Something big is coming to town, and it will certainly disrupt the event industry. Stakeholders and influencers in the wedding business are gearing up for one of the biggest summits dubbed WIN Africa 2020 (Wedding Industry Network), whose thematic statement is “The collective experience—Live the dream.” 

Luxury wedding Showcase
Participants at the Samantha Bridal Luxury Wedding showcase.

A media tour of WIN Africa 2020, organized by Samantha Bridal and Zuri Events, was held this past week at the Cloud Hotel and Suite, Nairobi, where interested parties congregated to discuss matters pertaining to the industry. This came days after a Luxury Wedding Exhibition organized by the Samantha Bridal at the Radisson Blu Hotel, a lavish display of wedding ideas, from dresses, décor, bouquets, and wisdom. It was already a collective experience, living the dream of making a luxury wedding a reality in the continent.

Which evokes the curious, exciting question: how bigger and better will WIN Africa 2020 be? Fact: the wedding industry is worth about 100 billion Kenyan shillings. This, I believe, satisfactorily answers the question. 

Thought leaders and influencers from Africa and around the world are expected to grace the event to be held at the Windsor Golf and Country Club, Nairobi. Among the main speakers at the conference will be a celebrity event and wedding planner, Preston Bailey, and world-renowned expert on converting sales in the wedding industry, Alan Berg, both from the USA. Wedding planners, hair and beauty stylists, make-up artists, décor experts, florists, caterers, bakers, photographers and all sectors in the industry will be featured in the grand event. WIN Africa 2020 will be a cornucopia of discussions, exchange of rich ideas and exhibitions encompassing the multi-billion industry. Lessons to be learned will certainly abound, sufficient enough to ignite majestic growth in the wedding event industry in Africa.

WIN AFRICA Wedding showcase
Smiles at the wedding showcase organized by Samantha Bridal at the Radison Blu Hotel, Nairobi.

WIN Africa 2019 was launched in April this year with an aim of bringing together wedding business and event professionals (in general) in a safe space to discuss ways forward, share collective experiences, learn lessons and forge partnerships. “Events is (sic) the other new media,” affirmed Samantha Bridal CEO, Dr. Catherine Masitsa, highlighting the great importance of events in branding for corporate companies. She added that this was the reason why sectors in the industry need to unite and command the budget needed to advance and take event business to another level. “For us to build a thriving business, we need to command good fees because if we are not charging significantly for the services that we do, our businesses will not thrive,” observed Catherine.

Over the past years, the wedding industry has encountered massive growth in the country and continent as a whole. It is a business that taps into multiple other different industries such as airlines, hotels, textile companies, event suppliers, insurance and marketing companies, tourism and food companies, and so forth. The symbiotic relationship that the wedding industry has with others in today’s world is enough of an indication that the wedding event business is no longer an insignificant part of the economy. The crucial need to drive this message home is the main motivation behind WIN Africa 2020. And industry players are demanding a worthy share of the significant role they play in making the industry the giant it has become today. “We should be able to reach the point where we as an industry are dictating the price, not the other way round,” emphasized Samantha Bridal CEO, Dr. Catherine Masitsa.  

Samantha Bridal
Samantha Bridal CEO Dr. Catherine Masitsa with a participant at the WIN Africa media tour at the Cloud Hotel and Suite, Nairobi.

On his part, board and founder member of Events Organisers Association of Kenya (EOK), Mr. Martin Kibati, underscored the importance of certification in the industry as a way to bring sanity, ensure professionalism, and as an overall advantage, create value and a platform for networking. He said that strengthening of the association will streamline the industry and eliminate barriers that hinder its growth. A strong system will bring value to investors in the business and create a strong, regulated and attractive market. “At WIN Africa 2020, we are looking at creating partnerships and collaborations which will create value for our members,” said Mr. Kibati who is also the proprietor of Sage Events Ltd.

Grave statistics listed by Zuri Events CEO Kezy Mukiri concerning the significance of sustainability in the business was an eye-opener. Her perfect example of food waste, the bulk of which is generated in the event industry, challenged and called players to action. She asserted the fact that the event industry cannot remain outside global conversations. “WIN Africa matters because we begin to see the work that we do as part of global conversations.” She said.

WIN Africa David Macharia
Versatile Photographers CEO, David Macharia, makes his remarks at the WIN Africa 2019 media tour.

The event industry is at the heart of my photography business. It is at events that I began to practice my interest, developed skills, grew a successful photography business, and became the brand I am today. At the precursor of WIN Africa 2020, I was part of the panel and narrated my long-standing relationship with events, where it all began. I began humble, taking pictures of housemaids in the estate of Kangemi, Nairobi. The only resource I had to sustain myself was going around looking for customers to photograph. But deep down I knew I needed to do more, expand my wings and grow. My dream was to see my work in a newspaper. I did not have a role model to emulate, but in the curiosity and hunger to succeed, I encountered Samantha Bridal.  

At Samantha, I discovered I could crush events without paying and covertly take pictures. I persisted at this until I build a fashion portfolio. Fashion magazines like Vogue were my inspiration; this was where I got ideas to implement. I would later go to the cyber café and communicate with the foreign photographers, ask them questions on how they took their photos. From them, I learned a lot. They introduced me to forums where I could learn photography online and I still do to date.

WIN Africa 2019
Versatile Photographers CEO, David Macharia, with Kezzy Mukiri of Zuri Events at the media tour.

Samantha Bridal familiarized me with the fashion world; I was fascinated by the beauty and took every possible chance to take photos for my portfolio. Although fashion photography did not turn out to be as lucrative as I earlier thought, the portfolio I put up was very instrumental in giving me mileage and footing in my career as a photographer. Next up, I wanted to package my work in the best way possible, so I sought to know how best to do it. I discovered the albums used by my main competitor and as soon as I did, I waged a trade war by buying all the albums in the market. I practically followed the trail of supply and exhausted the stock in all the supermarkets across the country. Eventually, I was at an advantage in comparison to my competitors. I stocked the piles of albums in my one-roomed house in Kangemi and used them to build my portfolio.   

In 2007, I finally met WIN Africa organizer and Samantha Bridal CEO Dr. Catherine Masitsa in a boardroom at KISS FM when I was pitching for the KISS 100 Victorian Wedding. No one—except Valentine Cake House CEO Mathew Gathua—knew me in that room, and although he referred me, inspired by the kind of work I used to do for him, my portfolio won me the job. Kiss FM presenter, Caroline Mutoko, who is still a good friend of my brand believed in my capability based on my portfolio. My persistence and consistency finally paid off.

Win Africa 2019
Participants at the luxury wedding showcase.

I borrowed a camera to execute the job, but after the wedding, I grew as a brand because of the pressure I got from people. Almost everybody getting married wanted a piece of me. I was overwhelmed by jobs, and that is the story behind Versatile School of Photography. I needed a team, training and mentorship was the only way to go. As photographers, we had made a lot of mistakes over the years. I wanted to mold a generation of photographers that would learn from our mistakes and become even better. Today, I’m happy to see some of our students doing well.

Like my professional voyage, WIN Africa 2020 which will be held in the first quarter of 2020, will be a learning experience. In my journey, I have learned that an idea is a personal affair, but in order for it to come to life, you must first think about it. Research the idea. Set up a sketch or mood board, i.e. an outline of how you want your brand to look. Train and come up with a team. Document everything you do. Execute your idea in order to get content. Finally, share and market your work.

Media tour
WIN Africa 2019 Media tour panelists from left, David Macharia, Kezzy Mukiri, Catherine Masitsa and Martin Kibati on the sidelines of the event.

Remember to invest in a good portfolio because this is the only way you can showcase your work. Establish valuable relationships. Your first clients should be people in the industry. They will also be your first solution when you get hiccups. Give value to your clients so as to maintain them and get referrals via them. You should become innovative enough to attract customers because unless you do so, they won’t come to you. Embrace learning experiences like WIN Africa 2020, they’ll help you grow as a professional, and network. Value your mentor; make sure you give them your ultimate best.

I often emphasize the importance of humility in the learning process. WIN Africa will be attended by some of the most successful people in the event industry. They’ve made it to the top but still acknowledge that learning is a continuous process that requires humility. Dr. Catherine Masitsa was right when she said the biggest asset young people have is their youth, adding, “as a young person, humble yourself to learn, but also realize that you have leverage over older people; your youth.” If young people use this to their advantage, they’re bound to succeed, make the world a better place. The youth should ride on a principle championed by Zuri Events CEO Kezzy Mukiri in the WIN Africa 2020 media tour that; “If you have chosen to be something, there’s no reason as to why you shouldn’t be the best.” Break out of the pack and be the best!

STORY BY: David Macharia, CEO and Founder, Versatile Photographers

EDITED BY: Tim Njugi, Writer, Blogger and Photographer

PHOTO CREDITS: Photography by Kegan