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Kulukaya Sadiki: My passion for women empowerment inspired me to open Glo-Ray

By Esther Ijewere
17 July 2021   |   4:11 am
I was born in 1987 and raised in Blantyre, Malawi and I am a Christian. My father was a creative entrepreneur; sadly he passed away when I was 12.

Someone once said, “Fashion is like eating, and you shouldn’t stick to the same menu.” The fashion Industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. Kulukaya Sadiki is an unconventional fashion designer who is breaking boundaries in Malawi with her Glo-Ray designs sustainable studio. She started her fashion business in 2017 after realising that it is possible to make a difference within the community and environment using an important aspect of humanity, which is clothing. Her clothing brand focuses on recycled and rejected fabric to create timeless trends thereby delaying disposal and minimizing fabric pollution. The Malawian fashion designer is also a Humanitarian and a Marketing Strategist by profession. She was selected as a Young African Leader for the ‘Leadership in Business’ cohort for her business skills by the Mandela Washington Fellowship USA, in 2020. Kulukaya shares her inspiring story in this exclusive interview.

Growing Up
I was born in 1987 and raised in Blantyre, Malawi and I am a Christian. My father was a creative entrepreneur; sadly he passed away when I was 12. From there on, my mum who did the best she could under the circumstances raised us. Both of my sisters are businesswomen, so you see, the entrepreneurial route was inevitable for me.

I grew up with and around strong women who taught me how to prepare for the world and survive in it. My childhood was normal; I easily made friends and played a lot. The grown up me is naturally an introvert, so you will mostly find me at home if I am out likely surrounded by nature, having one on one deep discussions or simply writing my heart out. My sisters are extroverts, so I guess someone had to be the introverted one and that is I.

I have an amazing, creative and intelligent daughter who is literally my world; I thank God for her. We are an inseparable team. When my dad was alive, it was great and normal; well close to perfect like every other family. When he passed away, my mum had to take care of everything and that was not easy, but she did her best and was strong through it for all of us. I am forever grateful to her for being both parents to us for the past 21 years. I knew I grew up the way I did to make a difference in the world. I knew it, but I did not know how I would do it.

Inspiration Behind Glo-ray-designs
I know it is ironic, but the moment my daughter was born, something was ignited inside me, and I knew I was created for more. I decided right then and there that I would make a difference in everything I do, and I decided to pursue only business for purpose. As stated by Wikipedia, the fashion industry is one of the major water, air and soil polluting industries of the world and the environmental damages increase as the industry grows. Small businesses are the least supported globally and the women entrepreneurs that sell recycled fabric are not recognised and are easily exploited.

Fast fashion promotes discarding usable left over, recycled and rejected fabric and almost new clothes, which pollute the earth and it encourages rapid clothes making. This consumes natural resources at production and contributes to taking from nature. The problems associated with the fashion industry and my passion for women empowerment inspired me to open my sustainable studio and to dedicate my life to helping other people in all aspects of my life.

All About “Ladies of Influence” And Its Impact
Ladies of Influence (LOI) is a female managed Non-Profit Organisation founded in 2017 whose main objective is to contribute to sustainable development in Malawi through humanitarian effort. The organisation’s primary focus is to make a difference in the education and health sectors mainly targeting women and the girl child linked to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in order to achieve women empowerment, considering that this is a pivotal area in relation to global development.

Growing up, I read a lot about organisations like UNDP, UNICEF, USAID, European Union and more and what they did to help humanity. I admired them from a distance, but how was I, a young girl from Malawi, Blantyre, ever going to make a difference in anyone’s life? That question haunted me through the years and it never let me go until I started to act on it.

Purpose literally hunts you down; Ladies of Influence chose me and it is a part of me. I found amazing partners who work with me in the organisation to make sure that all objectives are achieved. They dedicate their time and resources to make sure that we succeed. There would be no LOI without these women, so I am thankful to each one of them for volunteering to work with me.

Why Glo-Ray Design Is A Unique Brand In Malawi
We are a fashion brand that is not only focused on financial performance, but also making a positive impact in society by using an important aspect of human existence, which is clothe. This is done by reducing wastage in our production, working with marginalised groups, and using the three pillars of sustainability in all our supply chain. Our Values are transparency, authenticity, women empowerment, environmental protection, inclusive employment, and attention to detail.

Managing My Role As An Advocate And Fashion Designer
Focus, discipline, determination, and resilience are the four words that best describe me. When I commit to a project, I don’t stop until I see it through.

I do not sleep at the normal times, I jog to think and find inspiration; I partner and delegate. I could put it down to a lot, but I think the most important aspect of it is God’s grace really. I am no superwoman, but when you walk in purpose and aim to serve, God equips you with what you need through the race.

How My Work Has Impacted The Lives Of Women In Malawi
Through Ladies of Influence, we have managed to donate hospital equipment to two public hospitals that are helping people up to now. In 2017, we donated food and cash items to an orphanage and disability center owned by a woman in one of the townships in the country. We have a sponsorship and mentorship programme currently sponsoring eight girl children with all important educational needs because we believe in the saying that, ‘when you educate a girl child, you educate a village.’

Through Glo-Ray Designs, we have managed to work with a few women who sell fabric at the markets and by becoming friends with them we have been able to share business ideas and I have helped to contribute to their businesses by being a referral and buying from them. My aim is to bring them with me throughout my growth and the chain would not be complete without them.

The clothes that I make bring out the confidence in a woman or a man. I make things that make the personality and authenticity shine through the people wearing them. I want people to be comfortable being themselves and not anybody else. I have received a lot of great reviews for my work and this is how I know that we are on the right track. My contribution to body image, acceptance and satisfaction is what makes me happy.

Challenges Of My Work
My own fear of failure was my greatest challenge, but with every step I took and the realisation that fear is nothing but a feeling I can control, it grew smaller and smaller. Getting my clients, suppliers, and customers to understand my sustainable business model is a work in progress, but we are slowly getting there. Getting everyone to understand why we should help the less privileged in society is still a process that is getting better each day. Patience, acceptance, resilience and understanding help me to get by.

Other Projects And Activities
I am one of the Mandela Washington Fellows of 2021 and through this programme, I am learning a lot to do with leadership. We are currently working on forming a fashion council in Malawi and I am the chairperson of the grouping. I am a marketer and one of the shareholders of a housing cooperative in Malawi making sure that people have access to housing facilities, and I am a member of the Global Women’s Network. I love to write and motivate myself so I usually do that in my free time.

Three Women Who Inspire Me And Why
Dr. Joyce Banda who was the first female president of Malawi for her bravery; she is an educator and grassroots women’s rights activist. I admire her confidence and sense of purpose in her work.
Michelle Obama for her women and girl child empowerment. Maya Angelou for using her wisdom and voice to reach out to people.

Nuggets To Becoming A Successful Fashion Designer & Humanitarian
As a fashion designer, you must be authentic in all you do, what you make and in your connection with customers, suppliers and employees. Be crystal clear about what success means to you and draw your personal mission statement so you do not chase other people’s dreams, because when things get hard, you will go back to why you started in the first place and focus on the goal.

To be a humanitarian, you have to search within yourself and find what makes you happy at the core. For me, it was the discovery that making a difference in the world and my community gives me a sense of satisfaction that I don’t feel doing anything else. It is service leadership, and this requires a lot of sacrifice and looking beyond yourself and one’s immediate circle. One must have a sense of Ubuntu in them to take on such a humbling role.

Being A Woman Of Rubies
I am me; I am different from anyone else and they are different from me. My ability to love beyond pain, to work through distractions and to hold on to my values makes me.