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My jeans, my business

He is a man easy to find because of the label on his back right trouser pocket. The label is woven in red and orange thread, a stark contrast to the beige khaki pants which have been cut and tailored to fit him.

Meet Mr Andrew Kio – an actor and an entrepreneur. Mr Kio is the brains behind  Blacjack Jeans, which makes and sells jeans, and other denim items such as shirts and jackets. It is in Jericho market.

Blacjack Jeans started as Ask Denim in 2005 and the first piece he ever made was for himself: a black pair of trousers and a matching jacket.

“The outfit was impressionable enough to have my friend make an order for two pairs in spite of my insistence that I don’t make jeans, let alone sell them,” said Mr Kio.

Handsome margin

The returns from the sale gave him a handsome margin.

“It was unbelievable that I had made such margins with such ease. What made it more unbelievable was that making jeans was a passion and hobby.”

Mr Kio got two more orders and that is when he started his business under the name Ask Denim. He said the orders took three months to complete because he neither had the tools nor the manpower.

He realised that if Ask Denim was to flourish, he needed start-up capital to set up a good workshop, hire tailors and buy sewing machines. He saved the returns he made from his orders and within six months, he had raised Sh70, 000.

He ploughed the money back into the business and within six months, he noted its growth: His payroll rose from one to five workers while his customer base grew to include wardrobe sets for media productions, uniforms for fast-food restaurants and individual referrals from previous clients.

He replaced his manual sewing machines with industrial-sized machines specialised for making jeans. But there was one thing he didn’t like: his business name.

“Ask Denim was good but not good enough. It lacked the creativity to make my business stand out,” he said. “I wanted a name which would ‘stick’ on you the same way the black jack plant does.”

Thus Blacjack Jeans was born. He registered the business and its trademark in 2007. Growing the business asked for Mr Kio to make sacrifices. The challenge of building a name and a brand which would set him apart in the crowded denim industry required time and commitment.

As such, he sacrificed his job as an actor at Phoenix House to focus on Blacjack. Fully into the business, its unreliable cash flow was his next challenge. He finances his business through ploughing back profits.

This was a risky option as it is pegged on making a sale, and receiving immediate cash payments for each.

“There were numerous times when the business was unable to meet its obligations. Workers went without pay, orders were held up or cancelled because the fabric was not available. Sometimes stitching took place in friends’ workshops after my electricity was disconnected due to unpaid bills,” said Mr Kio.

Navigating the rough waters taught him business lessons best imparted when one experiences them first hand.

He did not acquire any additional professional qualifications to run the business – his managerial skills were from the diploma in business management he obtained from Cambridge Business School. He learnt his tailoring skills from ripping apart old jeans and studying their designs.