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Nairobi Hustle: From Kibera to the runway, one man’s tailoring journey

Thirty two year-old George Ouma learnt everything he needed to know about tailoring from his father.

And when his dad died in 1999, young George dropped out of primary school (for lack of fees) and took up tailoring as the only means of earning a living. He was barely 14 years old then.

He started off by tailoring in Kibuye market, Kisumu, where he earned a commission of one shilling per shirt made until he decided to move to Nairobi in search of better prospects.

George found a new home in in Makini, Kibera where he enrolled for a designing course at a local designer’s workshop using money sent by his mother who had sold a cow back in the village.

SHOP VERANDA

That is how Gjey Mavazi was born in Kibera in 2005 at a veranda in front of a shop where he had set up his sewing machine. His list of clientele would soon grow to include popular figures including TV anchor Larry Madowo.

“There was a laundry shop that allowed me to set up outside on the veranda and whenever it would rain I used to take my stuff inside and it was those disruptions that made me come to the city centre,” George told Nairobi News Hustle.

He found a premise at Lakhamshi House, on Biashara Street, in 2016 which he shared with another tailor. But misfortune struck again. One day auctioneers closed the building after the landlord defaulted on a loan.

“That experience with auctioneers slowed me down because some of my clients’ fabrics were locked in although I managed to salvage some.

“Some clients understood and gave me time to look for another premise and start over but others demanded for refunds and pulled out,” he narrated.

KEPT ON COURSE

George’s passion kept him on the course and his young business grew to boast of thousands of clients who kept coming back for more outfits.

“Kenyans are slowly accepting local designs and we have managed to build trust with our clients. There is need for more people to support ‘Made in Kenya’ brand even as the mitumbas take over our markets,” he said.

Gjey Mavazi has showcased in the Nairobi Fashion Week a platform that grew his design business further connecting him to more clients.

“Along the way I have come to realise that referrals work best in the fashion industry and so I put all my effort on every piece we make because that is a marketing opportunity,” he said.