By Betsy Ramser Jaime
Lilian Kimko has experienced a lifetime worth of hardship in her short 37 years of life. And yet, her resilience and perseverance has helped her to create and sustain a thriving business and family. Lilian was born into a large family with two boys and five girls. School was often a struggle for her as her parents were peasant farmers and keeping the children fed and in school was never a certainty and a consistent problem.
After years of being in and out of school, because her parents couldn’t pay the school fees, she decided to work with her parents in farming, growing kale. By selling the kale she produced, Lilian was able to pay her own way through school. After completing her A level education, she joined the Trans Eastern Airline Aviation College in the Mechanical Engineering course, with a focus in aeronautical.
Lilian shares, ‘my father struggled to pay college fees for one semester then he fell sick. Due to his deteriorating health we struggled more but by the grace of God I went through college for three years but could not sit for the diploma exams because my father passed on in February 1998 when I was to complete my course in December 1999, so I had to quit college and got married since all our siblings were depending on me as the first born.’
A few years after marrying David, she gave birth to two beautiful daughters. Her daughter Shekina was born with a heart problem which resulted in being in and out of the hospital for two years. Unfortunately, Shekina passed away in 2008 after a case of bronchial pneumonia. Then, in 2011, Lilian’s husband was diagnosed with diabetes, so the hospital visits continued for Lilian and her family. After being put on some medication and changing his diet, David started to improve, however, he then went into an adiabatic coma and was not able to make it. He passed away on May 5th 2012, leaving Lilian a widow and a single mother.
Lilian is a tailor by profession and does dressmaking, tailoring, upholstery and soft furnishings. Before becoming ill, her husband had been a casual laborer and he helped to educate Lilian’s siblings and paid for Lilian to go back to college to study tailoring and dressmaking. She opened her own shop called, ‘Dalimu Trading Company’ but was forced to shut down when her husband was sick, as she could not pay both the rent for her house and workshop. Fortunately, she has been able to maintain her business from her home and through her sales she can pay rent, school fees, and she also reinvests in her business.
She explains, ‘Nairobi as a city has a lot of challenges in housing and through this there is a lot of building and constructions of flats, homes and offices taking place to curb the demand of the housing problem. Typically any house needs basically a curtain, mosquito nets, bed sheets, pillows, seats etc, due to the high rise of real estate in Nairobi and easy access to mortgages, many people are getting new homes therefore the need to furnish it and this has caused a rise in demand in our services. Normally things get old or due to change of fashion a customer would wish to change her curtains or any other thing that she deems fit, this has also caused a rise in demand of our products.
The reason why customers prefer my business is the type of customer care I give, I talk to our customers with esteemed respect, I make quality goods, I am time conscious, and I meet the deadline. Many a time I finish making the product before the required time which makes my customer come back or refer a friend to me.’
So far, Lilian has successfully acquired 5 Zidisha funded loans. Her first, was in September 2013, for $97. With this loan, she was able to purchase a small overlock machine. This machine would allow her to significantly reduce her production costs.
With her second loan of $299 in February 2014, she increased her stock of tailoring accessories. This included products such as, ‘eyelets, all types of canvas, different colors of threads, lining materials, piping cord, and ready made pelmets. A year later, in March of 2015, she secured a loan of $417 which she used to stock curtain material in her shop. She explains, ‘it has been a great challenge when you buy just material for samples then when a customer comes and orders the same material and you go back to the shops and find its out of stock, this was my biggest challenge and it frustrated us so much.’ With this loan, she knew she’d be able to eliminate this problem!
For 2016, her next goal was to take her business online! So, with a $575 Zidisha loan in hand, she did just that. She used the loan to purchase a laptop computer as well as a modem for internet access. She predicted that putting her business online would allow her to increase her profits by 50%.
Feeling confident in her business skills, by February 2018, Lilian found that she was ready to diversify and enter a new market. With a loan of $892, she prepared to secure some rental properties, as she noticed a big demand because of the strong university presence in her area. She also found that she had a desirable location, being within walking distance of the colleges.
Recently, in February, Lilian proudly shared, ‘Hello lenders, I just want to say thank you for your continued support..the last loan I had I used it in buying a laptop for online business.. This helped me to get other customers outside Nairobi where my business is located and thus my profit increased and by that increased profit I took my daughter to school without any struggle as she joined form one this year.’
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