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Young labels redefine urban fashion
Passion for the capital city nudges four entrepreneurs to launch Myrobi, a clothing brand that celebrates Kenyan identity
Shamit Patel Pritul Raithatha

BY AKINYI JOSEPH

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resh out of university, three 23-year-old friends met up over a beer. As the drinks flowed, so did ideas and by the end of that evening, the seed of a fashion label company that is uniquely Kenyan had been sown. In June this year, Myrobi will celebrate its two year anniversary and the exponential growth of its business which today has a net worth of Sh10 million. By a quirk of fate, Shamit Patel, Pritul Raithatha and Hiren Vara returned to Kenya around the same time after completing their undergraduate studies in England, South Africa and India respectively. “We didn’t even know each other apart from football,” said Shamit. “It was a confluence of events and everyone came together and we all wanted to start a business. We had a drink, and we said let’s do this. Let’s take the leap.” The fact that all three of them are from different educational backgrounds (Shamit is a writer, Pritul a pilot and Hiren an engineer) didn’t mean much. What did give them pause was their youth. “Initially we were skeptical since we were young, 22 or 23, and we thought maybe we are too

Their T-shirts celebrate the best parts of Kenya, and so one reads Hakuna Matatu, a spin on the popular phrase Hakuna Matata.
young to do this. Maybe we should work and get experience but there is no better experience than doing it on your own,” said Pritul. The three started Myrobi, and a couple months later they pulled in Aleem Jeraj, a friend of Hiren’s from Mombasa, as the fourth partner. Together the four handle finance, logistics, operations, production, sales and design although Hiren is in charge of creative development and Aleem is the company’s bean counter. The year began on a strong note when they moved out of their residentially based office in Westlands, and into their first office space on Enterprise road. They plan to expand their product line in the coming months to include clothing items such as hoodies, kikois and men’s boxers, to tap into the growing middle class

market which has the spending power to buy branded gift items. Today, Myrobi is a vibrant fashion level that epitomises youth, identity and creativity. Their T shirts, in particular, with their quirky messages and affordable prices have captured the youth market. They first started selling their branded items online but when sales did not pick up as fast as expected, they signed a deal with retail outlets like Nakumatt and since January, Myrobi T shirts are stocked at six Nakumatt stores in Nairobi and Mombasa. In coming months, they will also be available in Kisumu and Nakuru. Three key elements made their T shirts popular. The first was messaging. “All our t shirts have a message which celebrates the best parts of Kenya,” said Pritul. So, for instance, one of their T shirts reads Hakuna Matatu, a spin on the popular phrase Hakuna Matata. “Every time you look on the Kenyan roads there is someone waiting for a matatu so we decided to change it from Hakuna Matata to Hakuna Matatu. So on the T shirt there’s a guy waiting at a bus stop because there isn’t a matatu in sight,” he continued. The second element was the unusual approach to packaging. Rather than a standard
April Nairobi Business Monthly |

Companies &Industries

BY ZENAB BAGHA

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The Myrobi team: (from left) Hiren Vara, Aleem Jeraj, Pritul Raithatha and Shamit Patel. Myrobi’s T shirt in a can concept has been well received by the Kenyan market.

plastic sleeve, all Myrobi T shirts are packaged in a can, a first in Kenya. “The idea is if I buy a T shirt in a plastic bag, I am going to throw the bag away but if I buy it in an atrractive tin, I am going to keep it,” said Pritul. The tin is graffitied with ideas on how to reuse it, ranging from the practical (a storage container for sugar) to the humorous (a begging can at the end of the month, when your salary hasn’t reached your account). And the third element is price. At an affordable Sh800 per T shirt, Sham and Pritul believe the Myrobi fashion level will appeal to all ages and a cross section of income groups. The brand name Myrobi represents My Nairobi, one’s understanding of their city and the space they occupy in it. It is designed to strengthen a sense of Kenyan belonging and identity, and the four founders hope it will encourage city dwellers to think critically about the role they plays in creating their ideal environment. “What are the things that you want in your country that you don’t have? What Nairobi do you want? That is my Nairobi; Myrobi,” explained Pritul. To that end, the ambitious entrepreneurs dedicate a percentage of T shirt sales from
| Nairobi Business Monthly April

their young company towards bettering Kenyan society, and sponsor a football team in Kibera called the Myrobi Kiberastas. “[As a business] we’re going to make money but we need to give back. There’s no point in making money and not helping anyone else,” said Shamit. As their business grows, they are also trying to incorporate team members from Kiberasta into Myrobi to assist their professional development. “The four of us studied all over the world but in the end its Nairobi where we came back to. We’ve always had a passion for the country, and wanted to do something for Nairobi, for Kenya and it is working well,” said Pritul.

veryday hundreds of trucks leave the port of Mombasa bearing transit shipments as far inland as Burundi and South Sudan. Carrying everything from farm produce to reconditioned cars, petroleum products to imported furniture, these multi-million shilling trucks and their multi-million shilling cargoes wend their way over a period of several days, over thousands of kilometers, manned by drivers who are many times under-paid and poorly trained. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. From fuel siphoning to cargo theft by irresponsible drivers, Eunice Mwanyalo says she has seen it all in her ten years in the road haulage industry. The former Kenya Transport Association (KTA) Coast branch Executive Officer says, “I realised there was a gap. Companies were not getting the right type of labour. Drivers would boldly steal from their employers because they knew they would get another job any way. There was no tracking of performance and there were no records to deter them.” Shocked by the evident lack of accountability and the indiscipline, Eunice conceived the idea of a vetting and recruitment service that would see reliable, experienced drivers have their skills enhanced and placed in steady jobs at reputable companies. The heart of the service would be a database containing the names of drivers with clean driving and employment records. The database would also contain information about the companies, including employee reviews. “The reason these drivers would steal was because they wouldn’t receive pay for months. We needed to instill discipline in the industry,” she says. “I wanted to help create an attitude change where drivers with a number of years of experience and good track records could command a certain pay category.” She pitched the idea to her colleagues at KTA, but with the authority representing over 200 transport companies (at the time) her proposal was seen by some as a conflict of interest. The opportunity to bring her plan to fruition eventually came two years ago. Having lost her job, Eunice saw the chance to form the African Truckers Online Ltd.