How Anna found her niche as a wedding dress designer

Anna (standing) instructs some of the students at Anna Collection Fashion Academy in Dar es Salaam’s Kijitonyama area.

What you need to know:

  • Anna Lungaya, a computer science and information management graduate, followed her passion for fashion after finding a job proved futile after graduation. She started her bridal line and has since risen to become a sought-after designer in the industry and across borders 

American Pastor Mark Batterson once said, ‘You are one decision away from a totally different life.’ One small decision can lead to a massive change in both your career and personal life.

This is a reflection of what happened to Anna Lungaya, founder and creative designer of Anna Collection, a wedding dress making company that started as a small leap of faith in her passion for fashion. Anna, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Anna Collection Fashion Academy (AFA) founded her bridal business in December 2017 and has since risen to become one of the highly sought-after couturiers in the industry.

The 33-year-old wedding dress designer pursued Computer Science and Information Management at Tumaini University Makumila and graduated in 2014. She landed a job at the Azania College of Management as an ICT tutor but had to quit her job after going for six months without pay. While at home, Anna kept applying for tutoring jobs, but nothing came her way—not even a call for an interview.

“I got to a point where I was ready to do any tutoring job as long as it got me out of the house so I could assist my husband in taking care of us because I was dependent on him during that entire time. That did not happen for over eight months,” Anna recalls.

There was a time when she got an email to attend an interview for a tutoring job at the Dar es Salaam University College of Education. There were over 1,000 interviewees who were all after the five advertised positions. One of the things that discouraged her at the interview was the presence of her university lecturer, who was also interviewing for the job.

After staying jobless for a long period, her husband suggested that she try her longtime passion, which is fashion, something that had not crossed her mind until he brought it up.

She started by making T-shirts mixed with kitenge fabrics, a style that was liked by some of her friends, church members, and neighbours.

"Working with independent tailors became a challenge because I did not know how to do it myself. I had to learn the ropes from one of the tailors I was working with. Around the same time, my husband supported me in opening my first physical office in Kunduchi. I bought machines and hired a tailor from Kigoma.”

Whenever she showed the tailor some samples of clothes that people living in Dar es Salaam would be interested in wearing, the new tailor opposed her ideas.

“I started to lose customers. One day, a customer who had ordered a jumpsuit complained after she saw the jumpsuit. The sample of the jumpsuit she showed us was completely different from what was tailored. This is when I decided it was time to learn everything about tailoring so as to speak the same language with the tailor,” she narrates.

Anna reached out to a tailor on Instagram and requested that she teach her how to make dresses.

She trained for three months, during which she would sometimes bring some of her customers’ clothes to work on in her teacher’s working space.

“When I mastered the art of sewing, I shared some of the knowledge with the tailor I was working with. While I saw my growth in the business I had gotten myself into, I saw the need to increase the prices of the clothes that I made because their quality and creativity were on a different level,” she says.

Whenever Anna tried to hint to her customers about the increased prices, they repeatedly told her, to stop applying Sinza prices to them. This made the mother of three curious. She was charging between Sh30,000 and Sh40,000 per dress at the time.

She made a trip to Sinza and visited several clothing shops and noticed the difference.

“Their prices were higher compared to what I charged, and the quality was the same as mine. This is where I belong, I thought. It was at that point that I decided to relocate from Vingunguti to Sinza because I was certain that if I stayed any longer, I would not be able to live the growth I had been thinking of,” she details.

In late 2017, Anna relocated to Sinza, and among her first orders, she made two bridal dresses that opened doors to more orders through references and Instagram exposure of her work.

This made Anna plan to at least custom-make 20 dresses for the year 2018 alongside other clothes, such as Vitenge.

“I surpassed the target goal and decided to turn celebratory dresses into my niche. This included wedding dresses, bridesmaids and matron dresses. At the end of 2018, I relocated from Sinza to Mwenge, where I stayed for four years,” she recalls.

Her team also grew from a team of two to six people and her international market began to open up. Anna started to receive orders from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Congo, and Zambia.

“With time, I decided to focus on making bridal dresses. I prioritise the bride’s dress to make a statement to herself and the people that will be looking at her throughout the wedding, which sets me apart from other tailors” she explains.

She currently has three distinct wedding dress collections: Anala, Malaika, and Villa, each distinguished by the materials used to make them, which are imported from China. The price range for these dresses is Sh2 million to Sh8 million.

“I draw inspiration from the bride herself because every one of them is unique. I also explore creative ideas that I come up with as well as the team I work with,” Anna explains.

In late 2022, Anna established an academy for aspiring tailors to learn and master tailoring. The academy has three-month programmes that run quarterly.

“This academy came as I was getting a lot of requests from women and men who sought to be trained by me. Through this academy, they get first-hand experience from my knowledge and other tailors who have turned into teachers,” shares Anna.

The academy currently has about 120 students, all of whom are women. Only two men have so far participated in the sessions.

“Another reason that led me to develop this school is to nurture a generation of fashion experts who have practical skills that can transform the fashion industry in its entirety. Through the students who will acquire creative skills from this academy, I aim to change the perspective that the creative industry is for failures.”

She wants Tanzania to be the go-to place for people who want to buy different pieces of clothing instead of solely depending on other countries like Nigeria and Turkey.

She advises young people not to be deterred by the challenges they face, as she explains that standing strong in the face of difficulties is the first stage of winning.

“Challenges test your strength, yet at the same time, they make you grow. Most business people who stand out as they rise have had the taste of falling. However, they don’t give up because they understand that challenges will always be there; they never leave,” she emphasises.