Written by L. Wanjiku
Mitumba businesses abound in estates, in shopping centres, in open-air markets, in city centre stalls and even by the roadside. You can start a mitumba business in Kenya with any amount of money but to make it profitable, you need patience and resilience.
Profits don’t come easy unless you put in long hours waiting for customers or looking for the right merchandise. There may be days when you walk back home tired and hungry having made nothing. On other days, it may be a graceful hop like a bunny satisfied with the bulge in your wallet. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to start a mitumba business in Kenya.
When exporters buy mitumba from charities in various European countries, they grade each item depending on its appeal. Hence, when the bales arrive at the port, they are in various categories locally known as bales.
When you approach mitumba suppliers, expect terms like:
- Crème bale
The items in this bale are new, never worn. Most of the items in this bale may still have the store labels on them. Probably, someone bought an item, didn’t wear it, and dropped it at a charity pick-up point. Crème bales are expensive. A crème bale may cost as much as KSh50, 000.
- Grade 1 (Grade A)
The items have seen a few washes but they are still wearable. Grade 1 bale is cheaper than Crème.
- Grade 2 (Grade B)
The previous owner wore the items severally so they are not as pleasing as a Grade 1 bale. Grade 2 is cheaper. Hence, Grade 2 is suitable for an open air market because the average price of mitumba in such markets is about KSh100, so you won’t incur a loss.
Mitumba bale prices range from KSh1,000 to KSh50,000. The amount depends with the country of origin, the grade, the wholesaler’s profit margin, and the item. For instance, a Grade 1 bale of trench coats cost about KSh8,000 to KSh9,000, and it has about 40 to 50 pieces.
One school of thought alleges that supplies from some countries have better quality than others. Other sellers claim the country of origin affects the size. Hence, such mitumba traders only buy bales shipped from Canada, US or America saying such bales have larger sizes going by the physical traits of the population in those regions. There’s another group of traders who only buy China bales because they are cheaper.
Is a Bale more Profitable than Selecting Pieces Randomly?
In each bale, there are three types of items. There are pieces that look almost new, and they have no defects at all. The mitumba industry calls such items camera. There are also pieces that are slightly used and are not as appealing as the camera pieces.
The third variety in a bale is items with some defects like missing buttons or they have been worn severally so they aren’t as bright as the other two types. This doesn’t mean they are worn out. The industry refers to such items as fagia.
Fagia consolidates all remaining stock after a day/week’s sale. It denies a reseller the prerogative to select what ends up in the bag. For example, if a seller’s fagia comes from several bales of ladies tops and the price is KSh20, when a reseller buys 100 pieces, the seller picks 50 pieces randomly from the pile and multiplies by 20.
A bale is more profitable because you get your money back as soon as you sell all camera pieces. Additionally, with a bale you sell to both customers and resellers. A bale lets you explore various markets. For example, sell the best of your stock from a shop and the least attractive of the items from a stand in a local council market.
On the other hand, bales are unpredictable. The only person who knows what’s in them is the guy who packaged them overseas. Hence, you might get a number of defective or unappealing items in each package. For that reason, select a few items from various sellers whether you only want camera pieces or the cheaper old stock (fagia). If you only have a few thousands to invest, select pieces randomly instead of buying a bale of mitumba clothes.
How to find a mitumba supplier
To set-up a successful mitumba business, you need a competent and efficient supplier. The type of bale or items you want to sell should guide you.
Terms suppliers use to define bales include ladies chiffon tops, ladies fancy tops, poly (official looking dresses) dress and mixed (a mixture of denim, cotton and other materials) dresses. If you ever get confused, ask for a clarification before you order.
If you want to select camera instead of buying a bale, find a mitumba trader who opens bales regularly, and is willing to sell the best pieces to you. You might have to pay in advance as assurance that you will show up when the seller opens the bale for you to pick the best items.
If the idea of paying in advance doesn’t sound good to you, visit open-air markets like Korogocho at dawn and select items freely from various traders. That’s why traders flock Gikomba as early as 5:30 a.m. in search of stock. You just need to know when and where the best bales are opened in markets around you.
When buying a bale, one of the main difficulties is finding a trustworthy supplier. There are so many cons so you might pay and never get your bale. Additionally, a trustworthy supplier won’t tamper with the bale by removing the best pieces and repackaging the old stock.
One of the most popular platforms to learn about mitumba and read reviews of mitumba suppliers in Kenya is a Facebook group called Mitumba Chap Chap. With over 180,000 members, this group discusses issues arising in the industry. Grace Wambere, the founder of the group, is a graduate who has been in mitumba business for over 5 years now, demystifying the myth that mitumba businesses are for school dropouts and the hopeless.
How much capital do you need to invest in mtumba?
You can start a mitumba business with as low as KSh100, and expect a profit margin of 50 to 100%. However, capital controls what you sell, where you get your items from and where you sell them. For example, with KSh100, collect ties, socks and bras from various sellers and resell them from an open-air market. With KSh100, you must select items to sell from another trader.
However, if there’s more money, buy a bale, and have the freedom to choose where you sell it from whether in a shop or from an open air market.
The amount of capital also depends on the amount needed for expenditures like rent, the cost of stall installations, employees, a business license, a steamer to remove creases, a mannequin, hangers and a motor bike if you would like to do deliveries yourself. When you list down all the expenses, and include at least three months’ rent, you arrive at the average amount of capital you need.
The pricing strategy of mitumba bales
In an open-air market, you may open a bale of clothes and sell everything at the same price. In such settings, the price of each item should cover a fraction of the cost of the bale and the profit expected. The price of the remaining items goes down consequently each day. You could wait until all the items sell, mix the last 20 or so pieces with a new bale or set the old pieces aside and sell them alongside a new bale. If there’s space and money, get two stands. Stock one stand with new bales, and sell old stock( fagia) at a throw away price from the other stand.
Another pricing strategy that works best for stall owners whether selling retail or wholesale is sorting the items into camera, the middle quality and fagia. For instance, a ladies poly dress bale bought at KSh30,000, delivered in Nakuru at KSh1,000 means the cost of purchase is KSh31,000. Hence, the 150 pieces in that bale must yield the amount invested plus profit.
Let’s say there are 70 dresses that are almost new, 50 pieces that are in good condition, and 30 pieces that aren’t so pleasing. Divide the cost of purchase with the 70 pieces and you get 442. Sell the 70 pieces at between KSh450 and KSh500 and to get your money back. Sell the remaining 80 pieces at between KSh300 and KSh200 to get a profit of about KSh20, 000.
When using this pricing strategy in an open air market, state clearly that each item has a different price so that your customers know before they rummage through the pile. Hence, the camera pieces get back all the money invested in buying the bale.
Additionally, use discounted pricing when targeting resellers in order to clear your camera stock fast. Encourage resellers to buy from you at a lower price for maybe 10 pieces or more.
The most profitable mitumba clothes
All second hand clothes sell. However, more mitumba traders specialise in ladies clothes, shoes and handbags. Shem Spiess, one of the youthful mitumba bale suppliers says ladies tops, both chiffon and ladies t-shirt tops, sell fast. Nevertheless, you ought to figure out what sells better in your region by analysing the local market or trading centre.
According to Shem, who reaches out to customers looking for mitumba bales online through his Facebook business page, Purple Queen Stores, “The biggest challenge is dealing with people who want to venture in mtumba. They come in wanting to make their millions fast hence they are not prepared to handle the risks involved in mitumba business”.
Factors that influence what sells better in your local market include the weather, the demographics as well as the economic activities. For example, if you live in a township with a larger older generation, you would obviously not expect to see jump suits in mitumba shops in the town centre.
However, if there’s a university nearby, a few mitumba traders stock clothes for the younger generation. Additionally, if you live on the foothills of Mount Kenya, heavier jackets would sell more than light sweaters.
The profitability of stalls and markets near boda boda operators or the main stage may also be influenced by the economic activity taking place there. These are small niches that need mitumba helmets, maroon and blue khaki trousers, reflector jackets, riding boots and heavy (winter) jackets. Hence, the profitability of such mitumba businesses in that area is influenced by the economic activity.
The most profitable mitumba in your area might also be controlled by the purchasing power of your target audience. For instance, if you are targeting girls in high school, selling bras at KSh50 and below is more profitable than buying an expensive bale to retail each piece at KSh200.
Where to set-up your mitumba business
There are two types of mitumba businesses. You are either a retailer or a wholesaler. A wholesaler needs a few millions to ship a container of mitumba wear with about 550 bales, so let’s leave that for another day.
As a retailer, sell exclusively online, or have a shop and use various marketing strategies to draw customers to the shop. There are a few challenges of selling online but as I said earlier, resilience and patience are the ultimate traits of a mitumba seller.
Mitumba is a good side hustle. Make deliveries at lunch hour and over the weekend. Get a trustworthy employee and run the business all week long. The only compromise might be waking up early over the weekend in search of stock if you select items from other sellers in Gikomba and elsewhere. Alternatively, buy bales instead of selecting pieces randomly.
Irene Oduor started her business in June, 2016, and she says it currently meets all her financial needs. “I chose to sell Kidswear because after doing my research I found out that they move really fast since babies outgrow their outfits very fast compared to adults. Most importantly, I love children so dressing babies is fun and I do it effortlessly”. She is active on Facebook, continually publishing collections of baby wear on her business page Timeless Kidswear.
Irene makes deliveries throughout the region. “I sell purely online since I started and I must appreciate the fact that I can reach a large client base because a client in Malindi or Busia can get to see what I sell just by going to my Facebook business page. Besides, by selling online, I reach even those around East Africa and the more customers access my page, the more it boosts my sales, as long as I stock right outfits for them. I would choose online any day so as not to limit myself and so far so good”. Her page is doing well for a business that is just over a year old, with over 4,000 Facebook page likes.
For a land-based mitumba business, sell in a make-shift stall (kibanda), in a local market.
You can sell your items from a specific open air market or explore a variety of markets in your vicinity. For example, if your stall is in a city council market in Nairobi, you could visit other markets around Nairobi on some days. Here’s a simple guide to open air markets in and around Nairobi ( most local council markets charge between KSh20 – Ksh50 per trader).
Githurai 45 – Sunday
Kikuyu – Sunday
Ruiru – Wednesday, Saturday
Kitengela – Sunday
Limuru – Wednesday, Saturday
Kenol – Sunday
Dagoretti – Wednesday, Saturday
Wangige – Monday, Thursday
Athi River – Tuesday, Saturday
Mokongeni in Thika – Tuesday, Friday
Githunguri – Monday, Thursday, Saturday
Kiambu – Tuesday, Friday
Gachie – Sunday
Kawangware – Tuesday, Friday
Korogocho – Wednesday, Saturday
Selling mitumba clothes in Gikomba and other large open-air markets is profitable because of the millions who tickle in for supplies or to buy mitumba for personal use. However, all mitumba sellers cannot fit in Gikomba so you have to get a kibanda or stall elsewhere.
To sell in a stall or kibanda, here are a few things to think about.
- Find a premise that is suitable for the items you want to sell. For example, sell Grade 2 bales in an open-air market because they are cheaper, and on a good day, it takes a few hours to recover your money. Alternatively, if capital limits you, select a few pieces from other sellers at about KSh10 and resell at KSh30 in an open-air market. On the other hand, when selling in a classy mall, you need enticing apparel like crème and first camera pieces from Grade 1.
- How will you attract foot traffic to your stall? Some sellers use digital marketing platforms like Facebook to make sales or inform area residents about the shop. Unless you expect to make all sales online and do deliveries, there should be sufficient foot traffic around your stall or kibanda.
- Can you sustain the business for about a few months without spending the money recovered from selling a bale on expenses? If not, you won’t have money to buy stock by the second month.
In Conclusion: Problems/market forces in mtumba business
Selling mitumba is a lucrative venture. This sector supports a significant population across the country. Getting into this sector is sometimes plagued by problems like extortion by middlemen and supplier scams. However, these problems should not stop you from earning a decent living.
Some issues, such as losses and buying a bale that’s not suitable for the market, are manageable. However, there are other market forces beyond your control such as calamities and political influence on the industry. Annually, mitumba sellers in open-air markets like Toi Market and Gikomba incur losses due to unexplained fires. The best precautionary measure is insuring your stock against theft, fires and political upheavals.
Since 2015, the East African Community (EAC) has held talks severally about banning mitumba to save the region’s textile industry. However, Kenya stalled these plans earlier this year, so mitumba businesses can breathe and compete with the local textile industry. For now, since the government has not banned importation of mitumba, set up your business and make some money. You shall cross that bridge of imports ban when you come to it.