Mildred Naava Mwebaza is a receptive and conversational young woman who dispels the myth that girls should only survive on handouts, either from their parents, friends or boyfriends.
The 25—year—old second-year student of counselling and guidance at Makerere University envisages to become a big fashion designer with a major purpose — to become financially independent.
That’s why, when her friends at the university in 2016 complimented her round sewed African fabric dress (Kitenge) and requested her to get them dresses like hers, it became her breakthrough into the fashion business.
“I fancy unique clothes and these can only be got in African fabric material. One day at campus, I wore my round African fabric dress which had been sewed by some lady downtown and when my friends saw it, they requested me to go back and get them some at a fee,” she recalls.
The humble start
She bravely took a gamble and used Shs100,000, which was part of her tuition, to buy 17 yards of the Kitenge cloth to make five dresses as per her friends’ order.
“I made Shs250,000 altogether because I sold a dress at Shs50,000 to each of my five friends who had placed their order. When I deducted the tailor’s fees, I remained with Shs200,000.
This means that I made a profit of Shs100,000,” she says. Naava says the Shs100,000 profit which she made within days, opened her doors into the world of business with a bias in African fabric. She hit the market again with the money she had got from the previous sale in anticipation of making a windfall.
Lady luck would later strike her when the friends she sold the dresses to, started marketing her then briefcase business to fellow colleagues, and oftentime recommended them to her for outfits made from African fabrics.
But her start was a bumpy ride because she was operating a mobile business, with majority of her clients calling her to take their measurements, or agree on the design. She did not give up.
As her clientele base widened, Naava decided to hire a permanent tailor to start sewing dresses, blouses, pants and shirts for men. She could move around meeting her clients while the tailor sewed. For purposes of identity,
Naava named her fashion shop MNS classic ladies shop from initials of her name. The shop is located at Ketty Falao in Kawempe, opposite a Pepsi depot.
“I wanted to get a permanent location because my client base had increased,” she says. To keep relevant in the fashion field, which is laced with a lot of competition, Naava says that one ought to be creative enough so as to meet the demands of their customers. For instance, while shopping material to use, she makes sure that she gets as many colours as possible instead of sticking to only one colour.
The multiple colours, she says, help the tailor to identify which colours can blend when mixed.
“I at times ensure that the tailor makes different designs because some clients prefer particular designs and colours unlike some who might just buy the already sewed dresses.” While in the fashion business though, Naava still gives studies enough time.
As an evening student, she wakes up very early, goes to her shop and sketches how to propel her business forward. Her tailor takes Shs10,000 on each of the dresses that she sews, but when the orders are plenty, she offers her some discount.
This means that if she buys a 17-yard piece of cloth at Shs40,000, the tailor gets three medium round dresses, which are sold at Shs50,000 each.
When she deducts the tailor’s labour and other expenses, she remains with about Shs100,000, making profits of Shs40,000.
Most often, she says that she’s a model of her own business, where she puts on some of the already sewed dresses, takes pictures and then sends to her friends who also share them with different people, especially on social media platforms like WhatsApp. She sells between 20 and 30 dresses per month.
“Kitenge is unique and that’s why majority of people like them nowadays. They can never be outdated unlike other already made clothes,” Ms Naava says.
On average, she earns a profit of between Shs200,000 and Shs300,000 per week.
Balancing business and school
She ensures that she meets all clients and supervises her tailor, and by 4pm, she sets off to Makerere University to attend evening lectures which start by 5pm.
Naava says this business usually helps her pay for other necessities at the university especially reading material, meals and at times part of her tuition. Tuition for her course is Shs1m but her sponsors, a local NGO in Kawempe only pays half of it while she also pay half.
The NGO, which majorly aims at giving unemployed youth a livelihood, gave her an opportunity to volunteer when she dropped out of Nsambya School of Nursing and Midwifery in 2013 due to lack of school fees.
She would then inch herself next to the executive of the NGO and when she proved her worth, they offered to pay half of her tuition, something she says, breathed some life into her academic journey since her hope to go back to school had been dashed. She’s now in third year and she anticipates to graduate in 2020.
The fashion enthusiast says she settled for counselling and guidance at University because she is passionate about children and youth affairs.
“I naturally love associating with young people and I actually do not regret having studied counselling and guidance at campus. I am someone who wants to always inspire young people.”
Highs and lows
For the short time she has been in the fashion business, Ms Naava says that she has achieved a few things, which she says, have inspired her to keep moving. She boasts of buying a Bajaj Boxer motorcycle, establishing her business and meeting a lot of people both in the fashion world and academia.
The motorcycle helps her make deliveries to her clients, and at times make her some money.
“I am happy that I am financially independent because I can’t go begging for money,” she says. But her mother has been a great fulcrum on which her current fashion business rotates because she supported her when she had just started.
Naava initially operated from home but her mother gave her little money and advised her to get a working place.
However, she says dust, trading licence and rental fees are some of her challenges. For instance, she spends Shs230,000 on licence annually and Shs100,000 on rent per month. She says that this expenditure affects her a lot. She also says that the dust which is raised by speeding vehicles leaves her dresses dirty.
Nonetheless, she envisages a brilliant future and a stellar performance of her business. She plans to buy land and establish a big fashion house and start training youths interested in fashion. She advises fellow youth to be creative and try out opportunities that could improve their livelihood.