When Valary Lambisia Simiyu had her daughter, she discovered that it was difficult getting good quality baby shoes where she lived in Mbita, Homa Bay. Having grown up watching her mother knit and crochet, Valary decided to do the same for her daughter. Two years later, she runs a rapidly growing company, Crochet Hub, which netted an investment of Sh500,000 from Olive Gachara on KCB’s Lion’s Den.
What products does Crochet Hub stock?
We stock anything that can be made using crochet work. Our specialty though is mats and most recently, crochet shoes with rubber soles.
What gave you the idea to start crocheting?
When I was on maternity leave, my sister came home to visit, and had brought with her some wire mesh and yarn for crocheting mats. I had never seen this before and was very intrigued by the concept. We crocheted many mats.
Being a teacher by profession, I knew my fellow teachers would be interested in crocheting as well. I started teaching them and selling raw materials for them to make their own products.
Did you charge for the lessons?
Yes, I charged Sh100 per lesson. I also started selling finished products like mats and booties.
How much was your initial capital?
The initial raw materials - yarn, wire mesh and crotchets - cost Sh16,000. To find a venue to train, I rented a small shop for Sh2,500 a month.
I had one employee to run the shop during the week since I was teaching and paid her Sh2,500 a month. As business expanded I started researching on other crochet products and stumbled upon crocheted shoes with rubber soles. I liked the idea of a rubber sole because it was more durable. We started focusing on shoes as our number one product.
How much do the crocheted products go for?
We charge between Sh500 and Sh6,000 for the shoes, the most expensive being the ladies’ boots. Some of our mats go for less than Sh500, the most expensive being the carpet, which goes for Sh18,000.
How long does it take to make a product?
It ranges from a few hours for simpler designs to two weeks for a large carpet. Sometimes the carpet can take a shorter time if I hire extra hands, like my friends or casual workers. Each person gets allocated a colour or pattern to stitch and we all work together from the different corners of the wire mesh until we meet in the middle and switch. This method takes us about a week to complete a carpet.
Let’s talk numbers. What are your sales?
In 2017, we had a monthly turnover of between Sh35,000 and Sh45,000 and a profit of about Sh15,000 per month. In March 2018, we moved to bigger premises to get more space for the trainings and for my four craftspeople. In three months after moving to the new location, we sold 126 pairs of shoes. Coupled with trainings we made a turnover of approximately Sh106,000. We currently charge between Sh2,000 and Sh2,500 to teach crocheting.
You recently got an investment of Sh500,000 on the Lion’s Den. Tell us about that experience…
It was a challenging one for me, because as a single mother, I had to travel to Nairobi with my daughter. She had never been in a place with so many people and so much activity so she was crying the whole time and wouldn’t let anyone else carry her. While the other applicants were being given tips by the officials about their pitches, I was busy looking after my daughter. I don’t think the producers thought I would do a good job.
When I went in there, I just decided to be myself. My pitch was a simple one; I crochet for people who want good quality products but can’t find it in their location and for people who opt to make the good products themselves because they can’t afford it from the shops. Olive liked that.
What changes have you encountered since you started working with Olive Gachara?
Direction and planning adequately for the future. For instance, one of the things I hadn’t done was register my company. I am in the process of doing that now.
We have also worked on a calendar for next year where we are to travel to at least 10 different towns training 50 women per town on how to make crochet shoes. We will travel where there is demand and then revisit every three months with new designs and concepts.
What is your ultimate vision for Crochet Hub?
To bring back that sense of belonging and togetherness we got from learning these arts from our mothers. You can’t compare something you bought from the shop to something you knitted while sitting and talking with your friends.
That garment or pair of shoes will be attached to memories, laughter, good food and company. This is what I want attached to our brand. “My mother made this for me.” Not enough people say that anymore. We want to change that.
What are some of the challenges you faced starting this venture?
First, as a working mother, it was difficult enough for me to juggle work and being a mother to a young baby. Then I added a business to that, and sometimes it got overwhelming. But I couldn’t quit because my baby can’t inherit my teaching, but she can inherit my business. That’s what keeps me going despite the difficult times.
Then once the business was running, recruiting people who are passionate about this craft was an uphill task.
You can’t force learning on anyone, they have to have the passion and the vision. But I am taking time to try and duplicate myself because you can’t scale up if you have to do all the work.
Third, it’s amazing how much we rely on the international market for raw materials in this country.
We need to start manufacturing some basic things for ourselves. I’ve found most of the materials we need to make our products, like good yarn, come from outside of Kenya. We need to rethink that.