Lillian Koreia is a young designer who has set her eyes on internationals markets. The local design industry is filled with people trying to make a name for themselves, but two years since establishing herself, Lillian has stood out in design, amid potential markets in Europe for her products. What drives Lillian to reach great height? Brenda Twea had a chat with her.
Who is Lillian Koreia?
I was born on June 1 1988, to Jimmy and Diana Koreia Mpatsa. I am one of four children — with two sisters and a brother. I went to St Andrew’s International Schools. I then went and studied for a Bachelor of Business with law between 2006 and 2010 at Brighton University in London, United Kingdom. In 2011, I enrolled for a master’s course in entrepreneurial management at the European Business School in London, which I completed in 2012. I am now running a fashion house, Miizu, designing women’s clothing.
How did you arrive at fashion designing?
From the time I was an undergraduate degree, I took an interest in designing. I made my first dress in 2007 and I did it without background and training in designing. I believe it is my God-given gift as it came to me organically. Entrepreneurship was not something I had considered at the time, but having designed since my university days in 2007, I thought that was what I needed to venture into. And, finally in 2013, I started my business, Miizu, working from home and 2014 opened my boutique at Mpatsa House in Blantyre.
How did you start the business?
Upon completing my masters, I came home and started a job as a business development manager at an advertising agency. But I knew it was not something I wanted to do. When I first told my parents that I wanted to quit my job and pursue fashion, they were against it because they thought that was just a hobby for my spare time. So, when I eventually quit my job (after six months), it was much against my parents’ wish, but I felt it was a path I was meant to take and I started my business with the money I had saved from jobs I did during my university studies.
What is behind the name Miizu?
Like I mentioned earlier, I started designing while I was in the UK. I felt that whatever I was designing had an element of my background or my roots back home. And that is how I came up with the name Miizu (roots).
What would you single out as your milestones as a designer?
I can isolate two so far; the first one being the opening of my boutique. At first, I worked from the dining room back home; just posting my designs on social media. When I completed my first full collection and posted it on Facebook, the response was incredible and this motivated me to expand my business. The second milestone would have to be when I showcased my work at the Africa Fashion Week in London in 2014. This opened me up to what other African designers are doing out there. There, I was also noticed by people who run websites in France and England and they would like to showcase my work as well. We are still in talks and as soon as that is done, I will be
sending my designs to those countries.
What is distinctive about your designs?
I do not restrict myself to using just the chitenje. I use unexpected fabrics and cuts and I am always manipulating patterns to come up with unique designs. Other Malawian designers continue to successfully showcase what Malawi is capable of, in terms of fashion. I try to set my own standards and push myself to try and make things I have never done before with every new collection.
Your advice to aspiring designers?
The fashion industry is still in its baby stage in the country. It is important to research before you venture into whatever market you want. Apart from that, any business is risky in the startup stages and one needs to have resilience and perseverance to get through the tough building stages.
What challenges do you face?
We are still battling against the mentality that most people have here that a designer is only for special occasions’ wear. People need to understand that we can also make things that are every day wear. Because of this frame of mind, our business is seasonal, getting busy during the wedding seasons only. However, I am currently working on a collection that features every day basics that every woman needs in their wardrobe; the capsule collection will include items such as a little black dress, blazer, chiffon blouse and skirts. n