Mugo Muna (’12) Strives to Make Africa a Better Place through Bora Wear

Bora Wear

What is Bora Wear?

It’s a men’s wear brand that focuses on working with local artisans in Kenya. We seek to provide unique, high quality goods that creates a positive impact.

What is the mission of Bora Wear?

The whole goal is to empower people through employment and physical products. I’ve really grown up to despise the charity model, the whole idea of giving a man a pair of shoes or you can give him money to decide whether he really needs to buy shoes or to take his child to the hospital. You can’t assume what people really need and they will always know their needs better than you ever will. The whole point of Bora Wear existing, as cliche as it sounds, is the mission of doing well and doing good – the idea of making high quality hand made goods in Kenya and having those goods have an impact on the local economy in a positive way.

What are you currently doing in Kenya?

I’m getting all the pieces together for the Kickstarter – working with the videographer, getting all the samples done from the manufacturer, working on online marketing. I was working with a local graphic designer to design postcards as a reward tier, so we can offer something unique even to those who don’t purchase our products.

One of the things about Kenya – actually which is probably true for the world moreover – is that it’s much easier to get things done if you’re physically there. If it’s through email or phone calls, you really don’t know if things are getting done.

Out of curiosity, are you from Kenya?

I was actually born in Ithaca. My father was getting his PhD in Food Science at Cornell and I lived in Hasbrouck Apartments as a baby. Both my parents are Kenyan so I moved back to Kenya from age 3-11 because my father worked for Coca-Cola. We then moved back to the US because he was transferred to Atlanta headquarters so that’s where I lived before attending Cornell for undergrad. And so now I’m back in Kenya.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you had with Bora Wear?

The lack of quality control – all the small need to be smalls, all the mediums need to be mediums. However, sleeves are longer than they should be; buttons are falling off; a small in one batch is different than the smalls in a different batch.

How are you moving forward or overcoming this challenge?

I found that it’s hard to do the good and create quality products, so now I’m working with a group that trains artisans from the slums in Kibera, one of the slums in Nairobi [in Kenya] to make these goods. They upcycle brass from local industries, melt it down, and refashion it to make designs for mens’ belts. We’re also going to use full grain leather for our new belts. It’s hard to find factories with appropriate labor practices while making quality goods, but there are some out there.

 

So from your experience, what percentage of factories in Kenya are socially responsible and offer quality goods?

Well it depends how you define social responsibility. If you’re talking about paying fair wages, treating workers well, and giving them lunch, I’d roughly approximate 5% or less. It really depends on what industry too, so it’s really hard to say. I’d have to think about that.

What makes Bora Wear unique, other than its design?

The fact that it’s made in Kenya and that the process from upcycling brass to refashioning it is predominantly done by hand. The belt especially is a personal product, rather than a something lifeless and mass produced. It has soul; it’s not an empty product you’d toss away. We use full grain leather to make each belt unique – you can even see the imprints of veins on it, and it forms to your body the more often you wear it.

Can you elaborate on your Kickstarter campaign?

It’s two-fold. The purpose of the Kickstarter campaign is 1) to fund the production of our goods and 2) a market validation for what we’ve been doing. Our Kickstarter campaign is another way for others to show support for a greater cause and receive something else natively Kenyan in return even if they don’t buy the belts. The Kickstarter campaign is still under approval so we will be launching that soon. We need help with marketing before then because it’s always good to have everything set beforehand. If everything goes as planned, our new belt line will launch sometime April this year, just two months away.  

Kickstarter campaign to be updated soon!

What advice would you give to those interested in social entrepreneurship?

  1. This transcends beyond social entrepreneurship: things will take longer than you expect it to be. Think about the above-average bias – people think they’re average or above average but that’s statistically impossible.  You’re going to more optimistic about things than you should be.
  2. Expand your options by doing things in parallel such that you can always switch to a backup plan if one falls through. For example, as Tom Ferris from Four Hour Workweek brings up, before you commit to one business idea, it’s not bad to pursue several ideas to gauge initial feedback first. My most recent experience involved looking for a videographer. After exchanging emails with a number of them at once, I decided on one of them. However, it fell through and fortunately I was left with other options.
  3. Just read and expand your knowledge base. I like to read about consumer behavior. Here are some books of the top of my head.
    1. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath
    2. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath
    3. Contagious by Jonah Berger
    4. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
    5. Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
    6. Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom and Paco Underhill
    7. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini
    8. Fiction books for understanding how to tell a good story 
  4. James Clear once said, “You shouldn’t think of failure of an indication of your personal failings.” Look at failure as another data point. Figure out what you would do better next time and move on.
  5. Figure out your metrics via Google AdWords or Facebook Ads. In the past, I would sign up for a number of email accounts with Google because Google would send me of $100 credit of free AdWords; this is pretty much $100 worth of free advertising on Google*. They don’t do this anymore but it was a great way for me to find out what consumers looked for. From my experience with AdWords, uniqueness was always the most important compared to the social aspect and so on. That doesn’t mean I’ll eliminate the social aspect from the product; it just gives me a more objective glimpse of what consumers want.

*Nowadays, if you want to receive the free credit from Google AdWords, you may have to spend $20 first.

No royalties or referral fees were made from the links to books provided above. 

 For more information, visit Bora Wear.