Jqnerose Gqtobu 6 credit photo: www.africanexponent.com

“What I believe is when you get to commit yourself to your dream and you know how big your dream is, that is what tells you how high to jump.” These are the wise words of JANEROSE GATOBU, a Kenyan designer who specializes in bags. This came from a simple desire she always had burning within her. “I used to find every time I buy a bag, I want to do something to it,” she said. And before long, she jumped onto the entrepreneurship bandwagon.

Her business idea centred on telling Kenyan and African stories through her masterpieces. She is a lover of African print and decided to use Ankara, which is a locally available African print material, together with other materials like leather to share her perception about Africa and the rest of the world. Her inspiration comes from different places like nature, art galleries, concerts and other art events.

Immediately after graduation in 2014 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial and Product Design from the University of Nairobi, and with her parents’ support, she opted to venture into the business in October of the same year. Jagari Designs, her brainchild, aims to fill in the gap in the market for custom made, African print bags in Kenya. According to her, all the raw materials she needed to kick start the venture were locally available. So without further ado, she started sketching designs on her scrapbook and sought services of a tailor to stitch the materials together.

As any other start-up, Gatobu had to deal with the daunting task of raising enough initial capital to turn her dreams into reality. She started small and kept it simple. She had some income from jobs she did while still on campus like graphic design and had directed these to her savings. On her graduation party, the monetary gifts brought by family and friends together with the savings, enabled her to raise enough capital to purchase the initial items for her business. Armed with her first sketches, Gatobu approached a tailor to have the design stitched up. “I can say it didn’t quite work out as well as I thought. It was a disappointment,” said Gatobu whose spirit was not broken by this. As an entrepreneur, gambling with the initial capital can be a risk to a business. She wanted to make it work despite the challenge. Gathering more courage and learning from it, Gatobu pressed on and with time, she was able to make great bags. She initially started out making around 5-10 bags per month but now finds herself in the range of 25 bags per month to keep up with demand.

Next came the task of building her client base. Her family came in handy as her first clients and by word of mouth, she got referrals to make more bags.

After evaluating her business, the young entrepreneur knew opening a shop at the time was not a viable idea, so she opted to use ‘free’ market available online. “I went online. I normally sell my things on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and when you (clients, who have increased form around ten per month mostly from friends and family, to anywhere between 20-30 per month) want orders, we go through the process of ordering on WhatsApp and email.”

Some of the challenges she has faced so far are the issue of batting heads with established corporates, high taxes on her bags’ accessories, being a young woman in a man’s world and the fact that Kenyans prefer international brands. She is however hopeful to changing this perception and looks forward to the time when local products will be hailed to their international counterparts in the African continent.

So far, Jagari Designs has had remarkable recognition in the art industry and as an enterprise. In December 2015, her business won Fashion Icon of the Year, Africa Youth Award. Moreover, Jagari designs was nominated for Disruption by Design (DXD) Gala Award. The Africa Youth award, according to the young entrepreneur has honoured Jagari’s efforts to tell the African story to its people and the rest of the world.

In future, Gatobu aspires to have her designer bags hit the runway in Africa and abroad.

Credit, photo and interview: www.africanexponent.com

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