How a designer defied the odds to bag reward
Two years after she started her business Wazawazi, Chebet Mutai endured challenges one after another; running out of capital, struggling to pay her staff and lack of qualified artisans.
However, she did not let the obstacles define her; instead, Ms Chebet defied the odds to keep the business running even when she was uncertain of its future.
She was convinced that growing her brand of bags made from leather and African fabric was what she wanted to do for as long as she could, and going back to employment was not an option since she was past the point of quitting and doubt.
Her aim now is for Wazawazi to be the next bag brand out of Africa. Creating jobs and changing people’s lives are what inspired her into entrepreneurship.
“It reached a point where I wanted to do more for society besides doing what I enjoyed most,” she said.
With Sh1 million she had set aside, Ms Chebet quit her job at the World Bank in May 2012, bought two sewing machines and set up a workshop to start Wazawazi.
She now has five employees and two workshops; one in Ngong Town and another at Valley Arcade.
Although she started by making clothes from African fabric, she is slowly fading out the clothes to focus exclusively on making bags.
And after experimenting with canvas, the self-taught designer has settled on making bags out of leather and African material.
She makes laptops, duffel bags and ladies handbags. A laptop and a duffel bag can cost up to Sh10,000 and Sh35,000 respectively.
She is keen on the quality of materials used, the design, and the stitches.
“Quality control is a crucial part for this business and I have put strict measures to ensure that set standards are never compromised,” said the 30-year-old.
Wazawazi products can be found at Sankara, Intercontinental Hotel and Spinners Web in Westlands. She also markets her products through networking clubs.
She cited laxity by the Government as the main challenge that ails the fashion and textile industry. She said she imports kitenge from China because of their high quality compared to those made locally.
Ms Chebet buys leather from Bata’s processing plant in Limuru. A 150-square feet batch costs Sh40,000. She is in the process of sealing a deal to make bags for a guitar company in Germany.
She has also put forward a machine lease proposal to the National Industrial Training Institute after she got an order to make more than 1,000 bags for a NGO.
The mother of three studied economics at Kenyatta University, worked with World Bank for two years before quitting. While still at the university, she imported and sold bags from Dubai.