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CocoLili Interview: Furaha Shares Her Exciting Fashion Story

Furaha is of Tanzanian and Kenyan descent. She grew up in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and did her studies in the UK and US.

She is a single mother to three children aged 14, 9 and 7 as well as an accomplished professional. At the same time, she manages CocoLili, which she refers to as her “side gig.”

Furaha has always loved fashion, and her friends and family consider her a ‘fashionista” of sorts, so it was only natural for her to combine her love for fashion with her business background.

Furaha : Founder of CocoLiliAfrica

Surprisingly, her academic background has absolutely nothing to do with fashion.  Her first degree was in Business Administration with a major in Accounting.

She is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA-US), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA) and Certified Government Audit Professional (CGAP) with four years Big 4 public accounting experience.

She also holds a Master of Arts degree in International Development with a major in Health and Development. She has been working as a development professional with a multilateral development bank for the past sixteen years.

1. Where does CocoLili derive their inspiration from?

We derive our inspiration mostly from the continent, so our prints are very Afrocentric in nature.  For instance, in our Basic collection, we had the papaya print and the shield print.

Generally, we start with an inspiration and create a mood board which we use to form the basis of our design brief.  We then send the brief to the Graphic Designer to generate prints.

Once we have the prints, designing collections and selecting fabrics follows. We try to get fabrics that are lovely, breathable and durable, which will flatter the CocoLili woman.

After completing the design process, we then work on print placements, and when we are satisfied with what we think the prints would look like on the various styles, we forward the prints to the Digital Printer to print on fabrics we have selected.

2. Who is your target market?

Our target market is the upward mobile woman aged between 28 and 50.  Basically, the CocoLili woman is culturally diverse, stylish and sophisticated.  She leads a cosmopolitan lifestyle, is a globetrotter and an efficient multi-tasker who is always on the go.

The CocoLili woman has two personalities:

“Coco” – the more mature, successful and self-confident woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. She is unpretentious and comfortable in her own skin while being mindful of her femininity and desire to remain sexy.

“Lili” – who is more youthful, adventurous and just starting out yet at the same time she is ambitious and driven and lives life with intention and purpose.

Source: CocoLili

3. Since its inception, how has it been received so far?

So far, we have been given a very warm reception and great support from our clients.  It definitely has exceeded our expectations.

We have developed a loyal clientele with numerous repeat customers. So the CocoLili community is growing.

Our clients have especially loved our prints which we design specifically for the brand, and they also love the idea that we are a home grown local East African brand with 100% of our production “made in Kenya.”

4. What are some of the products you offer?

Well, CocoLili is a ready to wear women’s brand offering high quality tailored clothing.  Our design philosophy focuses on classic, timeless staples and designs that allow for maximum adaptability and flexibility.

So, CocoLili pieces can be easily dressed up or down and can transition from day to evening.  We offer dresses, skirts, blouses, jackets and trousers and soon we hope to offer swimwear and children’s clothing.

5. I’ve noticed that CocoLili doesn’t offer any products for men. Is it deliberate or you are getting there too.

It is true.  Currently, we do not offer any products for men.  But we have had so many requests that we are planning to come up with print shirts for men before the end of the year.

6. The fashion scene has of late been hit with numerous and fashionable African designs. What makes CocoLili’s products and designs unique from the rest?

As I mentioned earlier, our design philosophy is to keep it simple focusing on classic, timeless staples. We are not “fashion” or “trend” oriented.

A unique feature of CocoLili is that we design and customize our very own bold and vivacious prints which provide a contemporary alternative to the wax print or kitenge but at the same time retain elements of the African narrative.

Source: CocoLili

7. Do you custom make designs per client’s specifications and preferences?

No, we do not. We have opted for a retail model and currently do not have any plans to make custom or bespoke clothing.

8. Cocolili is a high-end store, do you have products for the middle-class woman who loves your products?

While CocoLili prices are not “luxury” per se, they are a bit higher than your average price point for similar clothing. The reason being that we make our own prints and fabrics, which are an extremely capital intensive process.

For instance, digital printing is a lot more expensive compared to screen printing because you can use a lot more colorways, etc.  Also, we make a limited number of pieces per style, and so we are not able to capitalize on economies of scale.

These are the three most important things that dictate our price points, but we are working very hard to come up with items that will be a lot more affordable.

9. Are you looking to open more branches countrywide to reach more clientele? If so, how soon?

Yes, we are in the process of opening a second location.  We realized that Nairobi is quite huge and that being all the way at The Hub in Karen may be a challenge for some of our clients.

10. How can clients reach you outside Nairobi and do you make deliveries?

Clients outside Nairobi who are interested in our products can reach us on [email protected] and can make their orders by email. We are also on Instagram and FaceBook as COCOLILIAFRICA and they can drop us a line there too.

Source: CocoLili

11. What challenges have you faced so far and how have you dealt with them?

I believe the biggest challenge for us has been in production and marketing.  Production as the cost of printing our prints is quite capital intensive and finding a bank willing to finance a ‘fashion’ start-up is virtually impossible.

So, I basically had to self-fund through savings and my current job. Also, marketing can be a bit of a challenge because not all our target market is on social media or shop at malls.

My team and I have therefore have had to rack our minds to come up with innovative ways to engage the CocoLili woman.  I think we have come up with a ‘jackpot’ solution and we hope to unveil it sometime in September/October 2018.  So, keep watching the CocoLili space.

12. Any piece of advice for upcoming designers?

Contrary to what it may seem, creating your brand is not easy.  For instance, we conceptually came up with the idea of CocoLili in February 2013, but we did not launch until 5th November 2016 at The Hub in Karen.

During those three years, we were busy writing out our business plan, strategizing, fine tuning our structure, and working methodology, preparing our collections, etc.  The entire process was very time-consuming and capital-intensive.

So, you need to be prepared for the long haul.  Plus, banks are not willing to lend to fashion startups so it can be difficult getting your resources together and this can protract the process.

Also, one of the important things is to understand what you want your brand to communicate to the world. What are you all about?

Having a business idea is not good enough if you cannot put it on paper.  You must be able to articulate your ideas on paper, and after that, action them.

One thing I would say is to be true to yourself and be as authentic as possible.  You must also learn to manage expectations and surround yourself with a core group of people who are supportive and enthusiastic about your idea.

People who will be able to encourage you and lift you up when you come across those bumpy moments of which there can be quite a few.

Also, you need to remain very positive and single focused and view bumps and hurdles you come across as an opportunity to reassess and readjust rather than an obstacle.


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