What you need to know:
- Mercy’s biggest challenge is the location of her business. She operates from her rural village where roads are poor.
- "When her online clients want to visit her village and she shares the terrain and condition of the roads with them, they often decline the visit.
- “Communication networks are also poor. Sometime clients can’t reach me, so I lose them. However, I believe that every business has its share of challenges,” Mercy Mugao says.
BY PAUL KARIUKI
Mercy Mugao, 28, graduated with a Bachelor of science degree in agriculture economics from Karatina University College. Like many graduates who fail to find jobs after graduating, she went back to her rural home in Kitui and began a basket weaving business. Four years on, she has no regrets.
“Lack of a job forced me to think outside the box, so I ventured into basket weaving. I believe a university degree is only important if it is generating income for the holder, but if it is just lying idle in an envelope somewhere, it is of no use.
“When I graduated, I got the sense that my community needed me even more. Most of them are uneducated and they believe that a graduate can offer them some help, and that is why I turned to basketry. I teach women how to weave, thereby empowering them economically. By doing this, I am also giving back to the society,” she says.
But was it not an oddity for Mercy to take up weaving, a skill she didn’t study, and one that doesn’t require any formal education to learn?
“Basketry has helped me earn income, which I don’t think I could be generating while employed. In addition to weaving, I also rear goats. I believe if I were employed, I would need an assistant to take care of my goats,” she says.
Mercy has declined several job offers to concentrate on her current venture. One such offer promised a very low salary, so she continued with basket weaving, which pays all her bills.
“I was told that I was in a wrong career path and should instead aim to utilise my academic knowledge. But I am not about to change my vision. I want to grow my business to international level, and I am no longer interested in being employed,” she says.
Despite Kenyans’ love for imported items and scorn for locally made products, Mercy says that the local market has been very receptive of her products.
“I can sell about 1,000 pieces of woven basket patterns in a month. The price of each pattern varies as some patterns are small and others are huge.”
To find the market for her products, Mercy has tapped on social medial platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. She runs a page known as Ndara Basket Weavers where she advertises different woven products.
“My customers have access to these online applications. Mainly, I get large orders from event organisers and those who own curio shops both locally and abroad.”
Clients who come with special orders that need to be customised usually have to wait for at least 12 weeks to have their orders delivered.
Not every startup is capital intensive. Mercy began her venture with zero capital. Her father had planted doum palm plants, and that is where she found the raw material.
“I harvested the leaves and used them to make my first three baskets, which I sold at Sh600 each. I continued making the baskets and when the demand rose, I requested my mum to help me. She is an expert in weaving from her childhood and I inherited weaving skills from her,” she says.
The demand kept rising, so she approached several women in her Kirikoni village in Thagicu sub-county, Kitui County, and taught them how to weave different basket patterns. She also encouraged them to come together to form a basket weaving group.
“At first I was criticised and some asked me if this is all that a graduate could do. The negativity pushed me to put more efforts in my business. I knew that if we came together, more women would directly and indirectly benefit from the venture.”
Mercy’s biggest challenge is the location of her business. She operates from her rural village where roads are poor. When her online clients want to visit her village and she shares the terrain and condition of the roads with them, they often decline the visit.
“Communication networks are also poor. Sometime clients can’t reach me, so I lose them. However, I believe that every business has its share of challenges,” she says.
So, what makes her baskets unique?
“I use the three-knot stitch, which is unique, beautiful and scarce. They are also quite affordable,” she says.
The other factor is patterns. Each day she comes up with a new pattern, which makes her baskets attractive.
“I always tell my weavers that weaving is an art. We must regularly release new weaving designs in the market.”
Her baskets are made from pure natural materials unlike some baskets made from plastic non-diobiodegradable materials. This makes her baskets more eco-friendly.
She often faces uncertainties, and finding ways to cope with them keeps her going.
“I realised we don’t graduate in order to get jobs but to create them. We should open our minds and seize more opportunities.”
The closest that Mercy has come to formal employment was when she was an intern at the Public Service Commission. Her dream is to expand her business and employ more women in her home area.
She makes the baskets daily until late in the night, and notes that weaving needs commitment, otherwise she would never complete the orders on time.