Florence Oriwo, a self-taught Kenyan Fashion Designer is conquering Germany with her beautiful line of African prints, colors and patterns inspired by modern European cuts and shapes.
Oriwo-Design is a mix of comfortable classic and modern styles which can be worn any day.
“My designs are an expression of who I am, a confident African woman who is modern but also has a deep attachment to her roots, and is proud of who she is. This is what I try to bring across to my clients,” Florence says.
The elegance of her designs, and her attention to detail have made them win the hearts of both African and German clients.
Florence designs not only for women, but also men and kids too.
Her favourite clients are kids since they motivated her to create Oriwo-Design whose motto is Slow Fashion Made in Germany.
Florence obtained a Degree in Business Administration (Accounting Option) from Maseno University in Kenya in December 2007.
She sent out several applications for jobs or voluntary positions at various organisations in Kenya without receiving any positive response.
Florence’s love for travelling and learning new cultures made her apply for a position in Germany as an Au pair.
She went for German language classes and after three months, sat for exams, got a host family and came to Germany in September 2008.
After going for intensive courses in German Language and Accounting at the HK (Handels Kammer) in Hamburg, Florence found a job as a book-keeper at an accounting firm in 2010.
Florence had since childhood been a fashion designer. “Inside my heart fashion has always been my passion,” she reveals. As a young girl, she used to design and make her own clothes using a needle and thread because she couldn’t afford a sewing machine.
When her husband noticed her passion for fashion, he surprised Florence with a sewing machine (a Singer) on her birthday in 2009. That special birthday present transformed Florence’s life and career.
“Whenever I found time I spent it on my sewing machine making clothes for my daughter and myself,” she recalls.
Florence worked at the accounting firm until 2014 when she had her second child.
After her first year of maternity leave, she decided not to go back to her desk job. She instead took the bold step of creating Oriwo-Design, her Fashion Design Company, having decided to concentrate on her passion.
In April 2015 she set up her workshop with the help of her husband, registered the business and started producing clothes.
By looking at her wonderful collections, one cannot imagine that Florence has never officially been inside a Fashion Design class.
She perfected her talent in Fashion Design by spending years designing and sewing clothes for herself and children.
Florence once enrolled for a tailoring course but stopped attending classes because it was just too slow-moving and basic for her.
“Everything I do is self-taught, I’m the Queen of DIYs who turned this into a career. I have two employees assisting me with the production, but all in all, I do everything myself,” Florence says.
She is in fact the one who does the designs, chooses and buys the fabrics, handles marketing and organises fashion shoots.
She also works on her website, personally organises the orders, answers emails and customers’ queries, in addition to doing social media marketing, attending events and blogging.
Florence admits that running a One Woman’s Show “can be pretty stressful and overwhelming sometimes, not to mention being a wife, mother and taking care of the household too.”
She is grateful to her husband who fully supports her in this fascinating business.
“At the beginning, one of the challenges that I experienced was purchasing the fabrics and materials that I needed at affordable prices because I was only ordering in small quantities and from retail sellers,” Florence recalls.
Now that her business is growing, she is able to plan her purchases and can order directly from wholesalers at wholesale prices.
The biggest hurdle Florence still faces is how to improve the sales of her clothes. She at the moment depends wholly on single orders, but is working on finding some shops or stockists she can supply with her designs, thus increasing her sales level and ensuring a continuity of her business. She is open to deals from all parts of the world.
Florence is happy of the progress African Fashion has made in the recent years.
Initially African prints were only made by local tailors and worn when attending traditional weddings and funerals.
“Now we see all these vibrant prints and colours on the International Fashion Runways of Stella Jean of Haiti and Lena Hoschek of Austria. When Beyoncé and Chris Brown put on Dashiki Print Shirts at their concerts, suddenly everyone wanted to own one, which meant good business for us African Fashion Designers,” Florence says.
She adds that while African Fashion still has a long way to go, the future is bright and she is working hard to be part of it.
Fashion Industry has often been accused of promoting eating disorders by mainly using size zero models. Asked why their industry is obsessed with size zero, Florence says: “We all come in different beautiful packages and slowly, the Fashion World is realising that it doesn’t make sense to make clothes that actually fit specific body types.
“That is where designers like me come into the picture. On my website where I have an online shop with different designs available for sale, I not only have the clothes in sizes e.g 36, 38, 40, but I also offer my clients the opportunity to state their specific measurements for waist, hips, bust and length which ensures that each one gets a custom made outfit, perfectly made to fit them. In my own way, I try to promote a positive body image no matter the person’s body size.”
Florence observes that the Fashion World goes crazy when it comes to Fashion Trends which can sometimes be overwhelming to a consumer and thus lead to over-consumption (fast fashion).
Asked to offer our readers some fashion tips, Florence says: “I believe in owning a few key pieces in your wardrobe which you can combine differently to create several outfits suitable for all seasons. But I am in no way a full minimalist because I love colours and prints way too much.”
Her fashion tastes and preferences have been influenced by Rachel Zoe, one of her favourite Designers, who once said: “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.”
“For me, an outfit is a presentation of you as an individual and offers people the first impression of who you are before they even get to know you. So, stay true to yourself, be confident in your own skin and wear that outfit with pride,” Florence advises.
Some of the popular Fashion Trends at the moment include Satins, Extreme Sleeves, Pleated skirts, Leather, Suede, Romantic ruffles, Chokers for accessories, Cullotes, Off & Cold-shoulder, Velvet, Negligee/Sleepwear, Sportwear, Midi Boots, Loafers, Bomber Jackets and many others.
Some of these trends will be featured in Oriwo-Design’s Fall/Winter Collection 2016 to be unveiled soon.
She has been working tirelessly on them in the last couple of weeks, and is so excited to present them to the public, so, be on the lookout for Oriwo-Design’s Fall/Winter Collection 2016.
Click here to visit Oriwo-Design’s website.
By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a
Oriwo-Design Spring/Summer collection 2016