Shingai Nyagweta, founder of KuNa kids Clothing is the only creative member in her family. Coming from an academic family it is surprising to hear that her mother has been her biggest supporter and from an early age told her not to become an educated drone but to follow her passions.
KuNa clothing is an aesthetically different brand of bright, bold clothing with an African twist, for children aged from birth to ten years.
“We love our African heritage and appreciate our continents limitless talents. Our clothing has an African core, with western influence in design and construction. The result is a modern interpretation of African attire for today’s savvy kid. The name KuNa is the nickname of my little niece KuNashe. Her name is Shona for God is Present. Joyful, colourful and creative, her personality is woven into every garment we make,” says Shingai.
Fuelled by confidence gained at working for Foschini and Marianne Fassler, Shingai started her own business in December 2009, working from a small bedroom at home and making every garment herself.
The business has had its fair share of trials and tribulations. In 2009 online shopping had not caught on in South Africa so Shingai had to hit the streets selling at various markets and hosting pop up shops before they were trendy.
Customers who shopped KuNa in person eventually began shopping online. By the end of 2010 KuNa had been featured in Your Family Magazine, Times Magazine and various blogs. Wholesale orders started to trickle in.
Two years into the business KuNa was stocking 21 boutiques around the country and looking at launching the first flagship store. “Then the recession hit South African shores and boutique after boutique began to close and online orders began to dry up. In addition to these struggles my niece passed away at the age of eight. The namesake and inspiration of the KuNa brand was gone’, says Shingai
Despite these tragedies and a late term miscarriage that left Shingai exhausted, mourning and despondent Shingai decided that the KuNa brand was just too important to give up. Shingai shifted her focus from wholesale to retail, moved to a studio in Doornfontein, and brought in freelance seamstresses to handle production. Shingai was introduced to the Branson Centre at this time and more changes and growth are on the cards.
KuNa is due to open their first flagship store in Johannesburg in April with a second store opening in Cape Town later in the year. “Financially, KuNa is posed for amazing growth in the next two years, a large part thanks to the Business skills learned at the Branson Centre,” says Shingai.
One of KuNa’s missions is to keep the brand as local as possible, using as many fabrics as they can that are made in Africa.
“We believe as long as businesses like ours can be sustained and supported, we are creating a wealth of employment and opportunities, directly and indirectly for the people we work with to produce our garments and accessories,’ says Shingai.
We have two initiatives that we are currently implementing to help our community– the Grow Out Initiative and KuNa Cubs.
“The Grow Out initiative – cause a little KuNa love makes a lot grow, is all about encouraging our parents to teach their kids to give something when they get something, that as they grow out of their clothing they can go out and give before they get something new,” says Shingai.
Rather than storing old clothing Shingai invites customers to return the clothing (the quality is exceptional) to a KuNa event or retail locations in exchange for a R50 shopping voucher. These clothes are then distributed to orphanages in need.
In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, Shingai now manufactures KuNa Cub stuffed toys that are made and stuffed with all fabric remnants from their collections ensuring that no scrap is thrown away. R20 from each sale goes to the HaKuNa Matata House, an orphanage being built to exclusively take care of children affect by and with HIV/Aids.
The business in year five is growing again steadily. “ I want KuNa to be the most recognisable children’s brand in the world and fulfill my nieces wish that “every kid in the world should wear KuNa”. It’s a big statement and may take a lifetime but it is something I’m excited to attempt doing,” says Shingai.