As a child, 27-year-old Priscilla Ruzibuka looked up to the housemaid at their family home. Not that being a housemaid was a big achievement, but the love, passion and optimism that the maid exuded was what Ruzibuka admired. The housemaid juggled her chores effectively and was also able to learn tailoring skills from Ruzibuka’s mother. The former house maid is now a successful entrepreneur based in Tanzania.
Fast forward; this inspiration from a housemaid is what would later see Ruzibuka venture into empowering vulnerable women after graduating from university.
Ruzibuka was recently named among the Queen’s Young Leader 2018 winners. The annual award from the Queen of England recognises youth aged between 18 and 29 who demonstrate outstanding leadership and entrepreneurship skills in their respective communities.
Ruzibuka will join winners from other commonwealth states to undergo training and mentorship from industry leaders as well as acquire networking opportunities.
According to Ruzibuka, the group will meet the Queen to receive their awards at the end of the training and mentorship programme.
How it all started
Ruzibuka is the founder of ‘Ki-pepeo Kids Clothing’, a social enterprise that she set up to boost the livelihood of vulnerable women by training them in tailoring and employing them to make the clothes.
“We work with former street vendors, former housemaids and other vulnerable women in society to boost their livelihoods,” she says.
Ruzibuka says she was inspired by a former housemaid who worked for her family and acquired tailoring skills from her mother.
Ruzibuka is concerned that many women have untapped skills in various trades, but unfortunately, they don’t put them to use because they don’t have the capital to start up their own businesses.
“Some of them sit home and depend on their husbands for everything, others are still street vendors because they didn’t find the capital they needed to start their own businesses,” Ruzibuka adds.
For now, Ruzibuka employs six women, and the number is expected to increase to nine next month after the project has been expanded. The entrepreneur trains all her employees in tailoring at the workshop.
The name ‘Ki-pepeo’ (butterfly) was chosen because of its transformation from a caterpillar, an “unwanted and ugly thing”, to a beautiful creature.
Ruzibuka adds that it also represents the “pure souls” of children.
“In Rwanda, it’s difficult to find particular children’s clothing, especially after the second-hand clothing ban. I wanted to be a part of it and help fellow women at the same time,” she says.
The Queen’s Young Leaders Award
Ruzibuka says she was put in the limelight so she has to work hard and ‘touch’ more lives.
“When you are recognised on a global stage, you meet many people who are interested in what you do,” she says, adding that she has to “put more effort and help as many vulnerable women as possible.”
Ruzibuka says they have already tapped into the international market through various exhibitions like the ‘Children’s Club’ she attended in New York, USA, that brought together an impressive 6000 exhibitors.
“When you attend such exhibitions you look at famous brands, the pricing and the way they operate. Fortunately, people liked our brand because it’s unique but we want to do more so as to market the ‘Made–in-Rwanda’ brand,” she says.
For now, the enterprise has the capacity to produce at least 500 clothing items per month, but with time, they will be able to produce much more with better equipment and more staff, she says.
Like many entrepreneurs, Ruzibuka uses the Internet to market and sell her products. This is mainly on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the firm’s website.
“Many people like the old model of shopping, that is, visiting a shop or market to check out the fabric, touch and try it out before paying for the product,” she notes.
This is still a big challenge, but it is gradually changing, she adds.
Ruzibuka says she has not received any complaints about her products sold online.
“We post pictures of all the products we have in stock, specifications and prices. When stock runs out, we let our followers know. If someone makes an order, and mentions the product they want, we make arrangements to deliver it to them,” she says.
Ruzibuka says that by nature women are ‘naturally caring.’
“Today she will worry about her children, tomorrow her husband, and the day after it will be her in-laws. Women were made like that and nothing can change it. A good manager has to understand them on a daily basis if you want good results,” she says.
Beneficiaries share their stories
Before joining ‘Ki-pepeo’, Nadine Uwera was a simple tailor who “didn’t even know how to open a bank account.”
She would find part-time jobs but was paid very little money and she would use it all without saving any.
Uwera says that she couldn’t even afford basic needs like food, school fees for the children and health insurance.
In January 2017, she was trained to make children’s clothing for ‘Ki-pepeo’ and it was the beginning of a better life.
“For now, I get a monthly salary and with it, I bought a motorcycle in instalments. I get additional income from it thanks to ‘Ki-pepeo’,” Uwera says.
31-year-old Rose Umuhoza says that like Uwera, she too had never opened a bank account, or saved any money from her past jobs.
“Three years ago, I already had some tailoring knowledge from a non-governmental organisation, but I couldn’t use it because of lack of equipment to start working on my own. I then became a housemaid to help my brother with school fees, as well as my mother with basic needs like health insurance and commodities, among other things.
“In March 2017, I joined ‘Ki-pepeo’. It was my first time to open a bank account, and I was able to help my family and pay for my everyday needs. Now I know that nothing is impossible if I’m determined. I’m aiming at opening my own tailoring enterprise one day,” says Umuhoza.
Alice Niyotwagira, another beneficiary, first acquired skills in tailoring in 2009. The 24-year-old took on small part-time jobs because she didn’t have her own sewing machine.
“I was able to make a little money to buy food and simple clothing. But I wasn’t moving forward. After joining ‘Ki-pepeo’ in July 2017, I started aiming for something bigger. Now I have my own machine and slowly, I will have the complete gear to start my own business. I know it’s possible, thanks to Ki-pepeo Kids Clothing,” she says.
When Keyisha Leeza completed secondary school in 2016, she could not afford to continue with university education.
“I was not able to continue with university studies, at least not immediately.
In September 2017, I was employed by Ki-pepeo Kids Clothing as a receptionist and now, I can afford to pay for all my needs, and, I’m planning to continue with my studies.
Advice to the youth, women
To the youth, Ruzibuka says “Many successful people haven’t lost touch with humanity.They don’t just work to make money, but also to make a positive impact on the lives of less fortunate people. Money comes and goes, but the impact made on people’s lives will always be marked,” she says.
Rwanda has created many opportunities for women. They have a platform to show their abilities so it’s up to them to use it, Ruzibuka says.
The young entrepreneur adds that she does not agree with women who say they can’t do things just because they are women.
“Being born a woman is not an excuse; we have the same abilities as men. We can be successful in business and make a positive impact on society.”
“Young people should strive to be like that. Create jobs, be successful and help others grow for the good of all. It’s the only way to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor,” she adds.