In 2017, Felix Mwangi graduated with a civil engineering degree. But try as he might, he could not get employment in the field of his study as he didn’t have work experience every employee asked for. With no hope of gaining that as no one was offering any work placements, he had to find a way to make a buck. So he got into garment making. Today he owns and runs Menengai Knitters, which is slowly making its mark in the textile industry.
- 1 Is this the right time to start a business?
- 2 From fired to freedom: Our journey to self-employment
- 3 How to transition smoothly from being employed to self-employment
- 4 I went from selling ‘mitumba’ clothes to winning road tenders worth millions
What was the search for employment like?
After my graduation, just like every other Kenyan youth, I tarmacked looking for employment without success. Nobody wanted to employ a fresh graduate. I felt so discouraged and wondered how Kenyan youth, especially those without skills and papers could possibly hope for a job. I promised myself that one day I would be part of solving that problem. I resolved to offer opportunities to youth who felt they had no prospects.
Why the garment business?
Actually, I was not training my eyes on this sector as I was on a mission to look for capital to implement some business idea I had. I had earlier acquired a valid driving license and using that, I secured a job as a bus driver at Trendy Links Limited, a garments making factory in Nakuru. This is where my interest in tailoring started. I took that opportunity to learn one or two things about it. I also applied the entrepreneurship skills learnt alongside civil engineering to solve some of the problems in the factory and eventually I was promoted to Head of Sales and Marketing. I also got another job as a project manager at Kitui County Textiles Centre (KICOTEC).
Did you raise enough capital?
Yes. The startup capital was Sh500, 000. I was in employment for two years and used my savings to source for knitting and industrial sewing machines. I then trained some youth and started a mass production workshop at Maili Sita in Nakuru known as Menengai Knitters Enterprises. I also got a Sh200 K bank loan. I have to say that my former employer supported me fully.
She was supportive of my business journey. In fact, I set up my business while still in employment. She would give us materials and knitting yarns on credit which we would pay later.
I dare say she challenged me to actualise my dreams. She assisted me a lot when starting out and we still work together when opportunities present themselves.
Who are your clients?
We are two-years -old. We do mass production of garments. We make and brand school uniforms, staff uniforms, personal protective equipment (PPE), T-shirts, reflector jackets, caps, and so on. Our clients are government and nongovernmental organisations, the county government, schools, banking and micro finance, mining, hotels and hospitality sector.
Do you remember your first client?
The first deal that I made a tangible profit was with ROHI Girls High school in Nakuru. I approached the director and although she doubted my capability to supply the whole school with school uniforms, she tried us and to date she is one of our biggest clients. The deal made around Sh80K.
Are there cartels that control the school uniform sector?
Yes. This is one of the challenges in uniform business. You can stock a certain uniform with the aim of selling to a given school, stitch the school logo only for the school head working with the cartels to change the look of the logo and direct parents to specific shops to source uniforms from. That way, you are left with your now stale stock with the old school logo.
How do you market the business?
We have different marketing strategies which include social media platforms and on-point sales, though most of our clients are referrals from those who have interacted with us before.
Has the coronavirus impacted your business?
2020 has been my worst entrepreneurial year. When the first case was reported early in March, we had just supplied school uniforms and as we were waiting for some of our clients to clear their invoices, schools were closed and we had to wait for payments. But we had to make the best out of a bad situation by transitioning to making personal protective equipment and face masks to address the health situation.
Is mitumba business a threat?
Mitumba serves a different market segment and has no effect on the business since we specialise in uniforms and it is rare to find uniforms in mitumba bales. However, in ‘Buy Kenya Build Kenya’, emphasis should be placed in manufacturing rather than in importation of second-hand clothes in order to create employment opportunities and build the economy.
If you got a great job in engineering now, would you quit business?
No. Comparing entrepreneurship to employment is like comparing a man who rides his own bicycle to that who drives his father’s car. Business is not easy and is actually one of the hardest things one can decide to do. An entrepreneur is the bread winner of so many families. I have eight full-time and four part-time employees. Your staff can enjoy their pay but for the entrepreneur it may not be the same case as you’re reinvesting in business. More so, you’re committed to business growth that you do not have the luxury of holidays. My teacher once said that if you can’t handle business pressure, you better be employed, but if you can, become an entrepreneur. I can’t leave business for employment.
How much does the business make in a month?
The pandemic has brought a challenge which has an effect on the bottom-line margins, but on a fine month, the business can make an upward of Sh150, 000.
Since I have the dream of growing and spreading the business and creating employment opportunities for many youths, I reinvest the profits back in business.
What I have learnt about businesses
In business, you and your profit should come last. Small things matters, as a lot people tend to put themselves and their interests first which eventually ruin their investments. Trust and honesty are crucial virtues in business. Always do what right no matter who you are doing it for.
Market research is vital when starting any business. One should invest in information before making that business decision. Maybe you want to invest in a similar business that was there before yours but closed down. It would pay to know why it closed down to avoid following a similar script. Passion should be your drive, as nothing is rewarding in business than investing in a field you are not passionate in.