Kenya’s foremost fashion brand, KikoRomeo turns 18 years old today. Starting in 1996 in a garage on Dennis Pritt Road in Nairobi, to becoming a household name all over Kenya, KikoRomeo is an inspiration to any business start up.
Armed with strong technical & PR skills and a passion for making the world a better place, Ann McCreath initiated her company in 1996. With a desire to see more Kenyans showing pride in their culture through their dress and to create supplementary income in rural households, Ann set up KikoRomeo. She quickly realized that she wouldn’t be able to get standardised quality of stitching craftsmanship required for a high class product, so she decided to employ her own tailors and train them to make clothes. At the same time she continued to work with diverse womens groups and artisans to develop uniques inputs. Whether tie dyed fabrics, coconut and bone buttons, beaded leather, carved leather, knits, engraved brass or weaves. You name it Ann tried it.
In 1998 with a regular monthly turnover of 400,000 KES and a predominantly male fashion line, Ann sold shares to others to raise capital to expand the business. She then moved around different parts of Nairobi from Viking House to Eldama Ravine Rd, Kindaruma Lane, Lwr Kabete Rd, Mogotio Rd until finally settling on the Yaya Centre. There she recreated her flagship store using an intriguing mix of huge sculptures by Kioko Mwitiki, paintings by El Tayeb Daw el Bait, and a balance of colours and space by Kahare Miano. The result is a uniquely Kenyan eclectic mix., which represents her appreciation of diversity.
‘KikoRomeo’ was a fruit of this diversity. A Kiswahili word for “Adam’s Apple” Ann chose it as it was easy to say in many different languages. Her own name was out of the question, as she had decided to create a Kenyan brand, an African brand, which would resonate with people’s roots. A line that would empower people to look good and feel proud anywhere in the world.
Ann says “We have come far, but not far enough. My dream was always to create a worldwide franchise, to sell an African designed and made product all over the globe, and to create a Kenyan experience in those places, so that people would see and feel the vibe. Now is the time to take this dream forward. KikoRomeo has the experience, we cut for curvy bodies, we know what people want”.
Ann McCreath through KikoRomeo has also helped a multitude of others. Whether training in improved crafts skills, lending books, teaching people how to draw and cut, the impact on the Kenyan fashion industry has been immense. Ann says “It’s all about empowerment. Whether it’s a village mama or a young graduate, everyone can learn more. It’s about exposure and mentoring. Kenyans are very eager to learn, and whenever I share my knowledge I also receive more knowledge as I seek to understand”.