As Jackie Njeru awaits to graduate with a civil engineering degree later this month, she is proud of what she has managed to accomplish so early on in her life.
The 23-year-old’s balancing act of fulfilling her love for the latest fashion trends without breaking the bank led her to start a business that’s earning her thousands of shillings as well as keeping her clients and herself looking glamorous.
To top it all off, she honed her design skills through social media tools – YouTube and Pinterest.
“Most of my friends in campus admired my style. I always made sure that I dressed to stand out,” said Ms Njeru.
She hopes to register her startup as Nuru&Stitch later this year, but in the meantime runs her one-woman business from her parents’ house in Kasarani.
In October 2014, she started a fashion blog where she posted finished clothes whose original designs she developed herself and then outsourced tailoring services.
To improve the designs, she went through ‘pins’ on Pinterest (a content-sharing platform) on tailor-making dress designs and infusing some of those ideas into her original designs.
“The pins directed me to YouTube where, after watching their online tutorials, I was convinced that I could do it on my own,” Ms Njeru told the Enterprise in an interview.
At first she was apprehensive of YouTube, fearing that it would gobble up her mobile data bundles, a resource which she did not have plenty of as a university student.
However, she soon realised that the social media tool held immense benefits for her, and soon invested her time in exploring YouTube’s capacity in her line of work.
“I Googled ‘how to sew a jumpsuit’ and I discovered that the most practical and helpful results were from YouTube. It gave me an extra advantage because I can actually see everything that is being done,” she explained.
“It is like a one-on-one interaction with the person I am listening to and watching, unlike Pinterest which is mostly a bunch of instructions making it feel more like reading a book.”
Early last year, she decided to start saving up for a sewing machine and began window shopping for one even before she had amassed the full amount needed to buy one.
A sewing machine, she figured, would see her designs executed with the precision she wanted.
However, securing one was proving to be difficult for the student whose savings from her weekly allowances fell short of the funds needed to buy the machine.
Ms Njeru’s parents, noticing that their daughter was gravitating towards sewing and less towards the course she was studying in campus, decided to foot the entire amount.
As a result, she channelled her savings into getting fabric and other accessories, marking her entry into the fashion industry.
Without any prior knowledge of using a sewing machine, she embarked on reading and interpreting the manual that comes with it.
She did not have the option of taking another course in fashion and design since she was still pursuing the time-consuming civil engineering which barely left enough time for her new enterprise.
Orders started trickling in and she increasingly made YouTube her best friend.
She would get tutorials on fabric designs from the platform and learn, step by step, what it takes to come up with winning designs and also how to tidily add a finishing touch.
From the Internet, she also downloaded relevant books on the sewing trade, building her own cache of knowledge and resources that improved her design work over time.
“Moreover, I like the fact that I can easily save YouTube videos for later offline viewing. Whenever I stumble upon an interesting design or technique of doing something, I just save it and catch up with it later,” she said.
“I usually take breaks from sewing in order to read the books and also to reflect on where I am and if I am still working to attain my vision.”
Most memorable outfit
Ms Njeru said that her orders are priced from Sh4,000 and the value increases depending on the complexity of the design sought.
“Someone can send me a design with measurements they want made through WhatsApp and that is all I need to make an admirable outfit… I get most of my works from referrals,” she said.
She advises her clients what would work best for them depending on the type of fabric and print they want, their complexion and even body sizes.
In a good month, the young designer gets approximately 20 orders from which she takes home over Sh100,000, money she is saving up to expand her business.
The most memorable outfit she has designed to date is one she created for a contestant who was modelling at the Mr and Miss Daystar beauty pageant last year.
“The piece featured in the creative wear category. It was a mermaid gown and the top part was made from aluminium foil and the bottom skirt was made from more than 1,000 plastic spoons,” she said.