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 a profit, you must be patient and resilient.
You will put in long hours waiting for customers or looking for the right merchandise. There will be days when you walk back home tired and hungry having sold nothing while on other days you will sell everything. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to start a mitumba business in Kenya.
Exporters buy mitumba from charities in various European countries and grade it according its wear and tear. Hence, when the bales arrive at the port, they are in various categories that are locally known as bales.
When you talk to a mitumba supplier, you’ll hear phrases 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. The Grade 1 bale is cheaper than the Crème bale.
- Grade 2 (Grade B)
The previous owner wore the items severally, so they are not as pleasing as the items in 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.
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. The mitumba industry calls these 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 is the stock left after a day/week’s sale. Buying fagia as a reseller denies you the prerogative to decide what ends up in your bag. For example, if a pile of fagia from several bales of ladies tops is retailing at KSh20, when a reseller buys 100 pieces, the seller picks 100 pieces randomly at Ksh20 each.
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. 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. If you only have a few thousands to invest, select pieces instead of buying a bale of mitumba clothes.
Mitumba Vs New Clothes
The entrepreneurial journey starts the minute you decide the type of business you want. This first step, finding a business idea, may have a few doubtful moments. You may come up with a few ideas, toss them around in your head, and abandon those thoughts altogether. If you have been weighing your options between starting a mitumba business and a new clothes store, here’s some information to save you the nerve-wrecking thoughts wondering what to invest in.
Arguably, there are many mitumba suppliers in the country. You can buy directly from mitumba importers, or buy from resellers.
On the other hand, there are fewer suppliers of new clothes, and they do business only in major towns like Nairobi and Mombasa. If you want to increase your profit margin while selling new clothes, you have to import directly from Kampala, Turkey, Dubai, China or other major international market.
Mitumba clothes are affordable in wholesale whether on per item or per bundle (bale) basis.
However, new clothes are expensive. The wholesale price often has a minimum number of pieces requirement.
- Marketing avenues
For both mitumba and new clothes, you can use offline and online marketing platforms, and be as creative as you want.
Mitumba clothes may give you a 100% profit per item because you can sell some items at double the amount you bought them, or pick a few of the best clothes and sell them at thrice the purchase amount. Mitumba pricing depends on the quality of the item and the overall cost of purchase per bundle (bale).
There is a good profit margin in selling new clothes, but since the buying price is high, you may not double the selling price to get a 100% profit. For example, a second-hand handbag can cost Ksh100 in Gikomba for you to retail it at Ksh200 – Ksh1,000 depending on your quality of the bag and your market. On the other hand, a new handbag will cost between Ksh1,000 and Ksh2,500, so your retail price might be just Ksh500 above your buying price when selling to the middle-income population.
- Uniqueness of products
Mtumba is unique. A bale might have several similar pieces, but they will go to different customers. Kenya uniform is the best description of the lack of creativity in new clothes imports.
Competition is present in both new or second-hand clothes markets. The marketing strategy distinguishes one business from the other.
- Capital for a new investor
Mtumba needs as low as Ksh100 to start. On the other hand, you need several thousands to start selling new clothes.
- Quality of products
Both mtumba and new clothes are quality products. However, mitumba’s quality depends on the number of washes prior to the items importation as mtumba. Therefore, unless you buy Crème bales only, expect to have a few worn-out pieces in a bale.
How to Find a Mitumba Supplier
To set-up a successful mitumba business, you need a competent and efficient supplier.
The 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 the markets near you.
Find a trustworthy supplier who 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.
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 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.
Other expenses include rent, the cost of stall installations, salaries, a business license, a steamer, 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 for Mitumba Bales
Mitumba bale prices range from KSh1,000 to KSh50,000. The country of origin, the grade, the wholesaler’s profit margin, and the clothing items packaged in it dictate the cost of a bale. For instance, a Grade 1 bale of trench coats cost abetween KSh8,000 and 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. The latter group of mitumba traders prefers bales shipped from Canada or USA because the physical traits of the population in those regions guarantee larger sizes in the bales. There’s another group of traders who only buy China bales because they are cheaper.
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 takes into account 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 and delivered in Nakuru at a cost of 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 to get your money back. Next, 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.
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 in mitumba business.”
Factors that influence what sells better in your local market include the weather, the demographics of the residents as well as the economic activities.
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 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, a mitumba seller must be patient and resilient.
Mitumba is a good side hustle. Make deliveries during your lunch break, and over the weekend. Wake up early on weekends to buy stock in Gikomba or elsewhere.
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 that selling kids wear is lucrative because babies outgrow their outfits fast. 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 online, and I must appreciate the fact this helps me people as far as Malindi and Busia through 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.”
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 and 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 to inform area residents about the shop. Unless you expect to make all sales online, there should be sufficient foot traffic around your stall or kibanda.
- Can you sustain the business without spending the money you’ve from selling a bale? 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 breath 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.