One crisp morning five years ago, armed with Sh500, 29-year old Nelson Mandela embarked on a fashion design journey. He was new in the city and was excited about taking a gamble.
He crossed fingers and, like a South African namesake, took a leap into the unknown, armed with faith and confidence.
Mandela walked into Gikomba market and bought two pairs of shoes each at Sh250. When he came back to the Central Business district, he sold the shoes at Sh4,500 a pair.
He was only two years old in Nairobi but seemed like he had identified a niche for himself. He was completing his supply chain management course at Kenya Institute of Management, but here was his heart falling for fashion. And the shoes kicked it off perfectly, literally.
Buoyed by the returns, Mandela, who later joined a fashion school, started buying and selling shoes to make profits. It was in the process of selling that he found excited clients asking him what outfits could match the shoes.
It was time to climb a step higher on the ladder.
Mandela seized the opportunity and ventured into cloth production. Now, he owns Logical Clothing, a production house in Kimathi Street’s Eagle House where people order for classy, tailor made outfits.
“This is what I wanted from the outset. I started selling shoes and in 2017 and now dealing with clothing. I pursued procurement in college, which I have never used in the field. My drive to make it in the clothing industry has driven me this far,” says the young entrepreneur, crisp in a suit he has made himself.
His suits, which is what he majorly deals in, are priced between Sh13,500 and Sh150,000.
When a customer orders, he takes two weeks to work on the order and deliver. However, it takes longer with mass orders.
“Some of these suits incur huge production costs. A suit I sold for Sh65,000 cost me around Sh50,000 to produce.”
Mandela, who specialises in corporate suits, wedding suits, events outfits, Ankara dresses for ladies, bridal dresses, khaki pants, and who also sells shoes and shirts, says that one of the most important things that every tailor should have is a production house.
“People want a physical location where they can visit to see what is happening and can launch complaints. It gives them confidence in the business.”
He has employed three tailors, one delivery person and an office messenger, and plans to create a bigger empire going into the future.
“I came to Nairobi in 2014 and by the time I started this business, I was still very green in the city. I started off with Sh500. It was a gamble, but worthwhile. Since, I believe in myself and in every venture I pursue,” says the entrepreneur.
“I have a son and I do not want him to be ravaged by the misery poverty took me through.” Mandela says that he stands out because he is customer-centric.
“In my company, we are all about meeting the deadline and expectations of the customer. I believe in customer satisfaction, which leads to referrals. A satisfied customer will pass the good news to another potential one, creating a chain. We sell quality clothes; we do not edit photos to promote our brand. We are authentic and honest.”
Unlike many tailors, he is careful with customers’ money. A running joke in this country goes that unless one supervises his tailor and carries weapons that is threatening enough, the tailor will never deliver.
“This industry requires discipline. Customers give us money in advance and if one is not disciplined, you will spend the money and end up grappling with unfinished clothes when delivery time comes.”
Among many other dignitaries that Mandela has dressed include Migori Governor Okoth Obado, Uriri MP Mike Ogolla, CIC Insurance Group General manager Jack Kionga, Natalie Mukundane (Executive Chairperson at African Youth Commission), King Kaka and the whole Kaka Empire and a lot of MCAs.
Some of the challenges he has to weather include dealing with rogue customers, but he has learnt to handle them.
“Sometimes I face clients who do not want to pay. Some complain about small details they feel do not please them and want to default payment. However, we strike a dialogue and are able to reach a solution.”
His role model is Robert Pauley III, famously known as The Welth? Guy, a New York City fashion designer who Mandela describes as a very talented and smart man.
Has he ever wanted to quit?
“Yes. In 2018, things were not going well. I was so hard pressed that I wanted to go back to my village in Uriri. I remember I posted a photo of my son on social media around that time. A person from my home village texted me, telling me how big a role model I was to a lot of people. Suddenly, I felt some kind of motivation. Someone had just confessed that I was an inspiration to them. Which role model gets frustrated and goes home to sulk?”
He says that he realised that they were so many people who admired him and quitting would frustrate more than just himself.
“I stayed put in the city.”