Is entrepreneurship a solution to the massive unemployment challenge in the country? Some would argue that young people should rely on their own hustles to make a living due to the huge gap between available jobs and the number of qualified people. However, other people are of the view that entrepreneurship is a tough game that has its own obstacles such as raising capital, acquiring licenses and the huge rate of entrepreneurship ventures that have failed.
This was an interesting conversation I had with Joyce Wagaki, an entrepreneur who started from scratch and is slowly building her brand in African inspired fashion.
If you had told her 5 years ago that she would be a successful entrepreneur, Joyce would have laughed that idea off as impossible. How could she be an entrepreneur yet she was a Journalism and Media Studies graduate, with an amazing voice and a ‘bright future’ in the media industry?
“Before I graduated, I got a 3 month internship at a leading media house. We did a voice test and my voice set me apart from the other interns landing me reporting duties both on radio and on the lunch hour T.V bulletin. I knew then that my goal in life was to be a news reporter and eventually become a news anchor.” Joyce said.
After finally graduating from media school, Joyce was positive it wouldn’t be long before she got a job. She prepared her C.V and her Cover letter and started applying for reporting jobs in the media. She didn’t get any positive responses immediately but she kept applying, kept working on her C.V and following up on the jobs she had applied for.
About 3 years after her graduation with no success in getting employment, Joyce’s sister who was accommodating her in Nairobi got another opportunity in China leaving Joyce to fend for herself while sending her money from time to time for her upkeep.
Seeing her job applications for news reporter/news anchor were not bearing any fruits, she went an extra mile and sent her C.V with voice recordings of herself hoping this would set her apart. Unfortunately no station picked her and this left Joyce frustrated and disappointed.
“I knew I couldn’t go back home because I did not want to burden my parents. Even though my sister supported me, I still needed my independence.”
Entrepreneurship or Employment?
One day, Joyce’s sister saw some handbags in China which had unique prints. Amazingly, the bags were so cheap. She reached out to Joyce and asked her if she would be interested in selling the bags in Kenya.
“At first I was reluctant because I had never thought of being an entrepreneur. However, my sister convinced me to give it a try since one of my strengths was the ability to convince people.”
Joyce’s sister sent the first batch of 20 bags and 20 ear rings. True to her word, the bags had a unique design and print compared to the bags in the market then.
“I knew that my livelihood depended on the sale of those bags and ear rings so I did everything I could to sell them. I started by selling to my close friends and church mates. I also went to town daily with a backpack stashed with some bags and walked office by office selling the bags. Sometimes, I didn’t make any sales, I had to deal with some clients who were so rude but that did not deter me.”
However, this whole time, her mind was still set in the media. She sold bags during the day and in the evening, she did her recordings and kept applying for jobs.
“Impressively, I managed to sell all the 20 bags and ear rings and made a profit of Ksh. 30,000. My sister had bought and shipped the bags and ear rings at only Ksh. 10,000 in China. Since the bags were unique, I sold them at Ksh.800 – Ksh. 1000 per bag and the ear rings at Ksh. 250.”
The Birth of Gaki Collections
This experience made Joyce rethink her initial decision of being employed full time in the media to actually taking entrepreneurship more seriously. Her sister kept sending her bags from China and with time, she expanded her collection to leather bags which were more official compared to the printed ones. She even opened a face book page, Bags and Leather to take advantage of the online market.
Joyce sold the bags for a while and the returns were great, she was able to pay her bills but due to unavoidable circumstances, the bags business was not sustainable.
“I had to think on my feet since I couldn’t keep running an unsustainable business and I still had financial obligations. I thought of going back to applying for jobs but considering how far I had come, this wasn’t an option for me.” Joyce said.
One day Joyce had gone to Eastleigh to meet up a friend. However, as is the typical Kenyan style, her friend kept her waiting for over an hour.
“I was so frustrated when my friend eventually never showed up and called to cancel our meeting. Instead of wasting my day, I decided to take a walk around Eastleigh and window shop because Eastleigh was popular for getting quality items at affordable prices.”
As she was window shopping, Joyce met some ladies selling deras. At the time, she didn’t even know what deras were since it was 2014 and deras were still a new concept in Nairobi.
“I got curious and asked the lady to tell me more about deras, how much they cost, how they are made, e.t.c. She sold me a material for Ksh. 300 then directed me to a tailor who sew the dera for me at only 50 shillings and in a few minutes, the dera was ready.”
Joyce was so impressed with the end result that she wore the dera to church the next Sunday. Being a lover of taking photos, she took a photo of herself wearing the dera and posted it on facebook that Sunday evening.
“When I woke up the next day, I was surprised to get a lot of requests from my comment section and inbox from people who loved the dera and wanted one for themselves. I was so shocked by the numerous requests but I also saw this as a great business opportunity. Also most people perceived Eastleigh to be unsafe and I took advantage of that by being the middle person between the traders and my clients.”
However, Joyce still hadn’t figured out how she would run the dera business since she needed people’s sizes thus each dera needed to be custom made. So she asked people to send her their measurements and design preferences and she would ensure they get their deras delivered to them at a fee of Ksh. 500.”
That was when Joyce opened Gaki Collections, a face book page that she used to sell deras.
“With time, one of my clients asked me if she could get African sandals to wear with her dera. At that time, I had no idea where I would get African sandals but one lesson entrepreneurship had taught me was, You do not tell a client No, Just say Yes and figure it out later.”
That is exactly how Joyce started the Gaki collection sandal line which consists of custom made sandals tailored to a client’s needs. All a client needs to do is send details of their shoe size, what color and design they would like their sandals to have and Joyce makes sure she gets the sandals made and delivered anywhere in the country.
Since my business was purely online, I knew there was more to social media and in order for my business and brand to grow, I needed to pick up social media and digital marketing skills.
“That is when the She Goes Digital program came along. Through the program, I learnt how to boost my page, make use of online ads and figure out details such as what time my audience is active online. I made use of the skills I gained through the program and by the end of 2017, I had shipped my goods to Ghana, Liberia and U.S.A and I got even more clients online.”
This year, Joyce plans to open a website for Gaki Collections and also open a shop in town.
Our take-away from this interview is that we are all gifted in many ways. However, we need to have the heart to explore. You don’t need to close up your mind to employment as the only source of income, open up your mind to more possibilities.
So what’s your excuse? Get up, identify opportunities around you and make a difference.