By Brenda Kerubo
Kenyan fashion design house Naneulashan designs is located in the capital, Nairobi. A flashy store in the middle of Kilimani at Adlife Plaza and a prime location for well-paying customers.
The designer, Carol Pulei is the owner of the store that sells office and casual men’s wear as well as women’s accessories, a mix of the latest international trends and local culture.
The mother of 2 children started the fashion business 6 years ago following what she terms as difficulties in finding the right clothes for her husband and son.
“I decided to become a designer after I shopped for my husband and son and didn’t find what really fitted them. That pushed me into becoming a designer. Naneuleshan designs evolved from my environment and creative mind. I try to change what is considered ordinary into extraordinary within our culture. Naneuleshan fully came into the market in 2013 and the name naneuleshan is from Naneu my daughter and leshan, my son,” says a bubbly Pulei.
“I had saved 800,000 Kenyan shillings from my previous employment where I used to work as a hotelier,” she adds.
Pulei is well known for making polo shirts and t-shirts for politicians and other celebrities in the country. But above all, she is the president’s stylist and it all began with a good referral from one of her clients.
During Kenya’s 2017 elections, demand for campaign materials was really high. Political parties were either rebranding, merging or setting up afresh. It was an opportunity for Pulei to style as many politicians as possible. This was as they traversed various counties offering development promises to citizens once elected into office,” says a nostalgic Pulei, who also dresses the flamboyant Nairobi Governor, Mbuvi Sonko- known for his flashy dressing.
“I travelled to Istanbul, Turkey and bought some fabric from there. I specifically made special shirts for the president and the vice president, who were busy campaigning left, right and centre in the country. I didn’t even know their measurements; it was a gamble. Since I also style the current governor of Nairobi for his official look, he came across the pieces of shirt that I had made for the two leaders and can you imagine he wanted to part with a higher amount of money for the same shirts. But I refused and so he offered to take them as gifts to our president. Three months later I got a call from the president’s personal assistant who invited me to statehouse where I met the president, and that’s how l became his and the vice president’s stylist.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta wore the new tailored shirt in May 2017, when he was officially endorsed as the Jubilee Party Presidential candidate for the August 8th elections. It was a white shirt with Ankara print on the sleeves. A stark contrast from what other politicians was wearing on the campaign trail.
His acceptance speech made headlines and so did the shirt, trending for almost one week on social media. Facebook, twitter and Instagram followers congratulated the president on his new African dress code. Kenyans closely monitor his dress code, whether on official or unofficial business. They talk about his Kaftan silk shirts with different colors when he is not in a suit and tie to college jackets and a pair of jeans. Carol Pulei had literally reached the peak of her career. She is now designing clothes for the two most powerful men in the country. Demand for her designs was high and so were the sales.
“Styling the president was a dream come true it opened a lot more opportunities and more publicity for my business,” she shared.
Since making president Kenyatta’s first shirt, Pulei has added international artists to her portfolio of politicians. She dressed gospel musician, Don Moen during a visit to Kenya in November 2017. Moen chose the same shirt Pulei had made for the president including the embroidery but a different color.
“I am motivated by my passion and I believe am building my empire so I have to work hard every day. I win by meeting deadlines and being unique in my own way and so I plan to expand into the larger African countries- growing my brand worldwide, adds Pulei.
Carol Pulei also sells her clothes online through naneuleshan designs website and social media pages like Facebook. She says her biggest challenge has been imitation of her work by other tailors. This is often mistaken for her work. She says her worst mistake was diverting the company’s money into other projects. But with time, she realized it was affecting operations at naneuleshan.