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Wandia Gichuru: Ex-World Bank & UN Executive Exporting Africa Through Fashion

Wandia Gichuru is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Vivo Fashion Group, a leading retail fashion enterprise in Kenya. The company boasts a broad East African market and is set to expand to Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

On Tuesday, May 14, 2024, Trade and Investments Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano revealed that the enthusiastic businesswoman will be pivotal in Kenya’s efforts to attract prospective investors during President William Ruto’s upcoming visit of the US.

Wandia recently announced that Vivo will be launching its inaugural Atlantic Station store in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Background & Education

Wandia attended Loreto Convent Msongari between 1980 and 1983, and then the University of Brunswick between ’85 and ’86. She proceeded to Western University graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics in 1988.

Vivo Fashion Group Co-Founder and CEO Wandia Gichuru. |Photo| Courtesy| Marketplace|
Vivo Fashion Group Co-Founder and CEO Wandia Gichuru. |Photo| Courtesy| Marketplace|

The fashion guru also holds an MBA from the University of Cape Town.

Career

Wandia Gichuru began her career as a project coordinator at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) serving for two years between January ’93 and December ’94. She joined Citi as a public relations officer in January ’95 and left in December 1996.

From January 1997 to June 1998, she served as an operations analyst at the World Bank – based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Wandia relocated to New York, USA in 2001, where she worked as a policy advisor at UNDP between September 2001 and September 2003. She has also served as a governance expert in the Department for International Development for UK government between 1999 and 2009.

Business Ventures

In 2011, the visionary Wandia Gichuru co-founded Vivo Fashion Group with the aim of strengthening the Kenyan fashion industry, promoting intra-African trade and building and supporting African brands.

She initially began by importing dance clothing and fitness wear from South Africa, Thailand, China, and the UK. She would later learn that people vary in size across the world, and this posed a huge challenge to her business.

Vivo Fashion Group Co-Founder and CEO Wandia Gichuru. |Photo| Courtesy|
Vivo Fashion Group Co-Founder and CEO Wandia Gichuru. |Photo| Courtesy|

Wandia questioned the notion of imports being cheaper than locally made clothing, and few years into the business, she set up shop along Ngong Road. She imported fabric from Asia and hired seven tailors for a start.

“Everyone told me it is very expensive to do and I would not make as much money when you do it locally. But I am finding that on some products it is cheaper for me than buying from the open markets in Bangkok,” she told Business Daily in a 2014 interview.

Wandia, however, admits that before she began manufacturing the clothing, she had already established distribution channels, a clientele, and reputation, something most young designers lack.

The former World Bank and UN exec is a happy woman after seeing that the business she sank all her savings into is prospering. She is even more thrilled that she gets to empower her employees in multiple capacities.

Vivo Fashion currently employs close to 500 people across the group, 70% of which are women and 70% are under the age of 30.

“Shifting away from Western-centric fashion industry norms, we put African clothing needs and tastes first with versatile fabrics and fits, whilst still remaining globally accommodating. Our customers can find casual, smart casual and activewear attire that reflect both regional and global trends,” the company states.

Vivo Fashion Group Co-Founder and CEO Wandia Gichuru. |Photo| Courtesy|
Vivo Fashion Group Co-Founder and CEO Wandia Gichuru. |Photo| Courtesy|

Vivo was named Kenyan Fashion Brand of the Year at the Kenya Fashion Awards in both 2016 and 2017. The company currently has 25 retail stores located in Kenya, Rwanda & Uganda.

“We are committed to producing 100% of Vivo brand products on the African continent”.

Wandia also co-founded Shop Zetu, an award-winning African E-commerce Marketplace dedicated to trendy and affordable fashion, beauty and accessory brands in 2022. She also serves as the company’s CEO.

Shop Zetu currently hosts over 300 fashion and accessory brands, of which over 80% are owned by women.