After years bestriding the Kenyan manufacturing sector like a colossus, working for various companies that manufacture non-alcoholic beverages, Esther Kimani (pictured) decided to venture into the garment industry.
She started Trendy Links, a garment firm with roots in Nakuru town. Kimani says the growing manufacturing sector, which has earned many incentives from the government, became too attractive for her. She wanted her bigger chunk of its returns.
Today Trendy Links has grown to accommodate a technical and vocational training school.
Why manufacture of garments?
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They say if you are setting off on a business journey, you need to identify a need or service to supply or provide. I saw a gap in the textile and apparel market; people craved quality products, and I stepped in to fill it.
I began with a stitching plant that I named Trendy Links based in Bahati, Nakuru County, in 2016. I leveraged on the latest technologies in the industry. Later on, as the venture took off, I decided to incorporate a training college, Trendy Technical and Vocational Training Centre, which offers skills in textile manufacturing.
When did your investment begin to pay?
I have had a long career in manufacturing. I have learnt that people hate change, yet change is the only thing that brings growth. There were many opportunities in rural Nakuru that the business did not take long to bring returns. It has been five years now from when I set off and I can say growth has experienced an upward trajectory.
How did you end up consulting for the famed Kitui County Textile Centre (Kicotec)
I was contracted by the Kenya Scouts Association to do their uniforms and knitwear (sweaters) at the time Kitui County Government was sending a team to our plant for bench marking. Maybe the quality of our products won the recognition of the Kitui county administration.
Trendy Links partnered with Kitui to train its personnel in a hands-on skill acceleration programme and machine installation. Currently, we are training Kitui County employees in machine operations.
Manufacturing is part of the Jubilee Government Big Four Agenda. Is mitumba (second hand clothes) business impeding the manufacture of local garments?
It’s time local entrepreneurs are given incentives that will see the country become self-reliant while supporting the Big Four Agenda. We purchase our raw materials from our local companies, and this is one way of boosting the local economy.
If the playing field is levelled like through restrictions of cheap imports and promotion of locally manufactured quality products, we can be where we were before mitumba business disrupted the industry.
However, it is encouraging to see some garment companies like Rivatex that were affected by the implosion of cheap imports have been revived.
Who are your customers?
Our main clients are school uniform retailers, the Kenya Scouts Association and corporate firms. we are also targeting to attract the disciplined forces, the health sector and other government bodies.
When Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic and disrupted the way of doing business, we had to adjust accordingly. We are currently producing 20,000 pieces of Personal Protection Equipment (PPES).
There have been claims that “cartels” control the sale of school uniforms in Kenya. What’s your take on that?
It is true most school principals direct parents to particular shops to source for school uniforms. Parents are kept from going to shops or suppliers of their choice.
We cannot rule out collaboration between school heads and shop operators. This is sad and unethical. However, availability of quality wear at competitive prices is what disrupts these cartels.