By Peter Muiruri
Imagine watching the rain falling on the grass outside your house and getting a business idea out of it. That is exactly what happened when Becky Ndega-Latif watched the rains pound some flowers outside her house in July 2013. It was cold inside the house when Becky took the popular checked Maasai shuka and wrapped herself. She barely got warm.
“What if I sew a blanket on one side of the shuka?” she thought. That is what she did. She took the Maasai shuka, stitched it on the inside with a fleece fabric to create a soft, warm and comfortable plush throw. Happy with her creation, she made another one for her husband as a gift.
“And what stops me from stitching such fleece blankets and add value to the Maasai shuka?” From warding off the cold, Indigo6 was born, an outfit aptly named after the rarely-mentioned colour.
Seven years later, her fleece blankets have become a hit with Becky losing count of the high-flying individuals who have wrapped themselves with her fleece blankets both within Kenya and outside our borders.
From President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto together with their spouses, Becky’s blanket knows no rank. Then there are musicians Yvonne Chakachaka, Kidum, Koffi Olomide, and the late Papa Wemba and Oliver Mtukudzi. Local groups such as Sauti Sol have braved cold evenings with the blanket. Sometimes it took just one public figure to don the blanket for some of their fans to be seen with blankets. They have become regular features in the open-air music festivals.
To add more value to the blankets, Becky personalises the blankets by adding an individual’s name and a small message if one so wishes.
So fast was the buzz that Becky did not even have the correct price in the early days. She started production from her living room with an initial capital of Sh5,000. Then she opened a workshop in Westlands in 2017. The blankets now retail for Sh4,500. Her business caught on and she had to quit formal employment to produce the blankets on a full-time basis.
A bigger surprise came when one of her friends headed to South Africa to meet Oprah Winfrey. Oprah’s handlers needed to know of a good African gift to give the guest. Now, most of us would have been happy to buy her some of the best coffee on the continent, but again, she must have packets upon packets of these in her house.
Becky’s friend phoned her and told her to prepare and ship, not just one blanket, but four! Normally, it takes her three to four days to work on just one, but in this case, all four were ready in one day.
“Google is our friend and I was able to tell Oprah’s favourite colours in record time. I am amazed at how the fleece blankets just got a life of their own or the speed in which a simple idea can grow given the right conditions,” says Becky.
It is making Kenyans believe that ‘Made in Kenya’ has the same or is of better quality than imported stuff. “There is a notion that ‘Made in Kenya’ is inferior and thus should cost less that that which comes rom outside,” she says.
“There is a notion that ‘Made in Kenya’ is inferior and thus should cost less than imported stuff. I am keen on changing that,” she says.
While Covid 19 may have put some brakes on the production, it has not dampened the vision. Trendy blankets are still in vogue. Before Covid-19, she would make between 20 to 25 blankets a day but when Covid-19 hit, the number reduced to about 15 a day. Currently, she is operating with two tailors doing embroidery hoping business will improve and she could perhaps hire more fundis. In fact, Becky now wants to compliment her blankets with personalised hoodies, again with personalised scriptural messages to uplift the soul. And if all goes well, she will create some beddings with recycled bedsheets and table cloths thus restoring beauty from another’s trash. For Becky, it appears the cold season heralds good business tidings.