As a young girl growing up in the 70s and 80s, she was always fascinated by outlandish fashion. Seeing some of these attires Jacqueline Mukacyimayire thought that she could do a better job given a chance.
That marked the beginning of the love affair with fashion and design for Mukacyimayire. Born in a small village in Nyamugali cell, Gasaka sector in Nyamagabe District, Southern Province, Mukacyimayire’s dream was to study fashion abroad, but that was never to be.
She says she was forced to take a ‘short-cut’ after Primary Six and enrolled for a course in tailoring due to lack of fees.
“Those days, students who joined technical training schools were seen as failures in life.
However, it was the only alternative I had. So in 1988 I joined Jeunesse Ouvriere Chrietienne (JOC), a vocational school in Kigali, for a two-year course in tailoring,” she explains.
Mukacyimayire says she did not want to let go of her passion for fashion ‘because of people’s biases’.
“Though I never had the chance to go to a top fashion school, I didn’t lose hope and kept focused on my childhood dream. That’s the main reason I enrolled for a tailoring course in Kigali,” she says
“After I completed the course, I hired a second-hand sewing machine and started out as a seamstress, mending people’s clothes besides making new pieces of clothing,” she says. She hired the sewing machine at Rwf2,000 per month, and by this time, she had relocated to Nyaruguru District.
Mukacyimayire says the initial stages were trying since she was operating from a village. She adds that though clients were few, she soldiered on.
“When I started, I was working from home. However, I later shifted to the market to get more customers. I used to make about Rwf10, 000 a month, but did not discourage me,” she recalls the mother of five.
Like all the other ventures in Rwanda, her business was affected by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She says that after she got married in1996, her husband bought her a new sewing machine to rejuvenate her business, adding that it felt good to “use my own sewing machine”.
She worked from home, on the verandah of the family’s two-roomed home.
But she was not contented. “I wanted a better life for my children, the life that I never had. How was I going to make it possible with the meager income I earned from the business?”
When all this seemed an impossible dream, Vision Finance Company, restore her hope. The micro-finance company is owned by World Vision and gives small loans to vulnerable people to start income-generating activities.
“They encouraged me to join a group of entrepreneurs in mylocality. Later, they trained us in business management and gave us small loans to expand our businesses,” she says.
Mukacyimayire says they were given a group loan. “I used my share of Rwf70,000 to buy materials to start making uniforms for schools in the area,” she says. The gamble paid off as her earnings shot to Rwf50,000 monthly.
With the income, she was able to repay the loan in six months, and was given another loan of Rwf150,000. “I bought two more sewing machines and also hired two workers to help me. The expansion enabled me to make Rwf150,000 per month,” she notes.
Mukacyimayire says her breakthrough was when she won a Rwf1 million tender in 2000 to make school uniforms for SOS Nyamagabe Primary School.
The tender enabled her to expand and start making school sweaters. She says that by 2010 Vision Finance saw her as one of the best borrowers, and continued supporting her technically and financially. “I also landed other big tenders to make school uniforms and sweaters, which enabled me to buy specialised equipment to ease our work,” she says.
“I used every single coin I got to expand the business. The rate at which it was growing, I was hopeful that one day it would become more profitable and sustainable,” she recalls.
She points out that with new equipment, she was now saving about Rwf600,000 monthly. “The quality of my work attracted schools to buy uniforms and clients doubled. I got an opportunity to do school uniforms for five schools that were supported by Compassion International,” Mukacyimayire explains.
Though the tender demanded more capital of up to Rwf1.5 million, Vision Finance was willing to bail her out so she could buy all the materials needed for the job. The tender made her Rwf6 million richer, with a profit of Rwf3 million after tax and paying other expenses.
“My life and that of my family changed completely. With this money in the bank, I decided to build a permanent house for the family. I also moved to Nyamagabe town and opened a big workshop and store,” she notes.
Besides Mukacyimayire’s ‘never say die’ spirit, she never fears to take on challenges, is trustworthy and has financial discipline. According to Phiona Naluyiga, the head of special projects at Vision Finance Company (VFC), Mukacyimayire is a good listener and learner.
“Mukacyimayire has inspired women in her community and many are working hard to follow in her footsteps. She has created jobs for many youth, especially disadvantaged girls. She demonstrated hard work and determination,” she says. Naluyiga says Mukacyimayire listens to advice from her staff, makes good investments, which has helped her to repay loans in time.
Recently, the enterprising woman clinched a tender to make school uniforms for 2,000 children in Kigeme Refugee Camp. This made it to over 10 jobs Mukacyimayire is doing in Nyamagabe.
She says she earns Rwf15 million a month on average.
Fruits of hard work
Mukacyimayire’s success has become a source of inspiration to many. Because of her business acumen, Vision Finance has sponsored her twice, in 2012 and in 2013, to go to the US and share her success story.
She has been able to buy a new Toyota Rav4 to ease her movements and enable her deliver orders on time or bring new supplies from Kigali. She has bought four Friesian cows, as well as plots of land in various parts of Nyamagabe District, totaling 10 hectares.
She says she earns Rwf50,000 per month from milk sales and Rwf100,000 from hotels which hire her car. “My children are studying in good schools and our family now has stable source of income, “she says. Mukacyimayire attributes her success to Vision Finance, saying the firm’s supportive staff helped her discover her potential and inner abilities.
Mukacyimayire employs 15 fulltime and several temporally workers. Her husband also does all the deliveries.
Oda Mutoni, who has just joined university, is following in her mother’s footsteps. She says she also wants to become an entrepreneur.
Mukacyimayire says her business is low when schools are not in session. Also having to travel to Kigali every so often to get supplies is a big challenge.
She plans to set up a garment-making factory in Nyamagabe District.
“The factory will enable me to produce my own threads and fabrics,” she proudly says. She hopes to secure more markets in other districts in Southern Provence and across the country.
Giving back to community
Mukacyimayire mentors other women and teaches them how to acquire and service loans. She says that she advises women to follow their passions, noting that it is the foundation of every successful business.
What people say abour her...
Mukacyimayire is passionate about her work and never gives up on something she believes in. We have been working together since the beginning of her career… she never wastes time on unproductive things. I believe it’s this focus that has significantly contributed to her success. She is our inspiration.
Many women consult her on business and investment issues. She believes in herself and pursues her goals no matter what. We learn a lot from her; she never stops encouraging us to start our businesses, saying self-employment is the way to go.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba