Recently we caught up with our wonderful tailor, Betty, who runs her own business in Tanzania. We have watched her company flourish over the last few years and it has been a pleasure to support her on her journey.
Kitenge founder, Sian, (right) with Betty (left) outside her family home in Tanzania
Betty’s wonderful tailors make all our hair accessories, bow ties and bunting using the offcuts from the production of our African print clothing. These items, which are sold at UK music festivals, minimize fabric wastage and prevent it from going to landfill.
Continue reading to learn about Betty’s impressive business expansion, get to know her employees (mainly women) and find out the challenges she faces running her business in Tanzania.
1) Please can you tell us your name?
My full name is Elizabeth Mngulwi.
2) How many years experience do you have in business and tailoring?
I have 4 years experience.
3) Where did you learn to design and sew?
I taught myself to sew from scratch by watching You Tube videos for beginners. I borrowed my mum’s old sewing machine, which she bought more than 30 years ago, to practice on. Now I know how to sew very well.
I look at other people’s designs for inspiration or create my own. I find ideas through social media, the Internet, pictures or seeing somebody wearing something that I like. It depends on what kind of item I am making.
4) Have you trained any of your employers to sew?
My tailors already know how to sew but they don’t know how to create my designs so I teach them myself.
5) Please can you tell us more about the people you employ and their roles in your business?
I currently have 6 employees in total including 3 tailors, a shoemaker, graphic designer and a manager.
Sian visiting Betty’s team in her brand new workshop in Tanzania. Back row (from left to right): Vincent, Abigail, Betty and John. Front row (from left to right): Sian, Levina, Lucy and Upendo.
6) Do you offer your employees any benefits?
I pay for their health insurance.
7) Please can you tell us about your recent business expansion including your brand new workshop?
It is fantastic! We built this new workshop after 4 years of starting my business. Previously, business was very slow but now it is growing quickly.
I started off working in my bedroom and later decided to build a small workshop including an office and shop next to my family home so that I could employ staff to help support me.
Betty sat inside her old office. She has since knocked through the wall into the old small workshop so she has a much bigger workspace too
Betty and her manager, Upendo, inside the shop, which is next door to her office
As the business grew we ran out of space so I decided to build a larger workshop nearby, which is more comfortable to work in.
Betty looking out of the window of her new, larger workshop during building construction
My future plan is to expand by opening more shops in different regions of Tanzania. I am already based in Dar es Salaam, which is the root of everything.
8) Since opening the new, larger workshop here have you seen any benefits so far to your business?
In the old workshop we could only accommodate 2 tailors and it was difficult for them to share the space. Therefore, our capacity was limited. I could not employ more tailors because there was not enough space.
Abigail working inside the old workshop, which was very cramped
In the new, larger workshop we now have a very large space, which can accommodate more than 20 tailors comfortably. I now feel more comfortable accepting larger order volumes because I have a lot of employees who can handle anything.
Betty with her new recruits Lucy and Levina holding our Kitenge hair clips that they made in the new workshop, which has a lot more space
9) What is your favourite Kitenge accessory to make and why?
My favourite Kitenge accessory is the hairband and also the men’s bow tie. The hairband is very comfortable and can also make the wearer look younger. It’s cute, very simple to make and I also like the design. Even a child can wear a Kitenge hairband so it’s a nice product.
Matching his and hers Kitenge hairband and bow tie modelled by our fabulous customers at Womad Festival in 2017
10) What challenges do you face in business here in Tanzania?
First of all, we cannot buy new, quality machines, as they are not available here. Therefore, we are limited to the designs that we can make. The new machines are very expensive for us to import from other countries.
Secondly, we have to purchase materials from far away because we do not have a market where you can buy handcraft tools. I wish we had a large supermarket where you can buy these tools easily. We have to use other alternatives so it is very difficult and challenging.
Thirdly, we do not have a large textiles industry so sourcing certain types of fabric can be difficult as some are not available here. We have to import them from outside of the country so it is very challenging to us.
11) And finally, where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years time?
This is a very difficult question but I would like to do the following:
1) Employ more women who do not have jobs but have hands.
2) Open a factory where I can produce my own fabrics.
3) Purchase all the small tools and equipment that we need for my own factory.
4) Reduce the number of materials and equipment that I have to import from outside of the country.
5) Make my products and supply them to others.
We hope you have enjoyed getting to know Betty and her fantastic business. To find out more about our supply chain, please check out the following articles on our blog.
Meet The Tailors Creating African Print Clothing in Tanzania
Ankara Fashion – Meet the Small Businesses Behind The Seams!
From Thread to Shop: How we Make our African Print Clothing
Get to Know Kitenge’s Master Tailor, Abdallah!
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