Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what inspired you to start SAMARA?
Having grown up in Kenya, I saw how kids my age weren’t able to do their homework every night simply because they didn’t have access to light, which actually resulted in them not making it into secondary school, and not be able to find jobs later on. I decided to do something about this and created a backpack with a solar panel on it to enable them to have access to clean safe light every night. We ended up working with Disney and Lupita Nyong’o, and now work with corporates to distribute these across Africa.
At the end of 2017, I was looking for a handbag that was vegan, affordable and elegant and I couldn’t find something I liked, so I designed one and got my backpack manufacturer to sample it. I started wearing it, and people started asking me about it. I decided to put it online and within the first hour, strangers started buying it! My inspiration behind SAMARA bags is to be able to build a fashion house that is 100% cruelty free, that uses materials that are sustainable and ideally plant based, and by building a more efficient supply chain that empowers people at every step. Most vegan leather is made out of plastic, and we’re changing that. We actually just developed a collection made from apple skins that are a by-product of the juicing industry, and a bit of PU to act as a binding agent. We’re excited to use materials that are recycled over the next year to truly be a sustainable, cruelty-free fashion house.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually stay up pretty late and work until about 2-3am, because our manufacturers are abroad and in different time zones. When we’re focusing on new designs and production, my busiest time of day is actually between 7pm and 3am. I try and wake up early and get done with emails, and then create a to-do list for the day. I love yoga, soulcycle and swimming, so I try to do those when I can. I work out of Make Lemonade some days, and typically the days consist of phone calls with designers, suppliers, logistics partners, and figuring out potential partnerships with other brands, and people. By the end of the day, and before I sleep, I find that my mind is running so fast, so I meditate for about 10-15 minutes every night. This really keeps me grounded and sets me up for a good night’s sleep.
What was the worst advice you've ever received?
Probably that fashion is too hard a market to get into and it’s too saturated so I should think about doing something else. It is hard and it is extremely saturated, but the fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world, and it’s saturated with brands that aren’t doing anything about that. I sometimes question whether the world needs more handbags/fashion, and the answer I keep coming back to is that there’s so much that needs to change and so much good that can be done through it, if it’s done in the right way - so that’s why SAMARA exists.
What does success mean to you?
Success is being able to impact the world positively. When I started Soular, my only goal was to make a difference because growing up, I was able to go to school, I had food to eat and all my basic needs were met - I was privileged and I felt that with that came responsibility. But I realized that it was extremely hard to sustain myself off of a not-for-profit.
When I started SAMARA, I realized the importance of building products people love, running a financially sustainable company, and through that, being able to make a difference. Success to me is being able to live every day choosing to work on something that is meaningful, bringing value to people’s lives, being able to live off of that, and being able to create change in the world through that. My goal with SAMARA is to change the face of fashion, through sustainable materials, more efficient supply chains and better employment, particularly in Kenya (where I grew up) someday, and although there’s a long way to go, I hope that we can create some impact on the world.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I think there’s so much power in support systems - and surrounding myself with people who lift me up is probably the number one way I get back up. And then the realization that you can be whoever you want to be, and you can do whatever you want to do - and that innate drive that kicks me out of bed every morning because I know the world needs better fashion, better employment and less poverty, and that I am extremely privileged and that I have a responsibility to make the world better.
Do you have any morning routines or evening rituals to help you stay balanced?
I meditate for about 10-15 minutes every night before I sleep, and that helps incredibly. It’s amazing how much it clears up my mind and gets me in the right space for a good night’s sleep, which is also equally important.
If you liked this interview, you might like our recent interview with Stephanie Zheng, founder of Mount Lai.