It has been a struggle, but Phoebe sits proudly in her three by three metre tailoring shop in a busy market in Kariobangi, northeast Nairobi. Every day, she wakes up at 5am, prays, has her breakfast and heads to work. By 6:30, her shop is open and she begins sewing garments.
“This is a busy market and there are a lot of people and a lot of shops” Says Phoebe. “You have to lay your clothes out neatly. If you display your clothes neatly, you will sell more things."
Phoebe’s small business is her livelihood. It helps to feed her six children and three grandchildren. Remembering a time before her business, Phoebe says “I didn’t even have money for slippers. Whatever I earned went to food and rent, and there was no more left. Now, I can buy food, I pay rent, I have sent my children to school, and I even have a little money left over to save.”
Phoebe’s husband died in 1989. At the time, her eldest child was 17 and her youngest was just 5. At first, Phoebe began to make clothes on her own but she was unable to grow her business because no one would lend her even US $10. Her work was in demand but she didn’t have the means to grow.
In 2002, Phoebe heard about VisionFund's microfinance institution in Kenya and took out a loan for US$100. “I bought a sewing machine, fabric and thread. I was good at paying back my loan. Even before they asked for the money, I gave it back.” In 2008, Phoebe bought the little shop where she now works and she rents out another space in the market. Phoebe has since taken out nine loans, her latest is for US $400.
“[VisionFund] is good because it takes people from nowhere… to somewhere.”
Phoebe employs three people to help her make clothes; Steve, 18 years old, Dovrin, 20 years old and Jedida, 28 years old. “We are like brothers and sisters. When the work comes in, we share it between us.”
It’s clear that Phoebe was born to be a business woman. “When you have your own business you are free. You could offer me a million to work for someone else but I would still prefer my own business. It may be small, but it is mine.”
Phoebe is happy to know that through her business she has given all that she can to her children. “All my children have been to school, and my youngest is now waiting for his results. When you have money, your children can go to school and that means they can get any job.”
Phoebe’s vision is to teach young people how to make clothes, then buy her own house and live a comfortable life.