How Tedd Josiah stitched his luxury bags companyWednesday March 08 2023
Wearing a silver grey Kaunda suit that struggled to fit his rangy body, Edmond Josiah, or Tedd Josiah as he is known by many, moved around Sarova Stanley’s ballroom multitasking.
If he was not catching up with guests he had known for years like Mike Strano, a music executive, Tedd was busy with journalists.
All this time, he appeared attentive to a fault despite the noise and commotion that echoed throughout the ballroom.
That was November 27, 2015. It was the first time I was meeting Tedd just after a five-year self-imposed exile in the UK.
The 53-year-old legendary music producer credited with creating big acts of past times, Suzzana Owiyo, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, Nazizi, Wyre, Didge, Achieng’ Abura, Nameless, just to name a few, had done a promo song ‘Domo’ for Raila Odinga that rubbed some politicians the wrong way.
A year had passed since he returned home and on that eventful day at Sarova, he was launching his new business venture, SwaRnB record label, an ambitious project that died soon after it was birthed.
While in the UK, he had toyed with several ideas of how he could plunge himself into the entrepreneurial world once he returned home.
Music had not made him money “after 30 years of producing over 100 hits.”
“I had a five-year thought process of how to become an entrepreneur that started while I was in the UK. I wondered if to set up a lingerie shop; a living room, couches and buffed guys serving ladies wine and champagne as they shopped. That might have been a stupid idea,” he giggles.
He dropped the idea and thought of something artsy.
“I then thought of starting a record label that had a brand name and that’s how SwaRnB (Swahili-RnB) came about,” he says.
Tedd says some people had started buying into the idea and he felt it could be an opportunity to make money. While overseas, he had toured tutoring music and video production, saving enough for his venture.
“I introduced SwaRnB by working with Masauti as the first signed artist but as soon as I produced his first ever hit Mahabuba he took off.”
That marked the end of SwaRnB.
“At that point, I started feeling like music and fashion were a good idea but I was investing too much money in creating musicians who didn't care about this new brand I was building. I thought to myself, 'why keep on building other people’s brands and not mine?'”
In 2016, he bumped into Regina Katar, a fashion enthusiast, and they soon married.
“I was fortunate to meet Reggy (Regina) a very good musician but also someone who had an eye for fashion. It was her idea that we start designing leather jackets, and African shirts. Then she got pregnant,” he says.
The 53-year-old fights back tears as he shares how his late wife coined the vision of his current business.
We are seated in his backyard in Runda, Nairobi as he narrates fond memories of Katar who died of childbirth complications on September 30, 2017, just three months after delivering their daughter Jameela Josiah.
Read: How Kenyan designer stitched a fashion line fit for financiers
Tedd is not the same guy I met at Sarova seven years ago, he has since bulked.
“I used to hit the gym back then, but now I am old, all I think about is making money and building a legacy that I will leave behind for JJ (Jameela),” he says.
Tedd's home houses the JokaJok leather studio. The brand derives its name from the initials of his name, his late wife, and their seven-year-old daughter.
“The leather studio is more spacious than where we were before. We had to move because the business grew and we wanted a decent place for clients who ask to visit the factory,” he says.
From a distance, the workshop is buzzing with activities. One employee is cutting leather into measurements, another is assaulting an unfinished bag against a stitching machine.
The start-up began with one stitching machine, a slash cutter, and an artisan, but now he has about seven machines. On Instagram, his main marketing platform, he has just placed a job alert, he is in search of five leather stitchers and two leather cutters.
“The team is growing with demand, we currently have seven full-time employees. We also outsource when the workload is excess,” he says.
At JokaJok, they work 24 hours. Shifts are neatly planned to ensure production never stops until it's Sunday then the routine resumes the next day.
The bags are priced between Sh12,500 and Sh30,000 and Tedd, though he no longer produces music, still has his in-house studio operational, and insists the prices are a bargain.
“Leather is expensive to work with, it is a luxurious product because processing and creating hides is an expensive venture. But also you purchase it per square foot and whatever the size of the hide is, is what you buy, it’s never cut into little pieces,” he says.
Wendo Tote, a feminine bag named after JJ, is JokaJok’s best seller.
“Wendo means love, it’s our bestseller. It costs Sh2,400 to purchase the leather alone, now put into consideration all the other factors of production before you can have a finished product, I strongly believe it’s a bargain,” Tedd says.
Two of Tedd’s high-profile customers who might have been spotted flaunting the Wendo Tote are Chief Justice Martha Koome and former Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina.
A call interrupts the conversation and he hangs up.
Since he set out to build JokaJok as part of his grieving process, all he did was share the products on his social media and it was not long before the brand gained traction.
JokaJok's Instagram page so far has over 28,000 followers and his personal Instagram page has over 309,000 where he is omnipresent.
“I have never marketed my product any other place other than on my socials and it gives me so much satisfaction to see people believing in a Kenyan brand and willing to put aside a Gucci.”
He gives an analogy of how he figured out his social media numbers could translate into revenue.
“Let’s just say you have 3,000 followers, take 10 percent of those who are your die-hard fans, that’s 300 people then cut that down to only 100 loyalties then ask them every month to give you Sh3,000 for an item you are selling, that’s Sh300,000. In a year how much is that? You could buy some land. That’s how I looked at it, at the time I only had 150,000 followers, then I asked how much they could buy a leather product for and they gave us a range. I collected people’s views including what designs they would like and brought all that together in one pool,” he says.
But even having been this calculative, Tedd sold only two bags in the month the business started. He vividly remembers his first two clients and offers to gift them new bags.
Read: How shopping gone sour gave birth to thriving Nairobi furniture firm
“I sold one to a pilot and a banker. Each of those bags was Sh39,000 but I am glad they believed in us,” he says.
As a start-up, he says he can only talk of profits in the fifth year.
“At the moment, we are still in this big hole we dug ourselves into where we invested money and time. I can’t tell you what the profits and losses are but I can tell you the business is growing,” he says.
JokaJok not only sells locally, but he also says, he has customers in Nigeria, South Africa, the US, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Dubai, and South Sudan.
Then he narrates an incident that had him knocking his head on the wall.
“Last year we received an order of 5,000 bags from a South African firm then they cancelled at the last minute saying they were not going to work with us but a different producer in Mauritius or was it Seychelles? I was so hurt and broken because I had seen myself walking inside a showroom and coming out driving a Bentley,” he says throwing a glance at his old Pajero and smiling.