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After abandoning career in IT for mitumba Grace has no regrets

Grace Wambere, the brain behind Mitumba Chap Chap business in Nairobi (PHOTO: Caroline Obuya)

NAIROBI, KENYA: Grace Wambere is a wife, a mother, and Chief Executive Officer of Mitumba Chap Chap. Like any ambitious young girl, my thirst for higher education and a better life led me to pack my bags and leave for Germany in search of greener pastures.

First, I enroled for a course in German language for ease of communication then I undertook a degree course in  Information technology at Johan Wolfang Frankfurt University.  I also did abit of hotel management, and enrolled for an internship program in a media company where I learnt branding. I lived in Germany for a total of eight years before coming back to Kenya in 2011.

I started Mitumba chap Chap in 2013 after consulting with people about where  I could buy affordable clothes, I got alot of referrals to Gikomba market.

At first Going to Gikomba felt very scary because people used to tell me that I could be mugged. As  days went by  I  gathered enough courage and armed with two thousand shillings in my pocket, I set out for the expansive Gikomba market.

Least to say, I was mesmerized at how cheap the clothes at Gikomba market were being sold. I  begun by picking out maternity clothes which I could showcase at pregnant womens’ fashion shows. People used to love my clothes and would want to buy them. Eventually I started hawking them at the maternity fairs.

My first born came in 2013 and I had to wait until he was about four months old to fully venture into the mitumba business.

The urge to be self-employed motivated me into the business even-though many including my dad were opposed to the idea.

“My dad was against the idea of me selling mitumba saying I cannot go to Germany, do such a course in IT which can land me a job at the United Nations then come back and start selling mitumba.  But like my mother, I was determined to be self employed,” she recalls.

Beginnings

The little knowledge from my mother’s tailoring background jumpstarted me into the clothes business.

She used to have a stall in Kamukunji, Nyeri where while growing up I could have my way around things like tape measures, threads and the tailoring machine etc.

Most of the time during holidays, my mother would request me to help in fixing buttons or ironing clothes.

On Saturdays, when she would take the merchandise to an open air market, Instead of closing the stall, she would leave me back selling clothes. Whenever she came back and found that I had sold, she could be very excited and this kept on motivating me.

“In high school I used to sell boob tops and bikers to schoolmates.”

GERMANY

Back In Germany, we used to go to the big go downs where we would buy clothes at Sh124 (one Euro) per Kg. After every season they do clearance at the godowns where people would buy tons of clothes in Kilogrammes, have them wrapped up but I never understood where they took the bales. After doing my research I came to understand how the process works.

I started by selling kids stuff when I launched my business in Kenya but expanded the offer following advice from clients and their demands.

“I could be guided by clients demands because they could ask me to bring for them particular items. That is how I started introducing new items into the stock.  I must however confess that it took me a long time before I could open my own bale because the advice I was getting from people was mostly  ‘hii itakuchoma’,” she says.

By and by I grew from  the ‘mali mali’ type of shopping in Gikomba and started sourcing for my own bales. Having been a frequent visitor to the German go downs, I had come  to understand the clothes business dynamics. I personally sourced for suppliers by myself from China, Netherlands, USA, Germany and now I have incorporated Canada.

Although I trust my suppliers because they have never let me down,  I make sure I have a pointman whom I work with. The bales cost anything between Sh8,000-30,000.  I always request for samples because sometimes they can send you Grade two yet you ordered for Grade one. In Netherlands I have Maina. He makes sure he is there when my consignment is being packed because ‘Ukora’ –deceit is everywhere

I do  both retail and wholesale

After first camera whereby customers pick a minimum of 20 pieces, I sell the rest of the stock on  retail from as low as Sh50 sometimes Sh10. Customers come with even two hundred shillings and pick up start up stock and after a while they come back and tell me they have saved enough and are now ready to buy a bale.

I have have embraced the business fully and currently expanded from the Moi avenue store to other two branches at Kenyatta university and around Jeevanjee Gardens. The business also has online presence and we make deliveries upon client request.

Lessons learnt

Patience with the business picking up.  Some people rush into opening a brick and motar store. I always discourage that untill the business is able to sustain itself. I’ve seen people open shops and close after three months.

I have also learnt that sharing is caring. The more you give the more you recieve. I do charity,  Sometimes by giving people bales and mentoring them on how to start business.

Marketing

Call me on my lines and the voice over directs you to my business name, where we are located and how you can get in touch with us. Thats how my ‘Skiza’ has been customized. We are on facebook where we have a group of over 231,000 active members. Our shopping bags, employees overrals including reflector jackets for our riders are all branded. And ofcourse their is referrals by word of mouth.

Family and business

My husband is a lawyer. He is not directly involved in Mitumba chap chap. He however chips in when I require legal help like in signing of contracts and tax related issues. We  got married in 2013. I knew him even before going to Germany. We come from same upcountry. We have two children aged four and two years old.

When I am not working, I love travelling. I do a meet and greet customers kind of tours for Mitumba chap chap. The next meet and greet trip will be in Machakos.

Advice to upcoming enterpreneurs:

Dont go asking. I have Sh10,000,which business do I start? You will be lying to yourself. People should decide for the themselves what they want to do. If you fall down along the way, rise up, dust yourself and start again. Your effort will eventually pay off.