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Thursday, 15 May 2014

Annabelle Thom on Turning Her Hobby Into a Successful Business in Kenya

British-born Annabelle Thom created her first design a leather bush hat in 1997 but today makes everything from hats to bags, cushion covers and other accessories. She turned a hobby into a successful fashion business in Kenya.

After 2 years of creating products she decided to turn her hobby into a “serious business”. She borrowed KSh. 70, 000 (US$800) and bought a sewing machine from a friend, 3 pieces of leather and started her business in her dining room. Today she employs a team of 15 who make African themed bags, belts, hats, jewellery and other accessories. She also exports her products to markets in the UK and US.

Thom came to Kenya nearly 2 decades ago and fell in love with the country. “I had a choice of either going back to the UK with my then two-and-a-half year old son or staying here and I realised very quickly I didn’t want to move back to England,” she says. “I suddenly knew that this was where I wanted to make my home.” She explains that perseverance, hard work and belief in her products have been key to the success of her business.

“Not giving up is the main thing I think. You also need to be realistic, get your pricing right and do something different from everybody else, not copying. You should also pay attention to detail and make something beautiful that someone would like to buy. Do not accept less.”

The designer says she draws inspiration from London’s high fashion trends, as well as locally made items from pastoralist communities such as the Samburu. Zebu sources raw materials including leather, bones, and fabric from 45 suppliers. On the challenges faced doing business she says, “I don’t like to think about the challenges. I like to think about all the positive points in running a business here. I have been here a really long time. I don’t look at things as challenges but more of the bits you have to struggle through that are boring or that you don’t enjoy. I have never thought of quitting. I am not one to accept defeat.”

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