Why you need a mentor to thrive in second-hand clothes business

Ms Cathy Muringo at her shop, Experience Mtumba Bales, in Gikomba market, Nairobi. [Esther Dianah, Standard]

Nine years ago, Ms Cathy Muringo was left with only Sh2,000 after her salon business failed. She felt hopeless and devastated.

A friend advised her to venture into mitumba business. That is where she put her money.

Today, Ms Muringo runs her own mitumba bales shop in Gikomba market.

While running her Experience Mtumba Bales shop, she only knew too well that one cannot just walk into Gikomba market to purchase bales without a chaperone, or a mentor, as she fancies.

Ms Muringo — a novice in the business then — gained experience while in the market, and can now comfortably call herself a mentor to young entrepreneurs, mostly widows and other women.

Her fortunes have grown over the years.

“This is my first business to succeed. I have done salon business but it didn’t work for me, I have also tried selling men’s shoes but it never worked,” she said.

Main challenge

Ms Muringo urges people to learn to start small.

“I had less than Sh2,000 as my starting capital. I was jobless and desperate, I went to Korogocho market and picked a few pieces of kids clothes which I used to stock up my empty shop then.”

She loves selling kids’ clothes due to their affordability and also because they are fast-moving.

She is confident of her ability to save, “I knew how to save from the start, from my Sh2,000 capital, I saved and raised Sh9,000 which I used to buy a bale”.

Ms Muringo says her struggle as a novice was far from over despite having saved enough to afford a bale.

“The bale was not very nice, so I returned it, the dealer was a mzungu, who told me that I appeared to have no idea about bales. She taught me about bales. That’s where my knowledge started,” she said.

Ms Muringo says that from the kindness she received, she is paying back by training other people who are interested in the mitumba business.

The entrepreneur, who was a greenhorn in the mitumba business had just come out of employment, laments that there was no one to tell her what she needed to know about the business.

“I had the idea about kids clothes, but did not quite know where to get them,” she said.

The value of second-hand clothing imported into the country for the period ended September 2021 hit Sh5.1 billion.

This was a drop from Sh5.69 billion recorded for the period ended December 2020. Mitumba imports hit a low of Sh4.4 billion by the end of December 2021.

The young entrepreneur, who now gets her bales from Canada, said she has direct communication links with suppliers there.

“I love Canadian bales because they are clean. Other than Canada, I source from Australia, the UK, very little from the US and rarely from China,” she said.

“Initially, I did not know that there was a difference between China, Canadian, the UK or Australian bales, I just used to buy them randomly,” Cathy said.

When her knowledge increased, that impacted her to start mentoring women entrepreneurs.

Initially, she didn’t quite know she was a mentor, but through her Facebook page, she has amassed over 10,000 followers. She answers hard questions from young and upcoming entrepreneurs.

“I was always answering their questions. Most of them want to know how I started. Some of them are doing better than myself because they start with bales, I started by picking a few pieces.”

Ms Muringo says that for one to thrive in the sector, hard work is key.

“You cannot open a bale today and sell it today. You have to be patient. I always tell people that you start from down there going up and not the other way round. It is also important to be very truthful to your clients,” she said.

Main challenge

And like every market day story, Ms Muringo shares her challenges.

“The duties are my main challenge. When we started, it was not very expensive, but right now we are really suffering,” she observes, noting that starting up years back, the rates were reasonable.

Now, the sector which has on several occasions faced threats of closure attracts high taxes, which affect their purchase and selling rates.

According to Ms Muringo, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, finding clothes has become like a treasure hunt; it is rare to find good clothes.

“Kids’ clothes are the fastest moving, followed by ladies’ clothes. Household items like comforters, bedsheets and curtains come third.

“Men do not have a tendency of shopping, so this lot of items is the slowest moving in the mitumba business,” she said.

For her, the other years were better in business.

“I think the economy was better back then, between 2013 and 2017.

I cannot say the same about the years starting 2018. 2018 was the worst year because that is when we started feeling the effect of the shrinking economy. 2020 and 2021 became even worse.”