How ex-security guard turned tailoring skills into fortune

Shoppers at one of Fredrick Mulinge’s shops. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG
Shoppers at one of Fredrick Mulinge’s shops. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG  

Fredrick Mutua Mulinge, 70, came to Mombasa as a student at Aga Khan High School in 1967. 

After completing his secondary school education, rather than head back home to Kitui, Mr Mulinge decided to stay put and was employed as a security guard for two years. 

“I did not settle there, I went to search for a job at Umoja Clothing, a company that made uniforms. I worked there for six months. I later joined Mombasa Garments where I worked for five years,” he said.

Mr Mulinge decided to join his brother at Coast Uniform where he worked from 1977 to 1981.  

“After I learnt everything about tailoring, I decided to open my own company the same year I left Coast Uniform,” he told Enterprise during an interview.

Soon thereafter he rented sewing machines and opened Mombasa Uniforms Limited in a small shop in Mwembe Tayari.

Three years later his two workers were sewing uniforms for 10 schools in the coastal town.

“I did not have capital. Everything I had was borrowed. I told my workers to be patient with me. Money started trickling in several months later as we attracted customers,” he said.

When business grew Mr Mulinge expanded his shop and stocked all sorts of uniforms; from shoes to socks to bags for kindergarten pupils, primary, high school, and tertiary students. He even made uniforms for companies. Today, Mr Mulinge has 18 branches and 400 workers countrywide.

He has a workshop in Mombasa where the clothes are made. He sources high quality raw materials from local companies.

“I have branches in Malindi, Kilifi, Ukunda, Kinango, Mariakani, Voi, Makindu, Makueni, Kitui, Machakos, Uasin Gishu, Webuye, Kitale, Bungoma, Kakamega, Busia and Kisumu. My company grew due to loyal customers who referred others to my shop.

‘‘Those from upcountry urged us to open more outlets in rural areas,” he said.

Economy is Bad

He urged Kenyans to build local businesses through buying locally manufactured goods.

“Sometimes we import materials but they are fake hence I decided to stick with those manufactured locally. I have never gone to tailoring school but I loved sewing.

‘‘This business has catered for all my needs. My children are in Canada and South Africa. I wouldn’t have achieved the feat without tailoring. I took my five children to the best schools,” he said. He urged young people to try their hand at entrepreneurship:

“Establish what you are good at and use it to earn a living; be it sports, arts or crafts. Work hard, be disciplined and always trust in God.”

His business, which he runs with his youngest son and wife, booms during school opening days.

“Hundreds of students and their parents flock to my shops. We handle more than 10,000 customers in Mombasa when schools open. My price is a bit high due to the good quality,” he said.

Mr Mulinge has also had a share of losses.

“The economy is bad, the price of materials has risen and that is why our clothes are a bit expensive.

‘‘Customers bargain even for a pair of socks. I understand their situation because I am also feeling the pinch,” he said.