Three women tell us how pursuing their passion and finding their life’s purpose makes them fall in love with their work over and over again.
IRENE WANJIKU, 32, OF REXE ROOFING PRODUCTS LIMITED
“I started my company in November 2011. Rexe Roofing Products Limited manufactures and supplies residential and commercial roofing products. My company is known for shingles – we are the sole distributor of Iko products here in Kenya. Iko is a Belgian company that’s a global leader in the roofing business. I had worked in an imports firm for five years, first as a receptionist, then in accounts then logistics. I left the company in October 2011.
“The thing about my work that gives me a kick every morning is the joy we give to our clients and inspire them to dream bigger. We also work with the underserved / underprivileged in the community. The training we offer empowers them, giving them a sense of belonging and raises their economic status. It’s an important tool of impact to their communities.
“One of our more public and most recent clients was the The Hub, the shopping mall in Karen. I recently visited the mall and I was excited when one of the shoppers commented about how beautiful the shingles make the mall look. For new homeowners, seeing the joy of having a Rexe roof gives me such fulfilment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven around the country and spotted Rexe roofs everywhere, elegantly standing out above the rest. One of my least favourite aspects of my work is finding a contractor misadvising the client to use a roofing product that will not last for more than five years, and yet a good roof should last a lifetime.
“I don’t ever consider going back to salaried employment. Employment is great when you are starting out as it equips you with discipline and work ethics. I am more fulfilled facing the tough challenges that come with running my own business and overcoming them.
In the beginning, it was difficult to get financing from the banks because our business was still new. Now we get the support we need. Competition also gave me sleepless nights, but it was unfair competition because they’d try to undermine us.
Our consistency in providing excellent workmanship and products that were of high quality, as well as excellent after-sales services, made clients quickly realise we were offering the best roofing solutions.
“Rexe has been in business for five years now. We are soon joining the manufacturing industry to create more employment as well as build our economy and keep up with the innovation spirit.”
DAPHINE OKONJI, 32, OF ELLE INTERIORS
“I found my passion for interior design after I was fired from my HR job, a job I had for less than six months. Elle Interior Designers opened shop in 2008.
“That I don’t know what to expect when I walk through my office door every morning keeps me in a constant state of positive energy. It’s unpredictable: Trends change constantly, customers are growing daily, people’s perceptions and attitudes towards interior design are getting refined more and more thanks to the internet and cable TV. Interior design has grown to become a cornerstone in African modern culture.
“What I love most about my work is meeting people. Customers are the essence of any meaningful business. Even the bad customers help you become better at your craft if your attitude is right. Engaging with different clients and going out on a limb to create the home or office design of their dreams is the most fulfilling part of my work. My least favourite part would be meetings! I’m more a field person and a creative so board meetings and formal engagements are a bore for me.
“I would never go back to employment for the simple reason that I live my passion. That’s a rare privilege that not many people have gotten the chance to do. Money does not drive me. Using my natural talent and in a positive way is what this is all about. There are pros and cons to everything and I can’t say entrepreneurship is better than employment and vice versa – it’s all a matter of where you really fit in. In the first year or so it crossed my mind to float my CV to prospective employers. But after almost 10 years running my own company, I am too set in my ways to look back.
“Entrepreneurship is as challenging as it is fulfilling. In 2015, a weak shilling and a slump in the construction industry meant a few ripples were felt amongst business people and my company was no different. Late payments by clients and debts led many start-ups and small businesses to shut down that year. We got through, thank God.
“The future is abundant with promise! In the next five years, I see the company bigger and better. We’ve already partnered with international suppliers and paint dealers. We’re currently training hundreds of people to start their own successful and responsible interior design firms across Africa. I’m thinking of going into commercial farming or another branch of business.
HAJILA KIMERIA, 32, OF KOITOTO DESIGNS
“I was a bio-research chemist working in a lab for three years before pursuing my passion in make-up artistry, painting and hand-making African jewellery. I opened my business in early 2011.
“What I love about being in business and my own boss is having the privilege of planning and deciding how my day goes. What I love about my work is the creativity. The thing about it that gives me joy is just being in that creative zone and never knowing what the things I am working on will look in the end. Many of my designs have come out of mistakes or sheer guess work! On the flipside, having a creative mind means that I get lost in time, sometimes going off on a tangent. I find sticking to a work schedule difficult. This poses a problem in that I am both the boss and the worker, I should handle and plan my time better.
“I’ve never considered going back to salaried employment. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that such thoughts cross my mind because my creativity has been stifled. So I drive myself to get out of that creative funk: I start working on a new design, take photos to update my Instagram and Facebook page, look around for inspiration and think hard about growing the business.
“The biggest challenge I have faced as an entrepreneur is capital. Last year, I took a risky step and opened a shop on Riara Road, near Nakumatt Junction in Nairobi. The risk turned out for the better: some friends stepped forward and gave me monetary support. They said they were inspired at how I had stuck it out against all the odds. Then early this year, another friend joined in to support me further in getting the cosmetics end of the business going. I also have an upcoming contract with a foreign jewellery store to be their designer. It’s inspiring!
“In the next six years, I envision Koitoto growing from a small business to a company. My products will be a brand name. Not necessarily a household name, I don’t want fame, but they will be highly sort after, especially by people who love creativity and want to own a special and unique item. I also envision having the products available in select stores that share my vision, which is valuing African products that are locally made, creative and of good quality.”