Building a fashion brand with a unique personality, great style appeal, and a social conscience can be a tall order for many. But for the talented designer and entrepreneur, Lilly Alfonso, a leading light on the Malawian fashion and business scene, this is the nature of the business and brand she is building.
LoA met with this talented fashion brand builder this month in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, recently to find out more.
What does your company do?
Lilly Alfonso is a fashion and design company. We design and manufacture clothing. The Lilly Alfonso business and brand has two sub-labels, LAwomann and LAmann, specializing in women’s and men’s garments respectively.
"Lilly Alfonso started out as a hobby, making clothes for friends here and there, then the number of people asking for my services grew. Eventually I had to open a tailoring shop to accommodate the growing numbers of customers."
What inspired you to start your company?
It started out as a hobby, making clothes for friends here and there, then the number of people asking for my services grew. Eventually I had to open a tailoring shop to accommodate the growing numbers of customers. At that time I only had one tailor but as the demand for my services grew I found myself employing more tailors and buying new machines. This organic growth took place over a number of years. Yet interestingly, all that while I didn’t consider myself a designer. The Lilly Alfonso brand itself was born after winning an award as best designer - that was a game-changing moment, and that’s when I actually considered myself a designer. Since that time, I have never looked back, and today Lilly Alfonso has become a limited company with shares.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Lilly Alfonso products are locally designed and manufactured. What we make is of international standard, yet proudly African. Our products speak of high quality, and we stand out in the marketplace because we make versatile collections. As a brand, Lilly Alfonso is all about upscale and class. When someone wants his or her outfits customized, we make sure that the final product is personalized to suit their individualtastes and lifestyles. Lilly Alfonso is a brand for the modern man and woman.
"Lilly Alfonso products are locally designed and manufactured. What we make is of international standard, yet proudly African."
Tell us a little about your team
As an equal opportunity company, when we recruit our team members we do not always consider the formal qualifications they possess. Over the years we have seen that those who are qualified are not usually the most diligent and passionate in their approach to work and the business. As a result, our philosophy at Lilly Alfonso is to rather select those individuals who have passion and are willing to grow as people and employees in the business. We continually mentor and train our team throughout. We even make time to discover if any of our team members have a hidden or extra skill that can be nurtured. Creating the opportunity for individuals to realize their personal dreams and aspirations makes it easier for the team as a whole to develop and grow stronger. Furthermore, there is diversity among our members. We recognize and embrace the fact that different talents and skills make for a strong team, and that’s what we have at Lilly Alfonso.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
At a young age I was entrepreneurial and I used to create my own source of funds. I used to braid hair for friends in exchange for money. As I grew older the entrepreneurial spirit became greater and I ventured into carpentry. Before I became a fashion designer I used to do interior decoration in homes, shops and companies.
"We recognize and embrace the fact that different talents and skills make for a strong team, and that’s what we have at Lilly Alfonso."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I see Lilly Alfonso leaving our distinct footprints everywhere we go. My vision is for the brand to go global. People will be able to relate to what the brand has become. I want to use fashion to speak my culture and heritage. For example, we give our outfits vernacular names. The choice of names sends a message of love and peace to the person buying the clothes we make. Whenever someone wears Lilly Alfonso, they should feel compelled to find out more about the meaning behind the names and designs. The brand will help me speak my language(s) in any country through this type of highly personal connection. As a result, the Lilly Alfonso brand will expand. I would like to see Lilly Alfonso producing limited edition clothes that appeal to discerning customers who want something unique that speaks to their own personalities.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Having a chance to make a difference and be part of real change. I have the power to forge my own path, change my own destiny, and make a meaningful impact in the lives of other people too. From the tailors I employ in my team, to my customers, and to all the other people I work with on this Lilly Alfonso brand building journey.
"I see Lilly Alfonso leaving our distinct footprints everywhere we go. My vision is for the brand to go global."
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Firstly, it is important to know yourself. Understand and believe in your dreams. Give yourself room to research and plan for whatever you are dreaming of venturing into. Giving up isn’t the only way if things get tough ahead. Challenges build you up, and so does criticism. Failures make you unique, so use them and turn them into positives. Furthermore, give time to realize and leverage the skills you possess, or take time to gain more of the skills you need to grow. If there are essential skills that you don’t personally possess but which are necessary for the growth and development of the business, then look to the skills of others to help you meet your goals. Always remember that there is no “I” but “we” if you need to build something big. Always allow others to give you help along the way.
Contact or follow Lilly Alfonso
Why LoA loves it….
When you have the pleasure of meeting Lilly Alfonso, you are immediately struck by the sheer passion she has for the creative process, for her business and brand, and for the people who make up her team. But it doesn’t stop there - she is also a woman on a mission, passionate about making a difference to her community and her country. She is a real ambassador, getting the world to sit up and take notice of the creative talent that exists in Malawi and the deep cultural heritage that threads its way into every garment she creates. The Lilly Alfonso brand is already making waves on the African continent, but is destined to make its mark further afield on the global fashion stage - definitely an exciting brand to watch. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa