In 2003, months after completing her diploma in business management at the Nairobi Institute of Business Studies, Emma Wairimu Kamotho was unable to find a job.
She thus decided to start selling clothes with Sh2,500 capital, but today she makes Sh300,000 profit a month.
“I shared the idea with my parents, who offered to support me with the starting capital. What drove me was the need to support myself and cut the dependency on my parents,” Ms Kamotho says.
“With the money, I went to Gikomba market and bought clothes worth Sh2,500. I then became a roadside clothes seller at Toi Market ( in Nairobi’s Kibera area).”
Her decision to venture into the second-hand clothes market was driven by the fact that most Kenyans buy such clothes rather than new ones.
Data show that Kenya is the largest buyer of used clothes in East Africa, with imports totalling $124 million in 2016.
The mitumba industry sustains approximately 121,000 direct and 27,000 indirect jobs, according to 2017 research by the USAID on the second-hand clothes market.
As she was a regular shopper herself at Toi Market before she started selling clothes, Ms Kamotho understood the terrain of the area well. She picked a spot near the entrance of the market, where there was a lot of foot traffic.
She started selling women’s clothes including socks, swimming costumes, skin tights and night dresses. She then expanded to selling men’s wears and baby clothes.
“In my first month, I sold all the stock making Sh10,000 in profit. I had bought clothes worth an average Sh30 or Sh40 each and sell at Sh100 each. The following month I bought a larger stock and expanded into clothes for all genders, and the business picked up,” says Ms Kamotho.
Despite the good profit she was making, selling by the roadside had its challenges. The dust would make her wares look dirty, discouraging buyers. Also, when it rained, the area would be muddy, making it impossible for her to spread her clothes in the open air market.
Additionally it offered no privacy for her customers to fit the clothes. The City Council askaris were also often on her neck, demanding their pound of flesh.
To overcome some of these challenges, she rented her first stall in Toi Market at Sh5,000 in 2006. She had already established a loyal customer base, so when she informed them that she had changed location, they followed her to the new site.
“It took me about three years to expand and open my first stall. My lady customers really loved the privacy that the stall would provide because it allowed them to fit clothes before purchasing. They recommend me to other customers thus my sales also increased,” said Kamotho.
Having a stall also enabled her to buy more stock as she had somewhere to store them.
“I opened the second and the third stall three years ago. I chose to open all the stalls in Toi Market because of the foot traffic especially on weekends. For all the three, I pay Sh21,000 rent a month and from each, I make about Sh100,000 a month in profit,” she says. Her main challenge currently is that at times she may not get the kind of clothes she needs at Gikomba.
Sometimes she only gets for one gender or one size, limiting the choices for her customers.
“When this happens, I usually note down the customers’ specific preferences and their phone numbers so that when I get what they need I contact them . This has won me many loyal customers,” she says.
The mother of three says she plans to visit international exhibitions such as in China where she can import new stock.
- African Laughter