Wandia Gichuru is one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in Kenya. She is the CEO and co-founder of Vivo Activewear, a retail clothing business that was founded in 2011. The company has since grown in leaps and bounds to become one of the leading ladies fashion brand in the country. Wandia, who is also a certified life coach and a mentor, talks to Destin Africa Magazine about her entrepreneurship journey and her desire to see Vivo products being worn by women not only in Africa, but also across the world.
Who is Wandia Gichuru?
I am a proud Kenyan woman – a mother, a daughter and a friend. Those are the things that are always constant and will never change. Other things are more fluid. Am also an entrepreneur, a coach and a mentor.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I became an entrepreneur in my forties, so relatively late in life. I could say I am an accidental entrepreneur as it wasn’t something that I had always wanted to do, or that I necessarily thought I was suited for. I just knew that I wanted a change. I didn’t want to be employed any longer and I wanted more freedom and flexibility in my life.
Tells us more about Vivo Activewear?
Vivo is a made in Kenya ladies fashion brand that focuses on providing stylish clothing that is also comfortable, versatile and affordable.
What inspired you to start the company?
I co-founded the company with my close friend Anne-Marie Burugu. We were both inspired by our love for fitness & dance, and for living and loving life to the fullest.
Was that the line of business you wished to engage in while growing up?
I was never really clear about what I wanted to do when I was growing up. I just knew that I wanted to do something fulfilling, which could provide opportunities for growth and for adding value.
What sets you apart from other players in the market?
I believe the fact that we design and manufacture locally sets us apart, as most ready-to-wear fashion is imported and was invariably designed with a different customer in mind. We are able to produce something, test it with the market, get feedback and modify accordingly.
What can you say you have achieved so far?
As a business, we have achieved significant growth which has led to the creation of jobs, shareholder value, and hopefully to customer value as well. As a person, I measure success in terms of how much I am able to contribute, how much I am growing and how much joy I am feeling along the way. The three are very closely linked. I don’t really measure achievement in monetary terms as I see money just as a means to achieve the other three (contribution, growth & joy). And in that regard, I see every day as an opportunity to achieve.
Could you tell us some of the fundamentals of starting a business?
Starting a business requires identifying a need that isn’t being met, and offering a way to meet it that works for your target market. The two have to go hand in hand. Many times people get one right and not the other. For example, you could offer a great product or service, but it’s not addressing an unmet need, so no one really wants it. Or you have identified a need, but the solution you are offering isn’t one that works for the people you are offering it to. It might be too expensive, or too complicated, or too boring. So understanding both the need and the customer that needs it is critical. Once that is clear then, the rest should be easier to figure out.
Have you faced any challenges, and how did you overcome them?
I think everyone faces challenges all the time – whether it’s in business or in life! But the nature of the challenges keeps changing – depending on what stage you are in. When we first started Vivo, the challenge was simply understanding the first thing about business. How to set up accounts and hire staff. Now that we are growing, the challenges are more complex. They include how to run multiple distribution channels and manage working capital when you are scaling up quickly. I think the important thing is to break your challenges down into steps and tackle them one at a time. Very few problems are insurmountable if you do that.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, am most satisfied when I see our employees and our customers satisfied, when we come together as a team and work towards our targets and goals, when our clients are happy with our products & services, and when we can truly see that value we are adding to their lives. That is what makes me contented.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Our plan is for Vivo to be 100% Made in Africa, for the World! We want to source the material and do the production on the continent, but see Vivo products being worn by women not only across Africa, but also internationally.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Don’t let the fact that you are a women discourage you in any way. We are just as capable of building amazing brands and amazing businesses, and the world is keen to help us. There are countless opportunities now for women entrepreneurs to get support – take advantage of them. Often our biggest obstacles are in our heads. Look for opportunities to invest in yourself, to grow your understanding and your ambitions. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and inspire you.