Fashion with a Global Mission

With both a CPA and MBA, Lorna Mutegyeki has a background in finance and has always worked for large organizations and been responsible for huge budgets. Starting her own business, Msichana, had its challenges, but this business was always her big plan for life. She dreamed of equipping and empowering women through the work she did, and wasn’t getting that satisfaction from the corporate world.

A couple of years ago, she began planning for Msichana, a social enterprise which is all about women’s empowerment: in fact, the name means “young woman” in Swahili. In Uganda, the company is working to equip women with the skills they need to run a successful business of their own. While they are training them to be seamstresses, they are also working with them on their personal life goals and how they can achieve them. In Canada, this translates into women realizing their power through their life choices—like the clothes they buy—and also their power to embrace who they are, whatever their body shape is.

“At the end of the day, my dream is a global village of women who support each other and build each other up.”

Success Is a Journey

Msichana officially launched in December 2017 with a pop-up shop at NAIT. Lorna was nervous about the event, as she wasn’t sure if Edmontonians would want the product the way she was offering it. The fabrics and patterns are a deviation from the norm here, but she really wanted to incorporate the spirit of the women who make the pieces and where they come from into the products. After the launch, Lorna saw that not only did people accept what she was doing, they loved it!

Even with such a great event behind her, and a second pop-up happening this past weekend, Lorna says that big success has yet to happen for her business. She has six marginalized women going through her program in Uganda, and the first graduate will become her own successful, thriving business owner in April. Lorna considers this to be her first success.

A Community of Business Support

“Thank you to all the people that have been so supportive of me, because I don’t know how I could have done this without all of the support I’ve received. It’s been amazing.”

Lorna is quick to mention that she has had a lot of support with her business. With everything she’s done, she’s received ongoing support from her friends, mother, and husband. In terms of planning for the business, she found great help from the self-employment program through Anderson, where she was able to build structure into things and was also introduced to us at Business Link. We helped her with her market research, saving her time and helping her to determine where her customers were. She took that information and did some really valuable primary market research with her potential customers.

Since starting the business, she’s taken advantage of support offered by NAIT’s Productivity and Innovation Centre, where she has found a sounding board for her business to help her solve problems creatively. Making made-to-measure fashion accessible is a big goal of Msichana, and Startup Edmonton has been helping Lorna with the technology side of making that a reality. With her big launch in December, she received some great help from another local business, Publicity Room, who helped her receive some media attention in the Edmonton Journal and on Global News.

A Global Village

Over the past years of planning for and running her business, Lorna has learned some great lessons to share with other entrepreneurs or hopeful business owners.

  • Get help, early! Don’t try to be a lone wolf at it. My friends and family knew what I was doing, but didn’t have the expertise. Support organizations like those mentioned above did, and I could have saved myself a lot of struggles if I had managed to find those resources at the beginning.
  • Don’t be afraid to actually go out there and do it. At least do a minimum viable product and get it out there. The faster you get in front of a potential customer, and start learning about them, the sooner you actually start doing it.
  • Have courage and know exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing. This helps to keep you balanced on the bad days.

Msichana exists to build a global village of women who support each other and build each other up, and Lorna continues to work towards that each day. As of March 1, they will have a physical space at The Collective in St. Albert. As the company doesn’t just sell clothes, but provides a really important experience for people, the physical space will allow customers to have that cultural experience and build a connection with the brand. Make sure to check them out in-person, or follow the journey on social media!

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