Investing in the next generation

By Nikhil Srivastava, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

This morning I met with Judith Lukaka, the owner of a custom tailor shop in downtown Nairobi, who has used three Zidisha loans to expand her business and to support and educate her extended family.

For the last six years Judith has run Jarx Enterprises, a tailoring shop located in an indoor shopping complex near the Nairobi City Market. Judith’s store is located in the western or “uptown” region of the central business district, but she lives in Ongata Rongai with her husband and two sons. Her commute can take up to 3 hours each way, so Judith wakes up at 5 AM to beat the rush hour and spend a full day working downtown.

Judith’s store displays a small collection of clothing for walk-in customers, but the majority of her business comes from custom, made-to-order dresses and skirts. These orders are solicited from clients she visits in person to take measurements and perform fittings. Judith initially established her customer base from a small set of friends and acquaintances, and it has grown through referrals to spread across the city and its suburbs.

Jarx Enterprises focuses on modern women’s clothing that appeals primarily to the younger generation, differentiating itself from neighboring clothing stalls that sell traditional African wear, Arab or Indian styles, or shoes and handbags. The store makes dresses for one-off occasions such as weddings, funerals, and graduations as well as everyday and business clothes for young professionals.

Judith employs a young designer, Kevin, who uses his knowledge of current fashion to design custom pieces for women looking to match the latest styles seen on TV or the internet. She has also recently hired a tailor who can complete two dresses a day, cutting and stitching sheets of raw fabric that Judith buys wholesale from cloth factories on the outskirts of town.

Judith is on her third Zidisha loan and has maintained a 100% repayment rate. She used the first two loans, of $100 each, to add to her inventory of fabric and to buy a sewing machine and hire a tailor. In addition to creating employment, she reports that these investments doubled her profit.  Her current loan of $219, however, has been used to open a new clothing business in Eldoret, a town in western Kenya, that is operated by her four orphaned nephews.

Judith’s motivation for building and expanding her business is primarily to support these nephews, children of a younger sister who died when they were very young. As Judith’s parents have also passed away, she assumed responsibility for her nephews. All of the boys are currently in or soon entering college, requiring large payments of school fees and associated expenses for transport, rent, and pocket money.

After visiting Eldoret and seeing a market opportunity there, Judith decided to open a second-hand clothing store there and employ her nephews to operate it. And so far they have been quite successful, each week remitting to her enough to repay the Zidisha loan while using the retained profits to pay for their schooling.

With future loans, she hopes to upgrade the Eldoret store’s location and change its inventory from second-hand to custom-made goods. Judith is hopeful that her nephews and sons will be drawn to entrepreneurship after college, because she feels there is no better way for a young person to acquire a practical education and develop a sense of responsibility.

After spending time with Judith, it is clear she has a deep love for children – regardless of whether they are her own. Toward the end of our conversation, she spoke earnestly about her dream of one day starting an orphanage, partnering with local officials and policemen to identify and enroll high-risk street children across Nairobi. She feels the current support system is severely lacking, with a handful of orphanages that are often filled with children who have parents and that return children too quickly back into the streets. Judith fears what her nephews’ lives might have been like if they had lacked family support, and she wishes she had the capital to help others in need.

Judith, thank you for teaching me about your business today. I wish you the best in your clothing business, and I hope that one day you are able to start your orphanage – I can think of no better person for the job!

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