Former teacher sets up thriving clothing shops

Jade Collections founder Banice Mburu at her
Jade Collections founder Banice Mburu at her second Nairobi store yesterday. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA  

Banice Mburu quit her teaching job 11 years ago and, despite spirited attempts by her parents to send her to the United States to further her studies, opted to go into business.

The media-shy 45-year-old has grown her business from an exhibition stall in Nakuru to present day Jade Collections; a multimillion shilling enterprise with presence in Thika, Eldoret and Nairobi.

Last week, the fashion retailer opened its second branch in Nairobi (at the junction of Tom Mboya Street and Haile Selassie Avenue) bringing Jade’s total store count to four.

By the end of the year, Ms Mburu plans to open two new outlets in Nairobi and Kisumu even as she shops for more space in Westlands and along Ngong Road.

I was not comfortable

“I trained at Kagumo Teachers Training College and when I proceeded to teaching I was not comfortable. I always felt like something was missing,” Ms Mburu told Enterprise.

“My parents wanted to sponsor my studies in the US. I knew that whatever level of education I would achieve, I would still want to do business.”

When she was in high school she would go to the best tailors in Eldoret, her hometown, buy materials and proceed to sew her own designs.

This fashion bug did not let up even when she was actively teaching Geography and Agriculture at Flamingo Secondary School in Nakuru.

During the school holidays, Ms Mburu would travel to Johannesburg to buy clothes for sale using her personal savings.

Since she did not have any permanent premise, she “hawked the clothes” to her customers.

She decided, in 1995, to leave the classroom for good and channel her efforts and time in her fledgling fashion business; a move she said was the “natural thing” to do.

Her parents were businesspeople in Eldoret town and also ran a farm, operations from which she picked up important business lessons that have helped her to date.

As her business grew, she moved to owning three exhibition tables (a model of retail that was in vogue at the time) before moving into an independent store at Millennium Exhibition in Nakuru.

In 2005 Ms Mburu moved to Nairobi where she continued operating from an exhibition centre located in the central business district (CBD).

Tragedy would however strike, threatening to sink her new enterprise. In 2006 Charterhouse Bank was placed under statutory management following money laundering allegations, locking in Ms Mburu’s Sh18 million to date.

Around the same time she lost a 40-foot container full of supplies on the high seas. The twin tragedies almost derailed her business but the single mother of one picked herself up and went on to open what would now become a household name in the family fashion industry.

“If you have ever lost anything when your business was just making its baby steps, you should know that you can always start over,” she said, while thanking God for enabling her bounce back.

After a laborious search for a shop in the CBD lasting over one year, Ms Mburu finally found a large enough space at the Meru South building along Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street, opposite the Fire Station.

The shop, she said, was in a pathetic state and she had to do plenty of renovations, including adding a mezzanine floor. Ms Mburu said that her biggest challenge at the time was finding professional employees.

She did not have prior experience in employing staff and so, regrettably, recruited anyone from her family, friends and neighbours.

The first Jade Collections shop, with around 25 employees, was finally opened for business in 2008.

In the formative months, she remembers that the business was “shaky” but she soon realised that the problem was in staffing as some were not cut out for the job.

“We now can afford to engage a recruiting agency to train, mentor and develop our employees,” she said, adding that the business has about 250 staff.

Competitive market

The fashion house operates in a highly competitive clothing and apparel market whose other players include Tuskys Essentials, Deacons, Woolworths, Kings Collection and Mr Price.

Despite the stiff competition, Jade has grown and expanded to Thika and Eldoret and the latest Nairobi store.

Over the next five years, the fashion entrepreneur intends to open 12 more branches across the country even as she works towards opening a factory in Thika for local production.

The land will also host a warehouse and see the business cease renting space.

The fashion house currently stocks 15 per cent of local production and the rest is sourced from the Far East and Europe.

Ms Mburu, who said she is open to partnership deals, also plans to build a fashion and leadership school in Lukenya.

“Most people are not pursuing what they love. If you do what you love, you get the best out of it. Training is important since it gives you the necessary backing in your area of specialisation,” she said.