How this Maseno University student turned passion into business

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On May 11, 2021, armed with 10 t-shirts, and a friend, Jeremiah Mwikali moved to Patels Flats stage along Kisumu-Kakamega road.

The Fourth Year Economics student at Maseno University had spotted the place before, and he felt he could try cloth business here.

A wall enclosing Aga Khan Nursery School, stretching all the way from Patels roundabout, towards Jalaram Hospital lay bare.

He got some nails from a nearby hardware, pinned them on the wall, and tied a string, then hanged the t-shirts.

By the end of the day, he had sold four.

He felt like he had hit a jackpot, given the hard economic times which engulfed Kenyans during the period, occasioned by the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic.

“After my last paper, I came here in the company of a friend with whom we started this business and also own a fifty-fifty stake,” he remembers.

He adds: “We were testing the waters. We loved the scenic display this wall provided, and it actually paid off.”

They also agreed on how to turn-take as far as running the business.

Jeremiah at his place of work in Kisumu. (Photo: Joseph Obonyo, LRB)

“We were very lucky to have found this place,” says Mwikali.

The place is strategic. Many people traveling northwards of Kisumu CBD through Kisumu-Kakamega road uses this route.

“Majority of public service vehicles using this route make several stops here to pick passengers, and that is a market opportunity for us,” the slim dark gentleman says.

Trying times

After finishing his secondary school education in Nyangwa Boys, in Embu County in 2018, he knew he had to toughen up.

Having been raised by a single mother in a family of three boys, Mwikali, being the eldest, always felt the pressure to step up.

Though he shied away from revealing some of the adversities he has had to face in life, it was clear from his drawn face that life had not lent a kind hand to him and his family.

In 2019, misfortune struck their family when he lost his mother. “This was a real blow to me and my brothers who are still very young,” he narrates.

One could clearly tell from his face that this had been a sad and difficult moment for him.

Having enrolled in the university, he had to take his two brothers to a children’s home. This was a hard choice.

“The thought of my brothers growing up in a children’s home had never crossed my mind. I did not like the idea but there was no one else who could take good care of my siblings,” he adds.

“When I joined Maseno University main campus, I tried my hand in several business ventures with the aim of making extra money for my personal use, but all was in vain,” he said.

However when he teamed up with his friend to start their current business, everything seemed to work according to plan.

They get the shirts from Nairobi.

“Our supplier sometimes creates the designs but in other occasions we do the creations and send our ideas to him depending on customer demands and request,” he says.

The designs include trending phrases, portraits of famous personalities, or admired animals, with a single t-shirt going for Sh800.

“I have clients who are addicted to my products and they make frequent purchases,” he states.

He boasts of dressing some of the known personalities in Kisumu, especially those in the entertainment industry.

He slides his finger across his phone and shows me pictures of some of these clients.

Jeremiah tends to one of his many female clients. (Photo: Joseph Obonyo, LRB)

He adds that their consistency has made all the difference in the business.

“We are always here from Monday to Monday. Our customers are confident they can always find us here any time,” he says.

The hurdles

The fourth year student, though happy about his fruitful venture, says one of the greatest challenges he faces, is having to wear two hats, one for a student and another for a business man.

This, he confesses, has made it difficult to cope with class work which he admits is equally important.

“I sometimes miss lessons when I am held up with work but some of my friends keep me updated,” he admits.

As he pulls a chair to have a seat, two gentlemen arrive. These are his classmates, and after sharing pleasantries, he makes the usual inquiry; if there is any catch up with class work he has to do.

“After my graduation, I’m hoping to fully commit myself and my time to my business,” says Jeremiah.

Another challenge, he says, is the dust and the harsh sunshine which he blames for the discoloring of some the t-shirts on display, especially the black and green ones.

Mwikali advises young people to embrace humble beginnings and work faithfully to realize their dreams.

Mwikali who also occasionally sends financial support to his siblings in the children’s home says it is only through hard work and being flexible that he is smelling success.

“Most young people feel embarrassed doing certain jobs,” he says. “There is no guarantee you will find a job after you graduate,” he stresses.

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