“What I believe is when you get to commit yourself to your dream and you know how big your dream is, that is what tells you how high to jump,” advised Gatobu.
“I used to find every time I buy a bag, I want to do something to it,” says Janerose Gatobu whose venture was created after asking herself; ‘why am I always in need of changing or adding something, why not create?’
And just like that, Gatobu had a business idea which she wanted to implement and tell the Kenyan and African stories she felt were missing from the picture. Gatobu, a lover of African print, decided to use Ankara together with other materials like leather to share her perception about Africa with the rest of the world.
This itch to add or remove details from newly purchased bags was the beginning of Gatobu’s love for design work, which pushed her to start her business, Jagari Designs. But even before she went into this business, the young lady who is in her mid-twenties, recalls that she used to draw designs for her classmates and those participating in high school events like beauty contests. Just like in any other entrepreneurial venture, Gatobu chose to stick to bags because according to her, the needs and specifications she wanted on her bags were missing from the market. She had identified the gap in the market. What other best motivation to start a business than seeking to satisfy one’s own needs?
According to her, all the raw materials she needed to kick start the venture were locally available. So without further ado, she started sketching designs on her scrapbook and sought services of a tailor to stitch the materials together.
Having been raised by enterprising parents, she had learned firsthand about business management. So even when she opted to start a venture instead of seeking employment after graduation, her parents were her first supporters and still are, Gatobu admitted.
The family business played a great role in molding her path. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial and Product Design from University of Nairobi she had knowledge and skills to venture into business.
She attributes these: how to deal with clients, how to respond to calamities, what do when the market changes and how to manage finances, to her family business which she helped to run from a tender age.
Many enterprises don’t kick off due to financial challenges. But for Gatobu, she had some income from jobs she did in campus like graphic design and had directed these to her savings. On her graduation party, the monetary gifts brought by family and friends together with the savings, enabled her to raise enough capital to purchase the initial items for her business.
Armed with her first sketches, Gatobu approached a tailor to have the design stitched up. “I can say it didn’t quite work out as well as I thought. It was a disappointment,” said Gatobu whose spirit was not broken by this. As an entrepreneur, gambling with the initial capital can be a risk to a business. She wanted to make it work despite the challenge. Gathering more courage and learning from it, Gatobu pressed on and with time, she was able to make great bags.
With the bags well stitched, it was time to look for clients. Her family came in handy as her first clients and by word of mouth, she got referrals to make more bags.
After evaluating her business, the young entrepreneur knew opening a shop at the time was not a viable idea, so she opted to use ‘free’ market available online.
“I went online. I normally sell my things on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and when a client wants to make an order, they can either use WhatsApp or email.”
When working with established corporates, there are long bureaucratic processes which are a challenge for startups, noted Gatobu adding that finances is also a big challenge for startups as many investors are afraid of committing their money in them
As a young female entrepreneur, men also pause as a challenge. She advised upcoming female entrepreneurs to not let what men say get to them. Instead they should put more efforts to compete at per with their counterparts.
She also noted that the accessories used on the bags like zippers, are normally imported, and the taxes remitted are very high which translates to creating products that are highly priced to meet such costs.
Although she appreciates that Kenyans are brand aware, Gatobu pointed that this a challenge in itself as Kenyans prefer international brands to local ones. Many people are yet to accept local authentic brands but with time, this young entrepreneur is optimistic that they will appreciate and use them.
“What I believe is when you get to commit yourself to your dream and you know how big your dream is, that is what tells you how high to jump,” advised Gatobu. “For me I know how big my dream is, how big my vision is, what it needs, how much commitment it needs, so that keeps me going,” she added pointing out that besides the dream, one needs to have passion.
According Gatobu, money is not what keeps one going, but passion does. She encouraged entrepreneurs to cultivate determination and be ready to learn from the environment and other people around them
So far, Jagari Designs has had remarkable recognition in the art industry and as an enterprise. In December 2015, her business won Fashion Icon of the Year, Africa Youth Award. Moreover, Jagari designs was nominated for Disruption by Design (DXD) Gala Award whose results are yet to be announced. The Africa Youth award, according to the young entrepreneur has honored Jagari’s efforts to tell the African story to its people and the rest of the world.
Jagari hopes to become an enterprise that can take in interns from campus for mentorship. Gatobu feels that young people lack craftsmanship and confidence which are important in entrepreneurship. This is driven by her own experience in the industry, where despite her talents and desire for artwork, she was not able to quickly adopt into the business world due to such gaps. In the next two years, she hopes to have inspired many young entrepreneurs.
“We want to show them how to embrace technology that is coming in, bring on digital sketching, and teach people how to take care of [their] sketches, which is the most important thing- losing sketches is like losing a job,” said Gatobu. She is also looking forward to imparting her protégés with skills on digital coloring and pattern coding.
Her business which currently employs one tailor and herself, is expected to get two more people on board to handle social media and someone else to help in the design department. Gatobu will also expand her business which she currently runs from home to open a design studio in the next few months. Additionally, she hopes to expand her business to other African countries and may be further west if and when the opportunity calls. She has plans to diversify her business to include other items like bow-ties, headbands and other accessories. Jagari Designs believes in using leftover materials to create more items like accessories, thus saving on what is thrown away as waste.
Fashion in Africa suffers a lot because people are yet to adopt it as a career as in the other fields. She feels fashion and design is an industry on its own and should compete equally with the rest like architecture and real estate.
“But when you talk about fashion, people just get to think about it as something they are wearing or carrying, but beside that, it is something on a whole different level as people go to school to learn about it,” argued the young entrepreneur. She feels there is much more to be done in fashion to grow the industry.
In future, Gatobu aspires to have her designer bags hit the runway in Africa and abroad. Although she has participated in a local event, she is yet to venture into this line of business but hopes to exploit it at a future date. What is more, she will be launching ‘career collection’ bags which are purely designed for career women and men later in the year.
Her inspiration comes from different places like nature, art galleries, concerts and other art events.
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