Grace Wambere Ndung’u, a mother of two and a businesswoman, strongly believes in women’s economic empowerment. Grace firmly holds that what a man can do, a woman can do even better. No wonder she pursued a course in information technology, a field highly considered to be a preserve of men.
Starting mitumba business
After graduating with a Bachelors degree in information technology from Johan Wolfgang Frankfurt University in Germany, Grace worked for two years in Germany before jetting back to Kenya for a short break. But what she thought would be a three-week break lasted for months that have now turned into years.
“After graduating from university, I worked for sometime before I started missing home. The urge to visit Kenya grew so much and when I couldn’t contain it any longer, I sought for a three-week break from my workplace to come home,” she says.
And so in 2012 she travelled to Kenya excited to reunite with family and childhood friends. Her fate was sealed when she met one of her childhood friends with whom she had maintained contact.
“Just a few days after coming back to the country, I had a date with a childhood friend (now my husband) who at that time was finishing his law degree at the University of Nairobi. Although we used talk while I was still in Germany, we didn’t have plans to take our relationship to the next level, but it happened. I wrote a resignation letter to the company I was working with in Germany and closed my Germany chapter,” she says smiling.
Although jobless, she was determined to settle down and start a family. Her aggressiveness saw her successfully approach various companies to freelance as a graphic designer. She notes that life in Nairobi is tough such that one can’t expect only one person to cater for the entire family budget hence the need to share costs. But no sooner had she started working, than she found out that she was expecting her first child.
“I had to stop working as I needed to rest while waiting for my baby,” she says.
While doing shopping for baby clothes, she came to realise that they were quite expensive, a concern she shared with friends who advised her to go to Gikomba market.
“They insisted I shop at Gikomba for cheap, classy and quality clothes but not without a warning on how risky and unsafe the place was. I nonetheless went to Gikomba but left as soon as I finished my shopping as I didn’t want to spend time there,” she says laughing.
Indeed, she got good quality clothes at a cheaper price. In March 2013, she welcomed her baby and was pleased with her choice of clothes. Gikomba market thus became a saving grace whenever her child needed new clothes. Having a good taste came in handy to Grace when selecting clothes and it wasn’t long before friends and family started noting how smart and unique her child looked, courtesy of the attires. Naturally, they started enquiring how they can get such outfits.
Grace saw this as a golden opportunity to start a business. She offered to shop for anyone who was interested, of course with some profit to boot. At the market, she would also pick adult clothes and with no time people started making orders. Second hand clothes thus became the goose that laid the golden eggs.
“I decided to make it a full time business and I even opened a social media page to advertise my products,” says Grace, the founder of Mitumba Chap Chap, a facebook page that has more than 68,000 members where second hand clothes sellers link with buyers. Grace also uses the platform to mentor people who have joined second hand clothes business.
“I go to Gikomba very early in the morning, do selection and go back home. I then wash the clothes and iron them before putting them on display. I also take photos of these clothes and share them within my network,” she gives an overview of her business model, revealing that washing and ironing the clothes raises their value considerably.
Not without challenges
One of the challenges she faced initially was meeting the needs of clients with specific requirements such as colour and design. However, she passed this hurdle by selecting good clothes and letting clients choose for themselves.
“Some clients would refuse to buy the clothes saying that the products I had displayed on social media were different from what I had given them yet that was not the case. Another challenge I had to overcome was phobia for online business. At first when strangers started asking for clothes online, I was not sure how to go about it, as I feared for my life. I got over it after meeting several clients without any bad thing happening,” says Grace, revealing that online business was still a new phenomenon when she was starting out.
By 2015, Grace had known Gikomba like the back of her hand. She has since expanded her business to include buying clothes in bulk. She also imports bales from United States of America and Japan. “I don’t import a whole container singlehandedly as it is expensive so we cost share with colleagues,” she offers.
Nurturing young people in business
Having benefitted from Good Samaritans who held her hand as she was starting out, Grace stays true to Michelle Obama’s words, “When you’ve worked hard, and done well and walked through the door of opportunity, you do not slum it shut behind you. No, you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” As such, she is nurturing young people who want to venture in second-hand clothes business.
“I am a product of Good Samaritans. It took them to hold my hand and make me the kind of person I am today,” says Grace who currently has three retail shops in Nairobi.
Grace has gone a step further at helping young people by selling clothing bales at a throwaway price to those who want to venture out into the mitumba industry but do not have the means. “We sometimes clear the remaining stock at only Ksh10 especially when we are waiting for new stock,” she points out.
She notes that if one can get at least 20 dresses at Ksh10 each and manage to sell them at a hundred each, they will make a profit of not less than Ksh1500.
“It’s all about holding their hands for a week or two before they stand on their own,” she adds. Grace notes that one has to be passionate if they are to make it in mitumba business.
She urges young people not to sit down and complain of unemployment but instead take a leap of faith and try to do something. “Life is about taking risks. It’s better to try and fail than not to try and ‘keep regretting’,” she says.
On top of helping people to start mitumba business, Grace is also promoting young men in the boda boda industry. “I use boda boda guys to deliver my products to my clients. They are very efficient,” says Grace.
She advises those who want to venture in business to find their passion and explore the opportunities in it.