Getting a job is not a walk in the park. In fact, some people graduate with top grades but take years to find employment.
But this fear has not held back those with jobs from venturing out into the murky waters of self employment.
That is the story of 25-year-old Laurène Rwema Umutoni, and 22-year-old Natalie Mukahigiro. The two realised that after years of being just another employee, it was time to be self-employed.
In 2015, Umutoni, a former employee of Gorillas Golf Hotel, Nyarutarama, and Mukahigiro, who used to work for Huawei, quit their well-paying jobs to start a business of their own. With a passion for fashion, the two established a fashion house - Uzi Collection fashion house with a start-up capital of Rwf500, 000.
Although they have managed to stay afloat, the ladies talk about the challenges that came their way and what it took to keep going.
“Starting from scratch was not easy, but I had a little experience in the industry and most significantly, passion for it. I knew we were going to struggle, but not for long, because Rwanda’s fashion industry grows day by day and so there’s always room for fresh ideas. We can learn from others and share different experiences,” Umutoni says.
Mukahigiro echoes the same challenges. She says it was not easy getting to where they are, and like Umutoni, she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“We met many challenges like all newborns in the industry, for instance, not knowing what the market demand was, not having advisors or mentors to guide us through the process, the shortage of fabric and even lack of adequate information in different training opportunities in the industry. And above everything, there was no solid salary to look forward to at the end of the month, instead, we were the ones who needed to keep working if we were to make any money,” she says.
The duo says that they shared common goals before they chose to run a business together.
“We both wanted to be financially independent, to create job opportunities in our community and, prove anybody who underestimates the determination and proficiency of girls or women wrong,” Mukahigiro says.
Besides the goals they have achieved, they still have targets that they are yet to meet.
“We want our brand to be recognised on the international level and we want our products to be accessible worldwide through online services and other channels,” Mukahigiro adds.
While the two recognise past challenges, they are not under any delusions that they’ve seen the last of them. Challenges, like we all know them, will always be there and the ladies advise anyone who would want to follow in their footsteps that the only way to make it is if you ‘get a feel of the depth of the waters.’
“If it’s possible, being self-employed is the best decision to make when you are still young. You get to take responsibility and gain experience through failure and tips from other people in the industry who have more experience,” says Umutoni.
Starting something new is a scary thought for many, especially a business. Mukahigiro shares some tips;
“The first step is to know what you want to be or do and look at what it takes to reach that. Be confident enough to start it. Some people started businesses with close to nothing and they are literally smiling all the way to the bank now.
All it takes is courage, passion and patience; never give up, no matter the challenges,” she says.
Where there are challenges, achievements also follow. The ladies talk about some of the achievements they’ve had in the company’s two years of existence.
“Of course we are able to take care of ourselves, we also have four employees with a monthly salary and, we contribute to the ‘Made in Rwanda’ campaign,” Mukahigiro says.
The ladies have also started dressing noticeable stars like Jules Sentore, boy group Active and Ben Kayiranga.
“We used to produce only four pieces a week but now, we produce over 25 pieces,” Umutoni says.
The fashion icons also shared what they believe makes them unique.
“Customer care is very important. We give special treatment to our clients and make sure that they are comfortable when with us. We also make sure that we follow a client’s requirements word for word. We customise a few details on the clothes when a client asks for it and also offer delivery services,” says Umutoni.
The clients I talked to seem to agree with the quality of service at Uzi Collections.
“I wear only black, and Uzi Collections was able to create shirts that match my personality and taste. That is really creative, dynamic and flexible. And even though black is my preferred colour, I like their other coloured pieces,” Chris Schwagga, a visual artist/photographer says.
Alex Niragira, a creative entrepreneur, also talks about the quality of their garments.
“What I like the most about Uzi Collections is the quality of their garments. I like the way they gracefully combine materials, for example, batik and other fabrics. For me, their designs are unique and anyone who wears a garment from Uzi instantly stands out,” Niragira says.
Robert Kayihura, a fashion designer, also talks about their work as an expert in the field.
“These girls really surprise me with their work, especially since they are so young. And the way they took the risk to quit their jobs and start a new path is so inspiring, especially when you consider the fact that 2015 was not a good year for the fashion industry,” he says.
Kayihura urges young girls and anyone else who may want to follow in their footsteps, to follow their heart and have passion for what they do. Giving up a job isn’t easy, so make every moment count. He hopes that their story will inspire someone else to join the industry.
What does it take to start a business?
I think it all comes down to how determined one is to make it. If one already has a job, managing a new project can turn out to be stressful and would require them to quit, which is also hard. But I think if one is sure of what they are getting themselves into, risking their job can turn out to be worthwhile.
Rose Kyomugisha - Businesswoman
One can start by defining their goals and finding their motivation. Then they can do research on the market and draft a business proposal. Gather all resources both financial and human and then implement the vision.
Ange Ingabire, Founder, Azzi Products
What it takes is to have an idea, regardless of how small you start out. I am sure that with the right zeal and passion you can make it. Also, one should venture into something they understand and feel good about, this way, they can overcome any challenges they encounter along the journey. I wouldn’t mind venturing into something I love even if it means quitting my job.
Simon Kalisa, Entrepreneur
I think some people think that it’s a chosen few who have what it takes to run a business but this is not true, and it is this factor that tends to ruin businesses in their early stages. Most people do have what it takes, however, they only need to have the patience since businesses tend to be hard to manage, especially in the starting stage. Also, people should aim at learning from others, and this they can do by getting mentors for guidance.
Julian Kayibanda, Founder ‘Play Ground’