Kalii Fashions: One on One with Sharon Juma, From Cricket to Clothes
By Wanja Wohoro
Sharon Juma, professional Kenyan cricketer and business woman, talks to Kung'ara about an old, deep love for design and fashion that has inspired her new fashion label Kalii Fashions. A year ago she evolved from a seamstress with a passion for making clothes for her friends and family, to an entrepreneur in the Kenyan fashion market, keen to showcase her modern African-inspired clothes to a wider audience. We learned more about what inspires her, her goals for the future and we also garnered some savvy advice about how to stay true to what you love and to persevere in the face of obstacles and opposition.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sharon Juma and ever since I was young I have loved fashion, more so the art of making clothes. My aunt used to be a fashion and design lecturer so every time I visited her I'd ask her to teach me how to sew, but since I was still a primary scholar she promised to teach me after I graduated. I didn't know too much about style and fashion but I really wanted to be able to make my own clothes, yet even after high school, she was still too busy to teach me. Fast forward into college, I got into sports and managed to join the Kenya National Cricket team which took up most of my free time. Upon finishing college I was still interested in learning various design processes; I wanted to know how to sketch and bring my ideas to life but fashion school was too expensive.
Eventually, I found a local tailor who happened to be my friend, I asked her to teach me how to sew to which she agreed and I began to train daily for 2-3 hours. Over time I wore my own designs to functions that I attended and my friends began to take notice, encouraging me to find clients and that's how my business began. I believed in what I was doing and I knew my clothes were well made and so I began to reach out to different stores and people to stock my clothes and to give me the chance to tap into a wider client base.
What is Kalii's style?
There is this traditionally African look fused with contemporary cuts that everybody is going for now, so my goal is to successfully combine the two styles and recreate modern African clothing for women. I hope that my brand caters to different tastes so that those who like modern sophisticated clothes and those who enjoy Ankara / Dutchwax prints with bold colours and patterns can all wear Kalii.
What inspires your designs? Where do your ideas come from?
Most of the ideas are from my head. Sometimes, though, I am inspired first by the fabrics. I feel a fabric or see a pattern and I begin to visualize the style and shape I want the fabric to have. I’m yet to learn how to sketch but I’m eager to learn as I have so many ideas in my head that I need to be able to pin down. At the moment when I have an idea I write down the details, find a fabric and then create a sample to my size.
Where do you source your fabrics?
I travel a lot during cricket season so anywhere I go I tend to walk around and get different contacts and source my fabrics from those people. Sometimes I source my fabrics locally, sometimes clients also bring their own fabrics. I do most of the sewing myself but I also have an assistant tailor who comes in when I have a lot of orders to fulfill. Since Kalii began about a year ago it is still a growing team.
How do you balance your professional sporting career and fashion business?
Sport has been my main career for the past few years though I do run a few other businesses for additional income. I recently begun to take steps to get into the media and production industry since it is also something I am interested in. However, what I really want to do is to be able to dig into fashion and to learn everything I possibly can about that. My sporting career is already established so now feels like the perfect time to concentrate on fashion; I can finally invest time into my passion.
With that said, the fashion landscape is difficult to navigate; sourcing inputs and equipment as well as marketing one’s brand for client acquisition is costly, but doing something because you love it gives you that push to keep going.
What do you see in the future for Kalii Fashions?
My dream is to have a production house that generates employment in Kenya. This would be beneficial for Kalii as I would be finally able to mass produce bulk amounts of clothing for sale within and outside of Africa. That's the dream, but I have to start from somewhere!
In an ideal world, who would you love to dress?
I would love to dress Solange , she is just amazing. I would also love to dress the Mafikizolo singer Nhlanhla Nciza; she's also a designer with amazing style and I would love to see her in some of my clothes.
What advice would you give to young Kenyan designers?
I was afraid to start and I had no idea where to start. My advice is to really just go for it. Take a little step, any step to begin. I’m quite a fearful person when it comes to trying new things but as time passes I realise that anytime I try and do something else I'm not passionate about, I'm not happy where I am. If you start doing what you love to do you will find some peace even if it's hard and isn't working out, it's still better than being stuck doing something you don't care about. I've never given up because it's something I truly love to do. However hard it is, just push, you will see the light at the end of the tunnel one day.