Struggles of a young entrepreneur who recycles old car tyres to produce furniture

Rwibutso while painting a chair. Photos by Joan Mbabazi.

Old car tyres are regarded as of little value by most, however, for 19-year-old Belinda Rwibutso, they are raw materials for furniture such as tables and home sofa chairs.

The senior six leaver’s passion for art and design pushed her to start recycling materials. This was after undertaking research on how best she can turn old parts into new meaning stuff.

She had a chat with Business Times’ Joan Mbabazi about her journey, hurdles and way forward.

How did you come up with this idea and how was it like in the beginning?

In 2018, as I after I sat for my final exams, I wanted to venture in something that would earn me money and keep me busy at the same time. I am creative and I fell in love with art at a young age since my dad was an artist. I learnt to make something out of nothing.

A chair and table made by Rwibutso, out of tyres with an  African touch.

I thought of something that would bring me many customers, I was sure everyone needs furniture at work, home, school and elsewhere. I started with capital of Rwf 50, 000 which I had saved from pocket money. Without inquiring from anyone whether car tires could make good furniture, I went to Nyabugogo and bought three old tires. Prices of tires range from Rwf 9,000 to Rwf 15,000 depending on the size and condition they are in.  I got three gentlemen and we started making furniture using a simple machine. None of us had experience in it, but we came up with something unique. We started with one table and one chair.

How are your prices?

The prices are fair because I want to target everyone, both low and high-income earners. Together, the chair and a table cost Rwf 120,000.

Belinda Rwibutso, poses for a photo at The New Times offices. 

 How long does it take to complete a chair and a table?

To fix both a table and a chair takes almost a week. For instance four days for fixing, one day for review and one day for design.

You have been in the business for a couple of months, what challenges have you encountered?

I need more money to expand my operations because customers make orders daily but I often do not have money to work on their orders. I have no place to operate, I work from home in Gatsata, and many customers can’t access me easily. I need to rent a place near town to attract many buyers.

I also face an issue of transporting the furniture to my customers in different countries. It is not easy for me, thus losing international clients. My wish is to get a loan so that I boost my business.

I need to do training in making furniture, to add professionalism, passion, and experience to make the best furniture in Rwanda.

The machine we use is tiresome and requires much energy to use, this often delays work.  Something what could have taken three days, takes a week.

Any triumphs so far?

People are responding positively towards my work especially on social media. I believe when I get the money I will expand, not only in Rwanda but worldwide. I have learnt that starting a business is not easy, but what matters is persistence. Skills come with time.

What are the components of your manufacturing process?

We use wood which we attach to the tires using a simple machine. We also attach some Kitenge and spray depending on the color a person prefers, each bottle spray bottle costs Rwf 4,000. I have two employees.

What are your future plans?

My wish is to collaborate with Made In Rwanda platform. I don’t know what it takes but I want to raise Rwanda’s flag high in Africa. I am looking forward to equipping youths with skills to start up small businesses. If I settle financially, I want to pay health insurance for poor kids. I also want to give necessary support to patients in hospitals. I also look forward to employing youths. I hope to make office, garden, and outside furniture as well.

What keeps you going?

I want to make my mother proud because she has been there at all times, and she gave me a go ahead when I was starting. I lost touch with my father some years back, I hope when he sees my work he will be interested to come back home because we miss him and there is no way we can reach him.

Apart from making furniture, what else do you do?

I also make cards (such as birthday cards, appreciation cards, success cards) out of papers. The prices range from Rwf 300 to Rwf 1,500.

What advice would you give to someone who would want to start up a furniture business?

You need to decide what kind of furniture you are going to make. Whether it’s home, office or kitchen furniture. You also need to specify the materials you want to use. As an entrepreneur, you need to invest time in writing a business plan that provides you the way to success. You need to dedicate time to business practices such as defining marketing strategies.

You should have a website where you can display your work. You should know what your mission is, what type of value you are bringing on the market, what your price point is, and whether you are able to protect your designs (by trademark) and keeping them original. Start small and dream big, this will allow you to take action while you learn the business and grow. You need to find something superfluous that will make you stand out from the other furniture businesses out there. Focus on building a brand that will be remembered for quality, beauty, convenience and striking designs. All in all, skills improvement come with time.




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