Aulgah Ojijo Nato

Aulgah Ojijo Nato

Aulgah Ojijo Nato is an award-winning fashion designer in Kenya. She is the Founder of Nato Fashion Design House, a homegrown brand that specializes in high fashion. Nato has dressed cover girls in leading lifestyle magazines; her designs have graced international runways and graced both local and international fashion media outlets.

Interestingly, she did not study fashion and design. She spoke to Woman Kenya about building her brand from scratch to international standards.

Kenyan women have been accused of committing serious fashion blunders.

What a way to start this interview. Anyway, every woman needs to be conscious of these three things: body shape, personality, and occasion. Just because a dress looked good on Beyoncé doesn’t mean it will look good on you. 

Having bagged several international awards are you the prophet who is not honoured in his own country?

Generally speaking, fashion designers in Kenya are barely recognized and celebrated at home.

And why is this?

First is because of sibling rivalry and of course there is lack of goodwill and support from our forbearers. We face many challenges, getting a chance to showcase at home for instance is not a walk in the park.  

Does fashion pay in Kenya?

Yes, it does but just like any other business it’s how you position your brand. 

What inspired Nato Fashion House (NFH)?

I’ve been around for four solid years having started out in 2014; my love of fashion however has always been there. 

My mum loved fashion and after she died when I was just nine years old, my only sister and I had inherited many of her clothes which I would adjust to my fit.  

This little girl did not know what lay ahead of her. Now we have grown into a team of seven. I have employed three mature tailors, one marketer, one PR and an assistant. We are one of the few fashion houses in Kenya which specialise in bridesmaid’s attire, African attire and gowns.

What is the inspiration behind the name Nato Fashion House?

Nato is my pet name. 

How did you transition from PR which you studied in school into fashion?

I studied Public Relations (PR) and even practiced PR in Djibouti for about a year. Back then, clothes were either very expensive or of poor quality. 

One time, I designed some outfits for myself, but my friends thought they were masterpieces. So I ended up selling these clothes at double the price.  

When I eventually came back to Kenya, I was torn between studying fashion, beauty, and graphics and design. I finally settled for graphics and design at Ashley’s College and even secured a job while still in college. 

Meanwhile, I kept doing my sketches and after two years of employment, I resigned against the will of my brother and father. The rest as they say, is history.

You have won many awards; last year, you were recognized for your Outstanding Contribution in Fashion in 2018 in Nigeria, how do you feel about it?

This is my first award and it was such a pleasant surprise. I was awarded at a mega fashion show in Lagos which was surprisingly fully funded by the government. Apart from being extremely surprised by the win, I was deeply honoured. The reward affirmed my brand and my work. I have won many other awards.

Not many fashion designers showcase on runways; why do you choose to go this route?

Because it has worked for my brand and opened a whole world of opportunities. After showcasing at the Kenya Fashion Awards, I was interviewed by Larry Madowo on NTV’s The Trend. I also appeared on the Breakfast show with Sheila and Koby. These were preceded by a number of shows at home and I was able to acquire international contacts.  

Where else have you showcased?

Aberdeen Fashion Week in Scotland. Again, the invite came courtesy of networking. What a long journey to a very cold place. All in all, it was a great experience. 

Last year, I was at The Cannes Festival in France. This was really exciting because famed international models rocked our designs.

How much do these gigs cost?

You need about Sh80, 000 to Sh120, 000 to register for the runway. You still have tickets, production, accommodation, and transport to pay for. On average, each show eats about Sh500, 000. In Kenya, the least you can pay is about Sh60, 000. It is a costly affair but partnerships lower the costs.

Is it true that most Kenyans do not understand or appreciate high fashion?

Let me talk about my experience. Two things have happened since I began doing high fashion: My target clientele is unreachable because they prefer to shop abroad. Once in a while, they’ll shop from me. The people in my reach think I’m too expensive. 

Are you expensive?

My evening gowns cost between Sh25, 000 – Sh35, 000 which I believe is the market rate. I do regular office wear, church, and my labour charges are Sh5, 000. The mistake most Kenyans make is flock to ‘cheaper fundis’ who waste their time and ruin their clothes. In the end, cheap is expensive. 

Who are your clients?

Regular Kenyan, celebrities, and a few international clients, and I’m gradually making headway into the corporate world.

Which Kenyan personality would you like to dress?

That would be Ann Waiguru.

Why her?

Because she knows what she wants, and what she stands for, and speaks her mind.  

Is it true that your first design job not did go as planned?

I went at a loss. My client was a friend and I was making her wedding gown and bridesmaid’s outfits. 

My tailor took off with the fabrics and I had to redo the bridesmaid’s dresses. Even though this job gave me sleepless nights, I got referrals from church, friends, and friends of friends. Before I knew it, I was dressing as radio personality Angela Angwenyi. 

Did you ever market yourself?

Apart from social media, I participated in fashion events including Nairobi Fashion Week as a budding fashion brand. The Nairobi Fashion Week gave me an opportunity to sell and market my designs better. 

Where do you want to take NFH?

My dream is to be a wardrobe consultant for busy Kenyan women; I have identified a few people who need and if anyone reading this needs help, I’m here to dress them. 

What key lessons would you want to pass on to those coming after you?

Learn to market your brand and network. Showcasing is a marketing strategy and you don’t have to sell but if you do well and good. Lastly, success is no accident; it is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, doing what you do.