Kato: Ingenious bag designer with unusual touch
As a young entrepreneur and CEO of Kristiinz, Christine Z Kato does not only feel happy with herself and what she does, but she is also delighted and fulfilled at being able to contribute to the economic growth of the country. And by doing what she is passionate about, she has inadvertently become a role model to her peers.
She hails from the northern part of the country and is the last child in a family of three. Somehow during her childhood, Christine knew she had something unique to offer. “Although I am the last child of my family, I always knew I am gifted and it wasn’t long before I realised where my inclination lies in this regard,’’ she explains.
What makes it all the more exciting for her is the fact that she has been able to discover her talents and establish herself, while still a student. As a final year sociology student at the University of Abuja, Christine decided to train as a handbag designer because of her passion for arts and her latent creativity in this sphere.
“As a student I love fashion,” she says. ‘For me, being able to mix and match different outfits, colours and accessories are simply amazing.’’
And though she had initial training on how to make the traditional Ankara bag, but she soon discovered that she could bring her unique touch and passion for art into it, thereby making a professional statement. So, she decided to incorporate all these into her handbags and the result has simply been amazing.
Early this year, she won the young entrepreneur award, where she was described as one hot, new talent in the Nigerian fashion industry.
How did it all start? Apparently it was her grasp of the direction in which the employment market is headed in today’s world that prompted her venture into bag making.
“I decided to learn a skill because it makes an individual more marketable,” she says. ‘’It’s especially important these days to sharpen and learn skills that are capable of being transferred from one type of career to another. This ensures that a person will always be marketable in an increasingly competitive working environment’’.
So, after mapping out her plans and how to achieve the goal, she approached her parents for the seed capital. Ever since, there has been no looking back.
Among other things, Christine would want her brand to inspire people through art and creativity, as well as sell internationally.
“I want my brand to be exhibited at top fashion shows and in art galleries. Starting my label has been exhilarating, which is not to say that it has been easy. It has taken a great deal of determination and earnestness to learn the trade. There have been many ups and downs, but it has definitely been worth it. It is surreal to think that I was able to transform an idea into something real that people love as much as I do,” she says.
Christine’s strength lies in the fact that she loves working with exceptional shapes, colours and eccentric expressions. She is also fond of creating bags with African background and designs.
“In Nigeria, no one has created bags in the mould of those made at Kristiinz. Yes, there are the clutch and other high-class brands, but our bags are created to surprise, as something you cannot resist opening. All these are what make Kristiinz creations unique,” she says.
Though things are looking up, as Christine’s business is growing rapidly, but she had to contend with several daunting challenges initially.
“It wasn’t easy, when I first started. As a student, raising capital to create the individual designs was challenging. I also didn’t have a comfortable working space. So, I started small and had to work with little materials, but today I just thank the Lord,” she explains.
Christine crafted her first bag at the age of 20. Is there any particular design that is her favourite among her collection? She replied in the affirmative.
“It has to be the breast bag. Every thing about the female breast is pure work of art and it was almost impossible to make. When I completed this particular design, I felt fulfilled.”
Combining her studies with her vocation is not all fun though, as Christine has to attend lectures during the day, while she crafts her bags at night.
“I get my inspiration from many places, especially music and the experiences I have had in life. Sometimes, I also derive my inspiration from things that I really want to understand. All of these are the sources for many of the bags that I design,” she says.
She recommends three bags from the Kristiinz collection namely: the breast bag, the African woman with her baby and the house bag. Kristiinz brand is proudly Nigerian, as her materials are mainly sourced in Abuja, while the decorations are imported.
“The inspiration behind the African hut bag comes from my fascination with the typical African hut. The cone like shape and the fact that it was made using mud and can weather the storm is so over whelming and I wanted to incorporate that in my designs. It was quite a difficult task, as I spent months trying to collect items to decorate the bag. This involved getting the right leaves for the hut, as I couldn’t use real leaves, which would fade away. So, I settled for artificial flower leaves,” she explains.
Although it has been quite an eventful journey, Christine’s reward lies in her sense of fulfilment, which arises from her ability to unearth and push forward her creativity and talent. So, the first thing she does after waking up in the morning is to be thankful to her Creator for yet another day to impact the world positively.
“My personal motto is: if you can dream it, you can do it,” she says.
One of her proudest moments was winning the entrepreneur of the year by Pearls International.
“Meeting Mrs. Nike Okundayo and hearing her call me an artist was the best feeling ever. The ultimate goal for Kristiinz brand is customer satisfaction. That someone out there is inspired by something I created is a wonderful feeling,” she says.
When Christine is not busy creating her beautiful designs, she unwinds by listening to music and spending time with her family and friends. One item she never leaves home without is her charm bracelet.