Kenyan Business

Mau Mau University Clothing Co.

Kevin Ombija

By Kevin Ombija, 1 June, 2007

My story is to some extent ordinary, typical Kenyan middle class story. Go to school, study hard, pass your exams and after your degree you will get a job and live happily ever after. What happens when at 15 you realise that there is another story to life. A different way to live, living a different life then the one that has been drummed up in your mind throughout your entire life? At 15, I knew that I was born to be great and I was destined to live an extraordinary life. This is my story, the other path. The right one, only time will tell. After all, they say time is a great teacher. I do not know who they were but my gut feeling tells me they were right.

I started Mau Mau University Clothing Co. with ksh 5000 and a dream. I did not need more. It has been an interesting and eventful journey. The first dozen t-shirts I printed I gave out free to different people just to see their reaction. It was not something I planned to do (giving out free t-shirts) I just followed my heart or my instinct. The reaction was good, though some people felt I was treading on treacherous grounds by trying to sell t-shirts with such a name. I was not fazed. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Listening to the people, I gave the t-shirts; I knew instantly that I was onto a good thing. I do not know how I knew, but all I know is that I knew it. Something’s need no explaining. I had settled on the name by deciding I needed a name that will instantly resonate with all Kenyans worldwide and locally. I have proven this right all along. I used the words University to pay homage to my first love Hip Hop. University being the highest organised learning system in the world represented the lessons I have learnt from Hip Hop Music.

The first time I sold the t-shirts was at a concert in Carnivore, Senegalese rapper Awadi was performing. I negotiated with the organisers "Alliance Francaise" to give me a small table at the entrance to sell the t-shirts. I also gave Awadi and his crew t-shirts to wear. Within two hours, I had sold out three-dozen t-shirts. I was over the moon. Beginners luck. Maybe call it what you want I had made my first step, from now on I had come too far to go back the only way to go was forward.

Two weeks later at the annual Safari Sevens, I had a stand to sell the t-shirts, I had business cards reading "Founder/President" and I was full of confidence. Little did I know I hit my first obstacle? I sold only seven t-shirts in three days. It felt like a curse, some woman showed interest in my merchandise and gave me her card. She had three stores within Nairobi. A week later, I negotiated a distribution agreement with her. I had my gift I guess. A month later I was featured on Saturday Nation an entire half page story about "Mau Mau University" my dreams, hopes, and aspirations. The response was overwhelming. Because of the Saturday nation story, I got a call from Abdulla Fazal. They wanted in life came full circle for me. Five years ago, I was longingly looking at Hugo Boss Shoes in the store now my merchandise is selling under the same roof side by side at Kenya's most prestigious clothing store. I made history by being the first Kenyan designer to feature a clothing line here.

Last year I had my first all day promo event for the t-shirts. A celebration of the element of Hip Hop music, I had b boys, Mc's, Graffiti writers, and Code Red Dj's performing all day. It was a huge success and I am encouraged to do more.

The popularity of the brand has come some negatives. The biggest challenge is the discovery that some people have started printing my t-shirts illegally. I have tried dealing with it with some success but I am worried now. Despite Mau Mau being a trademarked brand and logo with "Kenyan Industrial Property Office" has not deterred river road folks from faking my brand. I am flattered and infuriated. I have a plan though and like Jay-z say. I got too much pizzazz for this piss ass niggaz.

My story is about struggle, about dreams; about being bold enough to go where no path leads and leave a trail behind and after all this my story will be about triumph and victory. I am far from there but I can see the Promised Land. Until I get to where I am going I will stay relentless and focused. My prophesy is this, in three years my brand will be a multimillion dollar brand established in a major fashion capital of the world but with strong roots and presence in Kenya. Most importantly, I will retain my philosophy of African Hip Hop clothing with a strong African identity. In 1994, Nas hailed as the rebirth of Rakim. In Kenya, Kevin Ombija and Mau Mau University Clothing Co. will be the rebirth of Russell Simmons and Phat Farm, and Hip Hop Hustla. Call it any way you want.

To earn your degree from Mau Mau University get your mind right by being patriotic, a believer in Africa and Africans and when you buy the t-shirt wear it with pride. It says you are a graduate!

 

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 3944
Nairobi, Kenya

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