Brighton Okut was only 20, but he had a well-defined vision map for the career path he would take. At the time, he was in his fourth year at the University of Nairobi studying Actuarial Science.
He was determined to become an actuary.
Today, Okut is a fashion designer, the hand behind Cittifficial Klothing, a fashion business that makes custom tailored suits, dresses, wedding outfits and African wear.
“My classmates and friends often complimented me on my good sense of style.
On most days, I would attend classes dressed in unique shirts or suits. As we prepared for graduation back in 2012, a couple of them asked me to link them up with my tailor – I lied to them that I made my own clothes, only for them to place orders,” he explains.
But Okut had no tailoring or design skills whatsoever. He was, however, very interested in fashion design and could express the design he had in mind.
“I accepted the orders and commissioned the work to skilled tailors who could produce what I had in mind. I thought that was it, but the orders kept growing,” he says.
After graduating, Okut got a job with an actuarial firm but quit after just a month to fully concentrate on his fashion business, from which he was making substantial profit.
“My relatives and friends were shocked. They wondered why I would turn my back on a highly esteemed profession to get into fashion business, to date, some think of me as a ‘mere tailor’.”
Early 2014, using Sh50,000 he had saved, he opened his first workshop in Nairobi’s CBD.
Then, he had no tailor and no sewing machine.
“I was frustrated by tailors who were unable to honour their word, they simply did not deliver when they said they would, and it occurred to me that I could not leave my business at their mercy,” he explains.
That was then, today, Okut has two workshops and works with a team of 30, a team that includes tailors, designers, marketers and production managers. He owns 15 sewing machines.
“It took me baby steps to get here,” he says of his accomplishment.
It also took going back to school.
In 2014, he enrolled for a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, from where he graduated in 2016.
“My business was doing well enough to pay my tuition fees,” says Okut, who shies away from revealing how much he makes in a month.
“It is enough to pay my employee’s salaries, my salary and rent and I am left with money to save,” is all he will say.
Social media and word of mouth have been his most reliable tools of marketing.
“I am guided by two principles – I offer quality and unique products, this way, clients readily refer others to me, this is how I have grown my clientele base,” he explains.
While working with celebrities has given him lots of publicity and business, sometimes it works against him because some assume that his designs are unaffordable.
“This is far from the truth – we design our clothes with everyone in mind, the cost of an outfit depends on the fabric used and design. For instance, the price of a three-piece suit starts at Sh7,000 and Sh4,000 for a dress, which I believe is affordable to many,” he points out.
While starting out, lack of gatekeeping almost drove him out of business before he even began.
“A client would walk in and ask for items that I knew nothing about because one of my tailors had made a private arrangement with him or her behind my back.
I realised that should such a customer be unsatisfied with the quality of work delivered, the brand’s reputation would be compromised.
Now, every order has to pass through a number of people – the designer, tailor and production manager,” he says.
Last year, Okut was named the Best Male Designer and Best Menswear Designer at the Pwani International Fashion Week and Kenya Wedding Awards respectively.
While he is keen on expanding his business and making it a household name in Kenya and beyond the border, at the moment he is focused on building structures that will ensure an enduring business.
“I want to build an empire, and to get there, I first have to ensure that the structures I have put in place are fully functional and that our clients are content and well taken care of – I want the delivery process to be more seamless than it is right now.”