Kulukaya Sadiki is a Malawai-based sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian, and marketer.
For her business talents, she was chosen as a Young African Leader for the ‘Leadership in Business’ cohort by the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a USA program in 2020.
Kulukaya is also the Founder and Chairperson of ‘Ladies of Influence,’ a recognized non-profit organization that focuses on sustainable development in Malawi through humanitarian efforts, with a particular focus on the female child.
Glo-Ray Designs Sustainable Studio, her clothing line, uses recycled and rejected fabric to create timeless trends, delaying disposal and reducing fabric pollution. She works with female fabric providers in the market, encouraging and empowering them with business skills.
She talks about her journey with Women of Rubies in this interview.
Did your childhood prepare you in any way for what you do now , tell us more about your upbringing?
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, we were raised by my mom who did the best she could under the circumstances (Bless her always). Both of my sisters are business women 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 am out am 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 me. 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 mom 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.
What Inspired you to start Gloray-designs?
I know it is ironic but the moment my daughter was born, something was ignited inside of 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 the 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 recognized and are easily exploited. Fast fashion promotes discarding usable left over, recycled and rejected fabric and almost new clothes which pollutes 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.
You also founded “Ladies of Influence”, what is the inspiration behind it?
Ladies of Influence(LOI) is a female managed Non-Profit Organization founded in 2017 whose main objective is to contribute to sustainable development in Malawi through humanitarian effort. The organization’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 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 organizations like UNDP, UNICEF, USAID, European Union and more on 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 organization 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.
What makes Gloray designs unique and a stand out 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 clothes. This is done by reducing wastage in our production, working with marginalized 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.
You are an advocate, and fashion designer, how do you manage it all?
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 don’t 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 have your ventures impacted women in Malawi, kindly share some testimonies?
Through ladies of influence we have managed to donate hospital equipment to 2 public hospitals that is 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 program currently sponsoring 8 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.
What are some of the challenges of your work?
My own fear of failure was my greatest challenge but with every step I took and the realization 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 the society is still a process that is getting better each day. Patience, acceptance, resilience and understanding helps me to get by.
Tell us about your other projects and activities?
I am one of the Mandela Washington Fellows of 2021 and through this program, 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 so I usually do that in my free time.
Mention 3 women who inspire you and why
Dr. Joyce Banda who was the first female president of Malawi for her bravery, she is an educator and a 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.
Could you share some nuggets on how to be a successful fashion designer & humanitarian?
As a fashion designer you have to 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 peoples 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.
What makes you 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 me.