To commemorate International Womens day in 2018 we launched the 'Mfumukazi MGR Take Over' on all our social media platforms for the whole month of March.
The aim was to experience the life of different Malawian women and what it means to be a woman in their world. We wanted to celebrate their achievements while calling for gender equality. Years later we are back with the same women to find out what has changed since 2018, knowing this, meet Lynne Kayenne.
Q: HOW DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO CREATE A WOMENSWEAR BRAND?
A: If I am completely honest with you, I believe it was all a part of God’s plan. I have always loved the fashion industry and have worked in fashion since my teens. I started off as a commercial model doing shoots and ads whilst still in school. I dabbled in retail, blogging, styling as well as PR for an African multi brand called lalibella.co.uk - Made in Africa. Whilst working there, I was commissioned to do a small capsule collection. The deal fell through which at the time was heart breaking, but it gave me the drive to try and tell my African fashion story, using my Malawian heritage, culture and craftsmanship in a fresh way to appeal to an international audience. In 2020, Lynne Kayenne Studio was born, with the desire to build a socially impactful, contemporary, African inspired womenswear label - Made in Africa for the world.
Q: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE IT SPECIFIC TO MALAWIAN CRAFTERS?
A: This is an incredible question! I made is specific to Malawi because I am Malawian. Malawi has some of the most talented and creative artisans in the world. When you drive from Lilongwe to Salima (the lake) have you taken a moment to appreciate the level of artistry on the road sides? Think about the creativity that runs through that community! I decided to collaborate with local artisans to allow them to express their creativity and have the opportunity to earn a decent income. Our fashion ecosystem is in its infancy however, when you look out to West Africa and see women like Viola Labi, brands such as A.A.Ks creating beautiful weaved bags in collaboration with rural weavers and artisans and made to an international standard……their success is an indication that there is desirability for local African products. Also, for a long time, as Africans there was a great deal of assimilation, trying to fit into the world and I spent so much time also assimilating because I didn’t know better. I woke up to the fact that our heritage and our culture are currency and our inheritance that we must maximise and leverage. Working with these artisans makes me so proud to be Malawian and also, I believe that our culture is the only thing the world cannot steal from us so it is really important for me to tell these stories through our collaborations with local artisans.
Q: WHAT HAS THE PROCESS OF GETTING TO WHERE YOU ARE BEEN LIKE AND HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A SUCCESSFUL MALAWIAN DESIGNER?
A: The process has been very intentional. I put it into the universe that I wanted to share my heritage and culture with the world by utilising fashion as that vehicle and from the outset, I have been very clear about the messaging. I have said this and will continue to say this, culture and heritage in the only thing the world cannot steal from us so we must embrace what it means to be Malawi. I dug deep and researched our ancestors, the Maravi Empire! They were monarchy and if you realise that your ancestors the people that were running around in Nyasaland, present day Malawi were kings and queens you will start to take pride in who you really are on a deeper level. I am really grateful for all the support and everything that has been happening at Lynne Kayenne Studio but there is more that I would like to do personally as well collectively for the fashion ecosystem in Malawi.
Q: HOW FAR HAVE YOU COME SINCE THE FIRST MFUMUKAZI?
A: OMG, such a long way, even on a personal level. When I did my first Mfumukazi, I was so frustrated about my job, I felt I had failed in my modelling career. At the time I had written and produced a pilot TV show called ‘Malawi Stars’ a ground-breaking, inspirational television show that highlighted the brightest and the best talent in Malawi from the worlds of music, fashion and entertainment which I worked so hard on but did not get picked up but what I remember so vividly was how candid and vulnerable I was in what I was sharing. I revisited Mfumuzani archives the other day and it shows the love I had and still have for fashion.
Q: WHAT DOES FASHION ECONOMICS MEAN TO YOU?
A: Fashion Economics to me is all about sustainability. It is about using fashion as vehicle for which we can create impact in our communities. Fashion economics is about paying our collaborators a fair and decent wage that they can survive on as well as creating a healthy workplace environment for everyone to thrive in. Of course, we live in a capitalist world and businesses have to make money but I strongly believe that people are the multiplier. It is all about caring for our community, women, the youth and the environment. Using Fashion to impact lives and that is the lens from which I see and understand fashionomics
Q: IN YOUR OPINION, HOW DID YOUR BACKGROUND IN COMMERCE ASSIST YOU IN CREATING YOUR BRAND?
A: My background in commerce taught me the importance of understanding customer service. Even though my business is online, I have to smile via email, I have to be polite and provide options and solve the problems for that customer as well as LISTEN! Listening is one of the most important things that I learnt as well as building relationships with people that you work with and going above and beyond for our customers and clients. The customer is KING and this is what as Malawians we need to learn You could have a beautiful brand and the most amazing product however, if you don’t reply to your customer requests on time, if you are not timely in communications you could lose sales and especially now in 2021 where the whole world is at home, everyone is shopping online. Customer services is beyond sales, you also have to put thought process into the after-sales rituals such as following up after a customer has bought something and asking for feedback about the fit, about colourways they would like me to bring out which can also help me strategically.
Q: DOES YOUR BACKGROUND IN HR CONTRIBUTE TO HOW YOU RUN YOUR BUSINESS AND TEAM?
A: Well yes and No!! I am super lucky and privileged for the education I received and I have the knowledge at the back of my mind when I am working out contracts or bringing on board a team member but I also feel like we have been using the same business principals for the last 1000 years! With everything that’s happening in the world right now, we have to have a collaborative, energetic, spiritual, emotional way of working where I encourage my team to meditate, be aligned emotionally energetically and spiritually because there will always be detours in life and in business and rather than us trying to force things, being aligned helps you push through the tough times and be in flow.
Q: IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY?
A: There is nothing I would do differently. I have to own the decisions I make on a daily basis and trust that fact that everything I decide is for the benefit of my customers, collaborators and the causes I support. Of course, there’s a lot of trial and error when running a business and sometimes when deals fall through you think maybe I could have handled it a certain way, maybe spend less or more on a certain aspect of business, should I have operated at this pace or maybe that pace? I’m not sure if that answers the question.
Q: FINALLY, TEN YEARS FROM NOW, WHAT DOES LYNNE KAYENNE LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
A: 10 years from now, we want to be a socially impactful business with a culture that is unlike any other company I have ever worked for, serving more women and sharing African beauty and fashion across the world. In 10 years’ time, the goal is to let our customers lead and really fall in love with the customers and provide products that they need in their wardrobe that assist in their day to day lives - products that make them feel their most confident and most beautiful. In 10 years, the goal is to have our Studio set up, manufacturing plant and operations in place building a global business out of Africa using fashion as a catalyst for change, empowering women and the youth in our community and continuing to plant more trees across Malawi through our partnership with Ripple Africa. The goal is to build a multi-million-dollar business out of Malawi using emotional, spiritual and energetic principles and allowing universal flow and divine order to guide our mission.