Stitching uniforms becomes a blessing for ex-civic leader

Akila Enterprises owner James Kabarita (left) takes visitors on a tour of his business. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Akila Enterprises owner James Kabarita (left) takes visitors on a tour of his business. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Failure to recapture a civic seat in the 2007 General Election was a blessing in disguise for James Kabarita.

After unsuccessfully contesting the Ruguru ward seat in Nyeri County, Mr Kabarita decided to actualise lessons learnt during a civic leaders’ seminar in Dar es Salaam that also saw them visit Zanzibar Island.

At the retreat in his earlier term as a nominated councillor, a life coach had challenged the leaders to think beyond politics:  “do you face death after losing a political seat?” he had asked.

Mr Kabarita pondered over the question and responded by setting up a Sh5 million school uniform-making venture in Karatina Town.

He conducted a feasibility study that revealed schools bought branded uniforms from Nairobi.

“Devolution informed my investment as each county would have its own industries and the mandate to generate jobs for their people. This was an opportunity I would not ignore,” he recalls.

Mr Kabarita bought two knitting and two sewing machines and set up his business at Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE), Karatina, in 2008.

KIE is a government-funded incubator. It gives mid-sized entrepreneurs space to set up their businesses and also issues them with loans at concessional rates. He employed four full-time workers but the bigger challenge was getting embroidery machine operators. Mr Kabarita solved the problem by training workers.

“I deliberately did this to increase the number of local operators to mitigate on costs of hiring a specialist every time I got big orders.

‘‘I run a small training school which has trained eight people who are now self-employed,” he says.

He embarked on a marketing campaign to solicit for tenders for school uniforms but ran out of capital when orders started flowing in.

“An order for 600 sweaters requires Sh500,000 capital to buy materials and knitting wool reels. If you get five orders, you need Sh2.5 million capital to meet the demand. We need a bank for businesspeople which can listen and act promptly,” he said.

He is yet to receive a loan from KIE and blames red tape for his predicament.

His company makes embroidery on 50 sweaters per day, translating to about 18,000 sweaters in a year. Akila Enterprises’ net earnings in a good year surpasses Sh2 million, says Mr Kabarita. He adds that businesspeople need incentives to expand their businesses and employ more people.

His firm makes students’ dresses, sweaters, tracksuits, shorts, shirts and blouses.

“I have not been able to meet demand since my capacity is small. I have ventured into making staff uniforms for cooks, security guards and overcoats for local shopkeepers,” he says.

Mr Kabarita says politicians denied him business during the recent campaigns as they bought branded T-Shirts and caps directly from China.

“This must be discouraged since it denies us income. Politicians should source campaign materials within their counties as that will boost industries and create jobs for locals,” he says.

To ensure continuity for his business, Mr Kabarita has roped in his children who handle various tasks. He also sponsors them to attend entrepreneurial training workshops when they the opportunity arises.