Queens of 'mitumba' business tell us how it's done
What you need to know:
Christine Wanjiru, 32, ventured into hawking after high school.
Later, she started doing a business that entailed travelling but this was cut short by a spinal injury that nearly left her paralysed.
Today she runs a successful mitumba business, which she partnered with a friend.
Christine Wanjiru had an entrepreneurial mind from her younger days. "I had loved business since I was very young and so when I completed high school, I started hawking small perishable and non-perishable items before I joined college," explains Wanjiru.
"From the proceeds I made in my hawking business, I was able to cater for some of my basic needs thus lightening the financial burden and making it easier for my mum."
The mother of two studied Supply Chain Management and started a 'mitumba' (second hand clothes) business two and a half years ago. "I had been working in a parastatal before resigning and venturing into my current business.” Today, she imports mitumba bales and together with her partner, Catherine Njeru, she is successfully running a business that puts food on the table and pays the bills.
However, it was not always smooth sailing. "After college, I got my first job in a beauty parlour, where I worked for a short while before leaving to follow my heart. I started saving from the little I was making and saved enough money to start a business. I ventured into the business of selling men’s clothes, which made me travel to Kampala in Uganda twice a month," she explains. "Life was all nice and cosy until I developed a spinal problem, which got me almost paralysed.
After treatment, the doctor advised me to take it easy. I could no longer travel for long distances, which marked the end of my business," says Wanjiru. She later started looking for a job and that was how she landed one as a procurement officer at a parastatal.
"I worked in the procurement department but I did not feel like I was growing. It felt like I was caught up in a time warp. There was no challenge. My schedule was pretty much the same day in day out," explains Wanjiru. "I would report to work, work on the local purchase orders (LPOs) on my desk and be done by 11am. No one really followed up on how we spent the remainder of the working hours and at 5pm, I'd leave the office.
I felt wasted. I felt I could do more with all those hours as I hate wasting time," she narrates. Wanjiru said she felt uncomfortable at how her colleagues seemed comfortable watching movies in the office not knowing they could be making more money out there.
"By the eighth month, I had decided I wasn't going to waste more time. Earlier, I had met a friend who worked in Gikomba market. She had told me about 'mitumba' bales," says Wanjiru. I had no idea about how to go about it but I was ready to learn, she says. After handing in her resignation letter, she went in search of her friend. "My friend taught me how to go about it and I started off."
Wanjiru started buying and selling bales of mitumba clothes.
"Bales are usually well labelled depending on what's inside. Importing a container is quiet expensive and so I partnered with my friend, Catherine," she narrates. "The container takes about two months to arrive and as we wait for our consignment, we source from other suppliers locally.”
Once the new venture kicked off, Wanjiru realised it wasn't as rosy as she had hoped. "It was hard getting customers in such a vast market and so I had to look for ways to survive," she says. "I opted to open a Facebook page - Grade 1 Mtumba Bales - for advertising.
It took time before picking but eventually we gained trust from our customers. We have never met 90 per cent of our customers but we operate on trust," explains Wanjiru. The clients send them money and their location and the ladies send them the bales, which they import from Canada. Since the duo sells the bales in wholesale, it is easier to dispose of them and import others.
As a way of giving back to the society in their own small way, Wanjiru helps youth start their own businesses. "I usually enlist the assistance of my friends on social media, who help me identify needy young people with a love for business. I then give them bales, which they pay for after they have sold.
This helps to build them as they do not have to raise the capital to buy the bales in advance," she explains. "We also advertise them on our social media pages and they are able to stay in the market," she says.