A career in fashion design is more than just playing dress up. My Perfect Stitch Founder Ruth Mooto discusses her journey into fashion and the business side of the profession.
For many people the idea of turning their hobbies and interests into a profitable business seems like an unattainable dream. But for some like Ruth Mooto, founder of My Perfect Stitch, the dream has become a reality. She has managed to find the perfect balance between producing everyday clothing and furniture with chitenge (African print fabric). You can tell a lot by someone based on the space they work in and it was immediately evident that the woman I was about to have a chat with was a sucker for detail. With a huge smile spread across her face Ruth invited me to have a seat.
I cut straight to the chase because I was dying to know her story. “When did this all begin?” I asked. Ruth studied library and information studies and pursued a conventional career path. She paused as if searching for the perfect place to begin and went on to say: “In 2014 on my birthday, my husband Kamona gifted me with a sewing machine because I always talked about how I wanted to sew. At the time I was still working as a health information officer for the Ministry of Health. My birthday also happened to be the day we found out that I was pregnant with our first child, because of my hypertension I took a lot of time off work and spent those hours behind my sewing machine building my new found skill.”
“Speaking of babies,” I said in an excited tone. “You are a mum and a boss, how do you take care of your mental health while finding a balance between these two worlds? “I cry!” she exclaimed. “Compartmentalising everything that I need to do and knowing that I am the one with the sole responsibility to get it done helps. When my mind gets to this place where it just can’t anymore, that’s when I literally breakdown and cry. I am hypertensive and because of that I tend to get headaches and when that happens it’s another indicator that I need to go home and shut down. That only last a few hours before my boys, who are both below five, start banging on the door wanting my attention.”
A common misconception about the fashion industry and people who work in it is that they play dress up, disregarding the fact that there is a business side to fashion. “I wanted to be a boss,” Ruth said with a smirk. “Having left a job in the government and not wanting to be employed anymore my goal was to create this reality for myself. So it had to be a legitimate business. I went on a search for someone who could teach me all I needed to know to run a business and that is when I discovered BongoHive. BongoHive is an innovation hub in Lusaka that runs classes equipping entrepreneurs with the knowledge to run their businesses and this included pricing. Pricing is still an issue with Zambian clients because the problem is not with the price but the value that we add to our products. “I feel it is unfair to advocate for buying local when we the people making these products do not add the value desired by the clients to our products. This is why when people come to me and say my dresses are expensive, I have no room to negotiate. I know the value that we put into every piece and with 13 employees who put in a lot of hours and have families to feed, the money goes beyond my pockets as the owner of the brand.”
We went on to discuss the role social media played in her journey. “I used to post some of my creations on my Facebook and Instagram account, with captions like “oh look I made this today”. It started out like a joke,” she says laughing. “The more I posted, the more I got comments and messages from people who actually wanted to buy my stuff. A memorable moment for me was when I posted a picture of a bag in a Facebook group called Expats Zambia and someone made a request for six of that very bag! That’s when I knew that there was something here,” she said.
When asked about her thoughts on the current state of the Zambian and African fashion industry as a whole, she had this to say; “We need to get to a point where we define fashion for ourselves as Africans, we need to run away from the runway and get into the factory. We need to develop our skills and learn everything there is to learn about fashion in its entirety. There is so much information at our fingertips, but we need to get to a place where we use it. Fashion is a very lucrative business. It just needs the right minds at the top of it.”
Before we wrapped up, the last thing I wanted to know what Ruth’s idea of success is. She paused for a few seconds before saying, “I ask myself the following questions: Am I happy? Do I have a place to sleep? Can I eat? Is someone watching my work and getting inspired to follow their dreams too? If the answer to these is yes, then that is success to me.”