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How hobby turned into thriving fashion venture

Stylist Joan Aoko shows one of her dresses
Stylist Joan Aoko shows one of her dresses. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Joan Aoko’s love for fashion started when she was pretty young. He mother, she says, taught her crocheting when she was nine years old. This would later turn into a hobby, before growing into a full-blown enterprise.

"I grew up loving art, so I learned how to crochet from my late mum when I was nine years old,” Ms Aoko says.

“I picked up the art in 2015 as a hobby to keep me indoors since I'm an introvert."

Ms Aoko looked for job opportunities following her graduation in 2015 after studying International Relations and Diplomacy with IT at Maseno University. She secured a job with a county government, and later with a Non-Governmental Organisation, where she worked until 2017.

In her two jobs, one thing made her different from her colleagues; during her lunch break, she was busy crocheting as her colleagues were busy hanging out at their favourite food joints.

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Although this was just a hobby, she earned extra coin from it. She turned the hobby into business in 2016, naming it Byaoko, which is derived from her name Aoko.

When her contract with the NGO ended, she had made up her mind that she was not going back to employment.

"I started my business with Sh500. I remember I bought a packet of acrylic wool for Sh400 and crochet hook at Sh100," she says.

Her first work was baby shoes which she made after watching a tutorial on You tube.

"Well, it didn't turn out perfect, but it was a good start. I later made a scarf, then a bikini, and that is when I opened Instagram account to market my work," she recalls.

She got her first client on her social media page who bought five pairs of baby booties at Sh1,000.

Stylist Joan Aoko

Stylist Joan Aoko. PHOTO | COURTESY

"I was very excited and I kept on telling my friends how crochet pays. I lost touch with my first client but I remember her words, she told me I would make it really big,” she adds.

Her designs now include dresses, crochet swimwear, baby-wear, warm-weather wears and bridal wear.

She currently has a sizable clientele, making her to work extra hours to meet increasing demand.

She ventured into bridal wear after successfully making her own wedding dress in 2019.

"I never thought I would even craft a wedding dress but here we are," she says.

The pricing for her products depends on the type of material used, technicality of the design, time taken and size.

The swimwear prices start from Sh2,500, dresses Sh7,500 while bridal dresses go for Sh45,000 and above.

The entrepreneur, who has three workers, makes an average of Sh 100, 000 net profit monthly.

She has three "I market my products on social media especially on Instagram. Referrals from previous clients have also increased my client base,” she tells Enterprise.

“With technology we learn every day. I hope to be done soon with my website construction and explore more avenues of marketing."

Most of her clients buy crochet wear for special occasions, as gifts for events such as birthday or as holiday outfits.

The customers, she says, view them as a luxury wear that make them stand out.

"I customise to client size, colour of choice, and style. This enables the client to have a perfect fit, bringing their sense of fashion and personality to life," says Ms Aoko.

She notes that most readymade outfits don't offer the combination.

“The fact that you can't find the crochet pieces in every store makes them unique,” she says.

However, she notes that anything handmade is labour-intensive and time consuming especially crochet. " I could take five hours for a crop top, a day or two for swimwear depending on technicality, a month to two for bridal dresses," says Ms Aoko.

She has since trained people who help her whenever she is in need of mass production.

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