Maternity Business in Kenya: A diplomatic career would be dream come true for many people. Apart from the extensive traveling privileges, this career offers handsome salaries and allowances. Yet this is the career that Florence Kinya Mungatia quit in 2015 to start a fashion business that makes official and casual maternity wear.

Her decision to quit diplomacy for fashion was not so far-fetched. In fact, it was akin to returning to an old love. “I had fallen in love with fashion and designs back in high school. I was clear that once I completed my secondary education, I would pursue fashion related courses at the university,” says Florence, who is in her early thirties. This was not to be.

Instead of a fashion course, Florence pursued a degree in International Relations at the United States International University (USIU). At the beginning, she loved the course. She could see herself becoming a world renowned diplomat. “I would sit down and envision my name being mentioned in the same sentences with the world’s best ambassadors and diplomats,” she says.

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After graduating in May 2012, she got an opportunity to work as an intern at the Royal Thai Embassy in Nairobi. “Between 2012 and end of 2013, I also got a second opportunity to intern in a diplomatic office at the UN Habitat offices in Nairobi.” After her internships, diplomatic job opportunities started opening.

Over the next two years, she worked with numerous non-governmental organizations in Nairobi. “These jobs paid me between Sh. 50,000 and Sh. 100,000,” she says. “This salary was just a sign of the fine things to come. After all, if I could get as much as Sh. 100,000 as a freshly graduated employee, how much more would I make once I enriched my resume!” But not even this consolation from her salary could satisfy her quest. “I couldn’t help it. I just felt that the corporate world was not my place. The daily work routine would bore me to tears. I hated it, and by afternoon, I would find myself consistently wondering when we’d leave the office,” she says. Florence couldn’t take it anymore. “I refused to renew my contract in 2015 and decided to venture out into the business world,” she says.

Despite her high salaries over the two years that she had been in employment, Florence started her business with Sh. 10,000. “When I decided to quit, my elder brother told me that I did not need lots of money to start a business. At first, I did not comprehend his concept,” says Florence. Her brother admonished her to search within her until she could identify an activity she was passionate about which she could also convert into business. “It finally sank in. I was passionate about fashion and designs. I had a fine flair for things, and decided to go the fashion way,” she says.

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She started visiting open air markets at Gikomba to source for second hand clothes and materials that she would then sell at her shop in Ngumba Estate, Nairobi. Within six months, her operating capital grew from Sh. 10,000 to Sh. 80,000. “I hived off some money and bought sewing machines and started making custom outfits,” she says. Every week, she would collect her income from her sales and save it in her business account.

By 2016, Florence had saved Sh. 100,000. “I decided to go big and launched a fashion house called Kinya Kenya Designs to handle bespoke clothing for my customers,” she says. She would design the clothing and contract a tailor to sew them. Her first challenge in business knocked on her door in mid-2016 when she got a job to make wedding outfits. “The job was quite heavy and the pay was rewarding. But before I could deliver, my tailor disappeared, and left me reeling from embarrassment and compensation losses,” she says.

At that point, Florence began contemplating quitting the fashion business. “I wondered why I was subjecting myself to all this hustle when I could easily get a well-paying diplomatic job. But then my business mentor told me to muscle up; losses are normal in business,” she says.

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As she searched for a new tailor, Florence decided to also learn stitching techniques to avoid plunging into losses if a tailor vanished in future. “I was lucky to get a reliable tailor, with whom I have worked with since.”

In 2017, she evolved from bespoke outfits to making maternity wear. “I was convinced that I needed to identify and perfect my own niche in order to accelerate my growth and profit rate,” she says. She also rebranded her business from Kinya Kenya to Bumpy Maternity Wear, and created an online portal from which her customers could view her latest designs and place orders. “Business boomed. I started making multiple deliveries in Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD),” she says.

But challenges were not yet done with her. As the business scaled up, Florence decided to import fabrics in bulk. “The order took months to arrive and when it finally arrived, I discovered that the quality was not what I had specified,” she says. Then came the turbulent post-election crisis that followed the General Elections last year.  “Business came to a near standstill, and I almost closed down. But I am now glad that we have recovered and are back on the tracks of growth again,” she says.

Over the next five years, Florence says that she wants to transform her fashion house into a hotspot of production with export capabilities. “I will not rest until the business can start exporting productions to other African countries,” she says.

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Florence’s five takeaways

  • Customer satisfaction and feedback will make or break your business.
  • Always understand that a happy customer will always come back with a friend. An unhappy one will tell potential customers to keep off your business.
  • Follow your passion. Convert it into a business, and be consistent enough to take it off the ground.
  • A high salary in employment does not always mean you must start a capital intensive business.
  • It is normal to self-debate on whether to quit and retreat after quitting employment for business.

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