NAIROBI – Lifeworks Shukrani is carving a niche for itself in the business outsourcing industry by supplying products manufactured from kikoi and kanga to hotels in Kenya, more so after three quarters of large hotels at the Kenyan coast cited the selling of handicrafts and curios as a business opportunity for small businesses, in a 2010 study.
The share of informal economy jobs has steadily increased from 70 per cent in 2000 to 90 per cent in 2012.
The declining capacity of the formal sector to create employment is evidenced by the fact that out of the 660,000 new jobs created in 2013, 90 per cent were in the informal economy, according to the 2013 economic survey.
Lifeworks Shukrani, a social enterprise which empowers vulnerable women and older orphans through skills development and linkages to economic opportunities, set up a small textile production facility in 2007 at Mariakani, Mombasa, which manufactures items from Kikoi materials for sales to companies, public institutions and Not-for-profit organizations all over the country that includes the Kenya Tourism Board, Voyager, Aga Khan Foundation, and Spinners Web.
“We have 13 staff working full time but can expand to 50 people depending on the size of order,” said Mr. Ture Boru, Business Development and Strategy Advisor at Lifeworks project.
“We fill orders of up to 300 sets of bed linen, comprising sheets and pillows, every month,” said Mr. Boru.
“We also do value addition for various products like the customization of kiondo, where we line the interior with kikoi or kanga.”
The company also manufactures napkin sets, table runners, oven mitts, table mats, shopping bags, and beach towels among others. It also recently launched a corporate gift line of laptop bags and tablet covers.
Production at Lifeworks factory is in phases; though products are machine made a lot of it is done by hand. The materials are first cut to specification, ironed, then the individual parts are sewn together, after which they are joined.
Lifeworks has a strict internal quality assurance system that ensures, after each stage, the product parts are checked to ensure they are of top quality.
“In addition, we also have a production supervisor and assistant production supervisor who oversee overall production and quality checks,” stated Ture.
Finally, the products are branded, packed and taken to storage, before shipping out to clients, the majority of whom are hotels and corporate seeking branded materials for clientele as well as individuals looking for something with an African touch.
“Lifeworks products are some of the most popular in our store. They have supplied for over 3 years,” said Mr. Patel Aminga Stock Controller at Spinners Web, Nairobi.
His sentiments were supported by Jane Akello, Registrar at the Aga Khan School, Nairobi who have been purchasing branded bags, kikoi’s, towels as well as kikoi covered notebooks products from Lifeworks for the last 4 years.
“We love the Lifeworks products because of their quality, durability and clean finish,” said Jane Okello.
The initiative was started with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its implementing partner, Family Health International (FHI 360).
The facility has 16 industrial sewing machines and one embroidery machine with which it produces a myriad of merchandise.
Through aggressive marketing at trade exhibitions, the organization has over the years built a database of clients whom it regularly supplies products.
They have also partnered with Undugu Fair Trade limited, a market access promotion social enterprise, which sells the products at their shop in Westlands, Nairobi as well as promotes the products in trade exhibitions they participate in.
While the products have received positive reception from the market, Lifeworks is facing stiff competition from cheaper versions of their products from China and India. Many locals still prefer exotic items which may be cheaper but compromised on quality.