan Fam (a play on one family).
From an initial starting capital of Sh5,000 in 2009, Jeff says, Wan Fam last year registered a turnover of Sh4 million. The fashion start-up deals primarily with urban fashion, including travel and gym bags, sweatshirts, sweatpants, jackets and backpacks.
“Wan Fam Clothing was started in 2011, but its birth dates back to 2009 when we started making hand-painted T-shirts for our clients,” Jeff says.
“I usually count from 2011 because that’s when I started thinking of making Wan Fam Clothing more of a brand and not just a casual hustle.” And his efforts, helped along by business partner James Mumbo, have paid off, with the fashion brand getting its name out across the continent.
The business has been featured on CNN’s African Startup and has drawn the interest of local investors. “One of my big moments was when we released a collection on a Friday and by Monday evening, it was sold out,” Jeff says.
The company had just finished a line of hooded sweatshirts and did a shoot with models on Friday. As usual, Jeff posted a few photos online; within days, the entire collection sold out.
His list of notable clients includes entertainment bigwigs like Pinky Ghelani, Khaligraph ‘Papa’ Jones, Amina, Avril, DJ Nruff, Collo, and Miss Kenya USA 2010-2011 Angel Wambui.
Surprisingly, Jeff – who is inspired by American fashion apparel designer Daymond John, the man behind the FUBU brand – does not have a background in fashion. The civil engineering graduate stumbled into the business after asking his brother to paint graffiti on some plain T-shirts he had bought.
After posting the photos of the finished product on social media, orders started trickling in for similar designs.
“Wan Fam maintains that designers need to understand what is missing from the market and what will make them stand out from the rest, and all the while keep quality at the core of their foundation.”
Jeff says it takes his fashion house a week to a couple of months to get a design right. Wan Fam sells vests at Sh1,000; tracksuit trousers at Sh1,600; sleeveless hoodies at Sh2,000, sleeved ones at Sh2,500; fleece jackets at Sh2,600 and backpacks at Sh3,500.
But, as often happens in business, it has not all been smooth sailing.
“Fabric availability is a big, big issue. We have had to ship in some of our fabrics as what’s locally available can be extremely expensive or not of the highest quality,” Jeff says
Further, with a great product comes great imitators. Wan Fam has had to deal with people who make low-quality clothing and pass them off as Wan Fam designs.
To deal with this, the company has trademarked its name and some designs, and is working with the Anti-Counterfeit Agency to clamp down on forgeries.
“Middlemen can run down your business. And in this business, it can be serious. One time, I asked someone for a fleece fabric supplier’s number, and he said he would give it to me, but it would cost Sh20,000,” Jeff says.
He advises those in the business of fashion to be patient and ensure that they do not become victims of their own success by settling for quick cash.
“The fashion business gives you a chance to be creative. There are many ways you can make a jacket. We have brands that make bags only and have been around for years. As long as there are people, there will always be a need for clothes and accessories.”