Meet the Form Four school leaver who has built a workforce of 14
What you need to know:
- Unable to survive in the city, Mwenda returned to his rural home in Meru where he began a new life as a casual worker at construction sites.
- He didn’t last long there either. His ambition was to amass experience and rise through the ranks to become a certified fundi, but his lean, athletic frame was not a good fit for the job.
- A friend then helped him get a job at a school uniform shop in Meru town, and for the next seven years, Mwenda worked as a sales attendant.
For Mwenda Kinyua, there is nothing wrong with learning from your employer and replicating their success in your own business.
Along Tom Mboya Street in Meru town, is Mbaya Karichu building. There is nothing distinctive about it. Traders have rented floor spaces and are going about their businesses. In Room Five of this building, there is a uniform and curtains shop called Mutindwa Emporium, where workers are busy making and branding T-shirts, caps, scarves, overalls, dust coats and scarves.
The business has 14 workers in various departments ranging from customer attendants, production, embroidery and branding teams. At first glance, Mwenda Kinyua, 30, passes as just one of the workers.
“People usually think I am part of the staff, not the owner. Few can believe a young person like me can be a job creator with more than 10 employees working for him, some being his parents’ age,” he says.
His main job is to approach learning institutions, companies or organisations to offer to supply branded merchandise such as school and staff uniforms.
“Whenever I go on such missions, there are many head teachers who cannot believe a young person like me can deliver on the services I offer.” He notes that many expect the textile businesses to be dominated by older, Asian entrepreneurs.
Mwenda did not go beyond Form Four.
“After sitting my KSCE exams in 2012, I taught at a private school. However, because of poor pay, I quit after just one term. I had no qualifications or experience in teaching, so I was at the mercy of my employer who undervalued me.
“I don’t understand how I was expected to look professional and dressing well with the little pay. I soon left for Nairobi in search of greener pastures. That’s when I found work as an assistant at a shop that dealt in glass,” he says.
Unable to survive in the city, Mwenda returned to his rural home in Meru where he began a new life as a casual worker at construction sites. He didn’t last long there either. His ambition was to amass experience and rise through the ranks to become a certified fundi, but his lean, athletic frame was not a good fit for the job.
A friend then helped him get a job at a school uniform shop in Meru town, and for the next seven years, Mwenda worked as a sales attendant. It is here, Mwenda says, that the dream of running a similar business came to life.
“I saw how profitable the business was. I saw it as the ideal one, with a ready and sustainable market even during tough economic times since school children will always require uniform,” he says.
With a capital of less than Sh50, 000, he decided to venture out on his own. He is quick to add that he did not copy any of his business strategies from his previous employer, and that he did not become a direct competitor.
“If, for example, you are working in the transport sector and you understand how things work, it is normal to wish to invest in the same sector because you have that needed experience, as well as the passion and drive to do it,” he says.
Growth has been steady and he has now acquired modern equipment to help him deliver higher quality merchandise, within a shorter time frame.
Most of his clients are schools, but he has no deal with school administrators, who have been accused of asking parents to buy uniforms at certain shops.
“It is true that certain uniform shops work in cahoots with schools, but not me. We only agree with the head teachers on what items to make, brand and deliver.”
When the pandemic struck two years ago, Mwenda’s business suffered, and this forced him to craft a good strategy on how to stay afloat.
“I approached big companies seeking tenders to supply their workers with protective gear such as dustcoats, overalls and other heavy duty work wear,” he says, and comments,
“Academic qualifications and work experience are two different things. Some of my employees are graduates with impressive academic qualifications, but over time they have had to gain experience to get an edge. They may be more educated, but I’m more experienced!”
And speaking of education, Mwenda plans to enroll for a course in business management in the near future. In his free time, he invests in farming.