Zia Bett-Nyamari, the founder of clothing brand Zia Africa — which manufactures clothes locally — talks to Enterprise about her business journey, the value of small beginnings, challenges she has faced running the business from 2013 to date, the challenges that the local manufacturing industry experiences, and how the pandemic helped her restructure her business.
How did the idea for Zia Africa come about?
The idea was born when I was a university student. I used to go to Gikomba to buy clothes and later sell them to my college mates. I did this for a while until I started sourcing clothes outside the country. This enabled me to find variety and quality as I struggled to find outfits that were affordable and unique.
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, I had to shut down my business for some time. This was when I started thinking of what next for the business. I brainstormed and came up with a plan to manufacture the clothes locally.
I started looking for fabric suppliers and tailors who can make quality clothes and respect deadlines. I also started looking for equipment that I would need to make the clothes locally and that was when my brand was really born.
What was your initial investment in the business?
When I used to source clothes from Gikomba, I would spend around Sh2,000. So, I could say I began small until I asked my sister to invest in my business. She invested Sh60,000 for importing clothes.
After that, we did business for a few years between 2013 and 2019 when I opened a shop and then the pandemic hit in 2020. I was pregnant at the time and had to shut down operations indefinitely. I only had three months to re-strategise and think about how I can make the best out of that situation.
So I did research on local manufacturing and suppliers. That was the birth of Zia Africa, which manufactures clothes for women locally.
Despite many businesses tumbling in 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic, the manufacturing industry remained resilient and did really well. How did your business perform during this time?
My business actually thrived in 2020 and 2021. This was when we started manufacturing clothes. There was an uptake in e-commerce and social media-run businesses. So, online deliveries and people being at home made it easy for us to engage with our clients and serve them efficiently and it also created an opportunity for consumers to trust and know our brand.
We also opened our website during this period where our clients can find everything they need, including information about the company, and even make orders for the clothes they want to buy.
What is the cost of production for locally manufactured clothes?
The cost of production varies depending on the pieces. There are pieces that are more complicated. These take more time and use expensive fabric. There are also pieces that take a shorter time to make and don’t use that much fabric. Sometimes a metre or a metre-and-a-half of fabric will go for about Sh200 or Sh300. We also have to factor in the overheads, such as time used by a tailor and electricity among others. So the cost is really dependent on many different variables.
How do you ensure you maintain your creative edge in an industry that is saturated with many different designs and brands?
Well, I am a morning person and I believe in following a strict routine, discipline and planning. One of the things I do is start my day at 3 am or 4 am and internalise how my day will go. During this time, I write a journal, read and work out – all before 7 am. Then I start looking at what our clients are saying online, taking their advice, and implementing it where I can to make my business more personal to the clients. At the end of the day, the client is always right.
What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work?
The first challenge is retaining tailors. The is access to finance, which I think is a drawback for not only me but every other business. To scale and grow you need finances, so any entrepreneur can go to a bank or an investor but for them to invest in your business, it takes a lot of time and convincing. Another challenge is competition. You have to stay on your toes and ahead of your competition.
What advice would you give other budding entrepreneurs?
Be very disciplined and trust your gut. There are many people with great business ideas but they don’t trust in themselves, which makes it hard to execute. Another thing is getting a mentor who will guide you in your business and help you grow.