Starting a Sewing / Tailoring Shop in Kenya: The dummy mistakes I made and how to avoid them.

Last Updated on 13 July 2020 by Gertrude

Start-a-Successful-Tailoring-Empire-in-Kenya

Sewing is for the enthusiasts who are either into fashion or home decor.

Most people only think sewing as owning a clothes line and becoming the next big designer, which isn’t a bad dream at all.

But you can own a sewing shop for different reasons.

I owned my sewing shop for sewing bags as I felt there were never enough good bags out there and if they were, they were too pricey and not my style or my choice of colour.

In this step by step article, you’re going to learn the requirements needed for starting a tailoring business in Kenya and the Mistakes I made and to avoid them. 

Table of contents

How to write your Sewing Business Plan

How to Market your Sewing Business

Find a great sewing location

Choose a Sewing Niche

Deal with Custom Made Clothes / Orders

Avoid the Sewing mistakes I made

Expected Profit

Find patterns and make your own patterns

Set operation hours

Have a Productive Working Office and sewing space

Learn How to Display your sewed clothes like a boutique

Deal with Customers and exercising great customer service and experience

Have fun and keep learning

Write your Sewing Business Plan

Your sewing business plan doesn’t have to be a complicated piece of reading.

A business plan should be written by the owner and not given to business plan writers.

After all, it’s not the writer who will be operating the business.

A good business plan is a guide for the business – the direction you’d love for your business to take.

So the following page must be included in the business plan:

An executive summary which ironically is written last because – consider it as a summary of the business plan.

An executive summary summarises the overall role your business will be playing.

So make this chapter a bit engaging.

Assuming you have written all the other pages, listen to the sound of this:

Gertie’S Baby and Laundry is a company dedicated to sewing custom-made pillows, flower girl designer dresses and pillow laundry through excellent customer service and experience.

Our Mission: To ensure our customers smile from the entrance to exit of our business by providing excellent customer service.

Motto: Our business your business, your sewing headache our happiness.

NOTE:

Try to define your business in one sentences so that your business plan doesn’t feel overwhelming.

There are a number of business plan writing agencies I found but I found this one to have a massive collection of business plans.

Create yours there.

Pro Tip: Before writing a business plan, do brain dumping which is writing every little idea that comes to mind about your business. Then you can organise the little ideas into an epic business plan.

Would you like to know about the lucrative unexplored sewing niches in Kenya?  

SUBSCRIBE TO GET IN THE KNOW 

[mailerlite_form form_id=2]


How to Market your Sewing Business

Not marketing your business is the worst mistake you can ever do to your sewing business.

And it comes immediately after launching your business plan

Why?

Because you want people to know about your business before you start, you want them to be a part of the production process.

So that you beware of the products which they’re ready to buy and which you are supposed to change.

I learnt this lesson the very hard way.

Staying for two months without business isn’t a joke when you’re paying for the monthly rent.

You need to be doing something as you wait for the business to take off.

So how do you market your sewing business?

Social Media Marketing example

  1. Use of Facebook Marketing.

On Facebook, instead of wasting time shopping or comparing prices of goods, list your own products.

Create the kind of products you’ll be producing in your shop then showcase them on Kenyan Facebook Groups like the Kilimani Mums Marketplace, or Glam My Home Marketplace among others.

Make sure to repost without spamming the audience.

Start a Facebook page or group ( I find starting a page easier than a group through a group offers the best option for private discussion or the audience posting).

Dedicate the page or group to your sewing community where you’ll be discussing every sewing and encouraging all the sewing debate there for example.

Create a buzz around your topic, it’s hard at first to reach an organic audience but it’s worth it in the end.

I don’t like to use PPC (pay per click) advertising when growing my business because a paid audience doesn’t stick around especially in the beginning stages when trying to build an audience.

And you don’t post as much. Or maybe distracted with your business logistics that you don’t know how many times to post a day.

And many other obstacles that arise when building your business.

With a Facebook page, you can actually create surveys, create offers to bring in the organic traffic, be creative on how to appease the audience so that they can contribute.

Create value adding Facebook posts and be as professional as possible.

Don’t post food photos if you aren’t advertising a fancy napkin you have sewn or are including in your products.

2. Create an Instagram Page For Your Sewing Business

Instagram is the in- social media marketing for showcasing a lifestyle business and sewing is a lifestyle business.

How do you create an Instagram presence as a Sewing business?

Know how to properly use hashtags and stick with them.

Hashtags on Instagram are 30 so utilise them well and choose the low-volume ones so that your posts don’t get swallowed but get more attention.

Create an angle for your lifestyle business. For example, As a Mental Health Fitness Coach, I use quotes to help my followers keep motivated.

For a sewing business, you can showcase your unique talent by colourfully lining your products.

If selling fabric, show how the user can utilise the fabric you sell.

On Instagram, it’s about being ”calculative” in a good way.

Always ensure to pique the interest of your followers and add value to the posts.

To grow your Instagram, don’t buy followers, grow them organically, engage with the content you follow from others.

If you want to engage your followers with sewing quotes, check my pricing range here.

Contrary to popular belief, you can integrate your personal and business life while remaining true to your brand.

Pro Insta Growth Tip:

Key to growing: Stick to your brand mission and write good Instagram bios.

3. Create a YouTube Presence

I don’t know why many Kenyans aren’t on YouTube yet it’s a platform for earning money while connecting with your audience.

There’s a lot of sewing artists in Kenya but I’m amazed to be one of the two I found offering sewing tutorials.

Though tutorials are very time consuming to produce especially when starting out, if you’re a stay-at-home mum or an unemployed Kenyan Youth, this can be a perfect place to find out about your filmmaking prowess.

After amassing a YouTube following, you can earn double from your sewing products and from YouTube through affiliate marketing, for example.

TIP:    As always, it doesn’t matter how many YouTube followers you have you can start monetising your YouTube channel asap.

Video marketing makes your audience believe in your true guru and the industry expert.

4. Use Pinterest for Visual Marketing

How many times have you heard of Pinterest as a sewing business in Kenya?

How many times have you marketed your art on Pinterest?

Do you know some Pinterest Marketing Strategy to use as a Kenyan tailor?

I also ignored Pinterest for a while until I realised it’s a platform- a social media platform where I could leverage my audience for money.

Pinterest is a platform that loves photos and great photos at that.

Then connect to your e-commerce products and you’re in business.

5. Start a Blog as a Sewing Blog Tutorial.

Did you know a blog can create an income so big you’d never imagine?

When you start a tutorial blog, it’s less demanding than the video production process that YouTube demands or wants.

Know what?

What to show how to sew a pillow with coding and zip?

Take pictures of all the steps involved and great pics in a well-lit sewing room.

Don’t waste the tutorial by posting it and relaxing.

Engage your Facebook audience, Instagram or Pinterest.

Sewing like music is a universal business and people don’t care from which part of the world you come from, they want to learn the sewing trade.

Now include affiliate marketing (selling of products by others) which you get by scouring sites like Amazon.com or Shareasale or Creativebug.

Make money as a pillow affiliate in Kenya. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lips-pillow_mockup_Front_18x18.png

Become a Pillow Affiliate and Make Money while at Home in Kenya. 

Email me:  gertrudeatgmaildotcom

Affiliate marketing can earn you great money on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

Creative Sewing Tips:

  1. Always find ways to make more money with one product.

2. Also, use your word of mouth.

3. When you’re starting a business, the best way to get the business out there is by word of mouth marketing.

4. Tell your friends to tell their friends about your business.

5. Have ready brochures and business cards for how the interested parties can help market for you.

6. And for your business to get even further, I have learnt to use an incentive – like a reward, an offer or a freebie for every customer the word of mouth marketing brings.

WOW!!!

Now, you may be scratching your head wondering how to do this before you even find the location.

Good, because you can start working from home or make samples at home without incurring costs. You can hear opinions and improvements to your handmade products.

They can be pretty to your eyes but don’t look professional to another.

Plus when you learn how to market your sewing business, you learn that you’re not being showy, salesy but business-like.

After marketing your tailoring business online know that:

  1. You’re widening your reach and MUST be ready to embrace the big step that comes with reaching a wider audience.

Meaning that you MUST be ready and willing to ship your goods out of the country – which creates hurdles of its own but as a business owner, diversity and inclusivity MUST be your goals for growth.

After all, if your products appeal to the global audience, it means you have quality and style.

Do you need brochures, posters or business cards for your sewing business?

Check my samples here.

Find a great sewing location

After writing your business plan and marketing strategy and actually marketing, it’s time for you to find a great location for your business.

How do you find a great sewing location, what are the factors to consider before finding a suitable sewing location?

I asked myself the question, in fact, I never had to worry about the location.

Because most of the locations I was shown made sense or so I thought!.

Before you go on jumping for the first location, consider these:

  1. Is this area open to custom-made clothing or pillows? Meaning the people.

  2. What is my location providing that I don’t see in other locations? Do a lot of leg-work.

  3. How do I reach my customers in this area?

  4. Are you allowed to place advertisements outside the premise?

  5. How is the lease condition? I mean do you need to pay for a year in advance or months or monthly?

  6. What’s the traffic like in this area?

  7. Connect with other business owners and tell them what you’re offering – that’s how my pillow business got out.

  8. How are you going to deal with competition – in case what you’re providing as a tailor is already a hot-cake product?

  9. How can I display my finished sewed products for maximum visibility and attention?

When choosing a location for your tailoring business, it’s more than a location you’re finding – you’re actually finding the potential customers.

Choose a Sewing Niche

What are the sewing niches you love? What’s niche sewing and how can you implement niche sewing in your business? 

What’s a niche?

An area of specialisation and you’re going to choose one.

Why because, well, you’re not going to be overwhelmed and you’re going to be a guru.

”I should have stuck to sewing pillows”, I found and find myself saying always.

I shouldn’t have been too greedy to mess with clothes.

When you get into the sewing industry, you have to identify yourself in a niche first.

Which area of sewing do you love? For example, do you love sewing for the home? For kids? Women’s wedding gowns? Or do you love sewing costumes?

All sewing is a very lucrative industry some more than others but do what you love?.

I, for one, know and knew how clothes repair can be a daunting task.

I jumped into clothes repair even after ruining my mum’s clothes by altering it to fit a toddler.

I took the jump because I needed to keep my business going, I needed to feel like I was working and I ended up with two months of wasted energy and regrets – it’s the two months I stayed without money.

Two months I should have concentrated on marketing, building connections and networking.

Two months I should have created brochures and business cards and built my e-commerce website.

When you specialise in an area without being greedy, you actually build a reputation and you know Kenyans don’t trust tailors a lot.

Ensure your customers trust you.

Deal with Custom Made Clothes / Orders

Dealing with custom-made clothing or orders is, in fact, one of the hardest parts of any sewing business.

Because you have to determine some factors.

Your business terms and conditions for receiving fabric – in case your customers don’t want to use your fabric.

Create the terms and conditions surrounding SHIPPING AND RECEIVING OF FABRIC:

  1. Take photos of the fabric before and after washing.

  2. You’ll measure either in the presence of the customer or through skype if the fabric was received via mail.

  3. You’ll determine how much fabric will remain and be sincere about the cutting and left-over fabric.

In fact, find a bin for your customers and write their names and the fabric they brought in – was it cotton, polyester a cotton polyester blend?

  1. Make the customer aware of the shipping cost incurred for receiving and returning the fabric or ready finished clothing. Include extra costs as part of the sewing and give your customer the calculations as one.

When you separate costs, your customers start believing you’re conning them and you’re in the sewing business to earn trust.

  1. Create terms and conditions clearly and shop’s policy about fabric loss and who to blame.

So that your customer doesn’t sue you for being a thief.

  1. Create a private video and the tracking and take photos of the day, time, the date you shipped and or received their fabric.

This may seem like a lot of work, but I assure you this will save you a lot when for example answering questions about you being a thief.

Or when customers are answering to feedback or reporting to feedback.

Keep in mind, Kenyans are sceptical about an online business – a lot.

Include completion time:

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COMPLETE A PROJECT?

If a project takes 7 days to complete tell the customer to wait 10 days then deliver the finished product within 3 business days, for example.

This creates a relationship of trust between you and the customer.

Giving yourself time between electricity outages, ripping out stitches(mistakes) do have and correcting them can take longer.

Sometimes, post office delays items, especially during the festive season.

RETURN POLICY

Keep in mind the steps about video and photo sessions of the conditions in which you received the fabric sent to you those are very crucial because you won’t have problems with returning the sewed item.

And also when you have a good return policy you can explain to customers what you accept or not.

Or how your return policy works in case they are not pleased with exactly what they wanted.

Sometimes, clients see something on the internet then when they receive it – the colour, the texture isn’t pleasant to them.

Or think about it when someone orders something from your shop, then it doesn’t suit them, how will you handle such returns?

You have to include conditions like accepting fabric has to be ”damaged” in order for it to produce a dress, for example.

A reminder:

If you made calculations of the fabric and they came to five metres always add an extra one or two metres in case the project requires more fabric.

You don’t want to be called a thief or a con-woman.

Another reminder:

Every customer has his or her own spreadsheet – never ever mix up custom-orders.

PAYMENT

How are you going to handle payments?

Will you receive them online or offline through a Mpesa transaction or bank transaction?

I’d say, choose what works for you – I love Paypal because you can file complaints and if you’re professional you can get your money when the client doesn’t want to pay. By providing proof of all the process you engage. 

Also, when receiving custom-made orders always make the customer pay 75 – 80% of your costs.

And the rest upon completion, if they don’t want – they can purchase ready-made goods.

This ensures you keep your losses minimum and the business running.

TIP: Always add a certain percentage for your labour – charge wisely.

Determine if you’ll be using your fabric or the customers.

When using the customer’s fabric the price differs and the downpayment you request can be at 75 % but when you have to buy the customer fabric, the payment has to be settled in full or 90 %.

Have all the receipts ready and prepared always.

  NOTE: 

Use these tips even when not working from home, use them in your shop. 

Ensure customers sign an agreement and payment so that when an issue arises, the complaints the customer raises can be handled and concluded amicably. 

PACKAGING

When sending out custom made orders don’t send orders in plastic wrappers.

Where’s your branding?

You can make a printable wrapper or use clothing labels so that the customer knows they’re dealing with a professional company.

Also, with proper packaging, the customer can help spread about your business to potential customers.

And having or including your social media packages also helps your brand stay in the customer’s memory for a long time – beyond business.

REQUESTING FOR REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Business doesn’t end by successfully delivering your customer’s orders.

After sale services are always very crucial.

If you deal with custom-bridal wear, for example, you can easily catch the attention of the bride by offering to launder it or even displaying it at your shop for sale.

Or you can use your sewing studio as a dress photo shoot for memories to come.

Keep in touch with your customers to find out how the custom-made order is serving them.

When you show concern for your business, they’ll reconsider throwing away your business cards after the business is done and come back.

Remember customer retention evades a lot of businessmen but if you can retain 80% of your customers your business will never run dry.

It’s one of the strategies I used to bring in a profit of $1000 in 3 months in my pillow business after two months of dry weather. I utilised the first customers who walked in and they remain my customers even after changing my location to online. Read it here

Ask your customers to recommend you to their family and friends and any buying or recommended customer will benefit from a bonus or an offer.

Maybe you can buy for them a fabric, or sew them a thank you gift.

Ask them to leave online reviews and how they enjoyed your service especially that you have an online presence.

Reviews and testimonials create a sense of security and trust when dealing with an online transaction or not one-to-one business transactions.

RESOLVING MISUNDERSTANDINGS

Before customers go running to potential customers resolve any pending issues with them face to face.

Exercise good and excellent non-negotiable charismatic customer service and this customer service ebook will guide you on how to be a good service provider for and in your business. 

 Dummy Sewing mistakes I Made and How You Can Avoid Them

I figured I could make and supply bags all over the beach town – being new and experimental creates some business excitement.

I didn’t do any market research per se but a little walk around the town one day revealed there’s a lack of bags but demand for clothes.

In every corner, there’s a boutique shop going on be it men’s clothes or women’s.

But there’s hardly kid’s clothing or bags or even shoes. People love to do the clothes business as they believe it’s ” risk-free”.

Or so they think?

I was going to fill in a gap as I spoke about in this blog post.

I got down with pen and paper and thoroughly noted my business plan’s: executive summary, organisation, expansion strategies and all the nitty-gritty.

I was so excited but after the August elections, businesses slowed down, life became almost unbearable and no one was buying.

People were simply not there, had run away because of election scare and fear of being singled out.

I didn’t give up, armed with the business world arsenal, I was going to be a conqueror, those weekends, I could barely sleep due to the excitement.

I forgot to check some of the dummy/rookie mistakes, I forgot to learn and look beyond the excitement of owning a shop. I refused to open my eyes. 

a).  I had no niche. So when they brought for me clothes to repair, I jumped right in.

I consulted a friend who ran a cafe( which she closed barely a month later), and she said.

“You’re missing out girl, anything for the money darling”.

That’s a month with no business and me shopping fabric and working very long hours with my bags.

Still caring for my kids, but I forgot my blog, basically, I neglected what I loved to grow this new venture which I didn’t want to fail it.

But I was a Jane-of-all-trades as the month waned off.

And work began piling up. That’s despite me knowing that repair work scares the crap out of me and having destroyed my mum’s clothes while trying to repair them.

And it happened that I burnt my client’s dress, her favourite. I’m so glad that she never got to the extent of murdering me but she was so pissed off.

And there’s some repair work that simply refused to work. I spent an entire month of September repairing two clothes for 40 shillings!

b).  It was the burn out I hadn’t seen coming, it was the horror of not knowing and not rereading my business plan and listening to what others told me. It was the fear of failing that kept me going.

c).  I listened to a lot of negative vibe and people who weren’t in my niche.

Yes, I focused more on what they were telling me about my bags than me producing the bags. I ended up delaying production and suffering burn out.

I started making pillows which turned my fortune around.

If I had foreseen that sewing is more like a side hustle than a full-time income, I’d have kept things running here.

But I’m always running with ideas and some I jump into them without extensively reading ( I learn on the job). It can be good or worst, you can lose a lot of money.

D).  Don’t go in to test the waters. I was going to ”get my feet wet”, to interact in this small town or new town I went to.

I was going to see how business works without careful thought or plan into my business plan.

You can never go right with that unless you only invested stones into it. Which you’re also using energy and wasting time to collect!

e).  I lacked in my patience.

Businesses are started all the time, even online but individuals lack the patience to continue fighting because the business didn’t provide an income in a month or week.

That’s never the case, in fact, you’re going to wait for your business to grow in five to ten years so stop kidding yourself and prepare that in advance.

f).  I started believing and creating mental blocks that I had heard from the women that women don’t buy crossbody bags as they’re for girls.

I still hadn’t produced my tote bags.

They also believed my market bags were so annoying or their handles were not of their taste.

So, they weren’t going to buy. My heart got fragile and lacked belief and confidence.

As the pillow business grew, I felt a gap in my heart for tossing my bags in sacks and never finding time to pull them out for fixing and growing.

And the trash pile grew with never-ending bags. As the client’s work was more crucial.

g).  I didn’t hire anyone in my business.

I don’t know what’s with me and always going it solo. I don’t accept help or hired help overwhelms me.

I’m not a very patient teacher so once I teach someone who doesn’t understand, I leave them to self-study.

If they don’t want, they’ll disappear and remain stagnated forever and also begin wondering why they started working for me.

It became so tiring as time went on because pillows become so popular from October leading towards the Holidays.

I would sleep at my job ( which I feel quite brave for doing so) and sew the night away.

h).  I never understood my value so I undercharged and got burnt. 

I simply would charge repairs clothes at 10 shillings or 20 shillings.

Some of my best customers actually pointed it out and began to wonder why it is that my prices were too low.

They didn’t know it was because, I wasn’t so confident in repairing them and I didn’t know the market rates so I offered ”competitive rates” at the expense of my efforts, time and money. 

Mostly, I dug into my pockets to provide until the pillows got traction.

I).  I turned down more jobs.

If a woman wanted a dress, I wouldn’t make it for them.

What I have realised thus far is that you don’t turn down a job, you take it and outsource to other fundis  (tailors), that way, you make an income and also for another fundi. How generous?

j).  You can’t just make enough with a sewing shop.

You have got to find other markets in the sewing industry.

This is where you get creative with sewing by exploring and pursuing other sewing creative outlets which include: lamps, refashioning, recreating and recycling. 

These niches are interconnected with sewing which leaves room for you to explore your creativity.

QUOTE OF THE CAREER: YOUR CREATIVITY YOUR  IMAGINATION OR LIMITATION.

K).  Have fun and learn.

In every blog post, I’ll emphasise the value that it is in learning and fun.

You can’t take this business too serious that time for having fun is never there.

You can’t just stop having your life because of having or running the business. The business will suffer from your grumpy attitude.

l).  Listen a lot but do you?. If you hear customers asking for a particular thing, offer it, again and again, making it better and valuable each time.

m).  Value your repeat customers and take advantage of them.

By not overcharging but offering them the best and quality service that there is.

Give them discounts, because, through them, you get more and more and more customers.

You can add value to their good or offer an extra for what they have bought from you.

I had a lot of repeat customers, but I didn’t know how to treat some of them.

I even complained about some of them(they were too demanding).

TAKE NOTE:     

They had had a belief in me and believed in my product but I didn’t realise that by them keeping me on my toes, they were trying to make me improve on my products. 

n).  Go out and chat a little bit with other businesses.

I learnt about listening to others in my niche but other neighbouring shops, I’d sit at the coffee shop binging on my sugarless coffee as I listen to how the communication went down.

Especially when a customer asks for something the shop didn’t have that day either because there was no power or suppliers failed.

I picked some dialogue pointers from that.

Learn more about CUSTOMER SERVICE and how to treat every customer with great concern difficult customers will calm down when they see a humble but a determined face.

o).  I learnt the value of time management.

Sometimes with the numerous power outages, they’d be no business.

So I did what I could days in advance and what I couldn’t I kept there pending.

Other customers would believe I’m just dilly-dallying others would understand.

That would delay my production rate as days I’m to work on new orders, I’d spend working on older orders and sometimes I couldn’t just carry them home.

p).  Know when to stop.

I mean have business hours and those help you focus.

There are days I’d spend hours in the shop and end up not having food or cooking at home.

I’d hyper-focus on projects having no breaks to unwind or catch some air.

The wake-up call was when the burn out was too much during the Christmas holiday.

DREAD THIS:   Felt like a failure and duties piled. I was a liar too. I literally went out for a month at the expense of my shop. I just hated being around my shop. 

q).  Brand yourself or your products.

Don’t produce items without having a proper signature.

That’s how people recognise and respect you as an industry leader especially if you plan on going to retail or expand your business.

Creating a brand and a vision accompanied by the mission is something that you must do, whether offline or online.

Your brand leaves, and you’re reminded of the far you have come and the far you intend on going.

r).  Keep evolving as the market trends keep changing.

Don’t stick to services you came to offer or products, listening to your customers carefully and diligently will actually show you a direction for expansion which you can tweak in your business plan.

Be strategic about change and test what the market actually asks.

Slowly learn what individuals are shopping and how.

The times of the month which they shop more and less and introduce products which will make your shop be a retail business with daily returns.

Because selling daily is more lucrative than just once a month or twice a month.

s).  Outsource services which you aren’t confident on.

I made a mistake of doing it all by myself.

I should have solicited for a seamstress who would take orders or who I’d train for more businesses. Just like someone said,

”Sometimes trusting someone is a risky business”. 

t).  If you plan on moving or travelling as we do, a sewing shop will not work or offer flexibility.

You’ll begin to feel limited and constrained and leaving someone with no inventory as you wait for orders from customers is not what you want. 

They’re just too many hyenas in the market. 

KINDLY NOTE:

I sure did learn a hell lot. I’ll make a vlog for you who don’t love reading very long messages.

I make sure to include my tips and tricks plus techniques so that no one is left out.

And when you read, you feel like all your questions have been answered.  But if not, what are you waiting for and

SUBSCRIBE BY EMAILING ME AT: GERTRUDE. AKINYI AT GMAIL DOT COM. 

Learn how to create a sewing empire by watching this YouTube Tutorial. 

[mailerlite_form form_id=2]

h

Run a Successful Tailoring Empire in Kenya YouTube Video

Leave a comment

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Online Businesses / Work in Kenya