By Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador
Today I had the opportunity to meet Paul Okun, a leather worker in Nairobi. Paul is new to Zidisha and just received his first loan of $100, which has enabled him to purchase a curve cutting machine. This allows him to cut leather leaving a rounded edge instead of just relying on his scissors which produce a square edge.
Paul was born and raised in Spring Valley, a neighborhood of Nairobi. He still lives on the compound that he and his six brothers and sisters were raised in. In fact, Paul, his mother, and four of his siblings and their families still live in the compound. It can feel very crowded and this may be why his father relocated upcountry to his home village of Oyugis. Paul credits the success of his business to his father, since he has always pushed him and helped him financially.
After high school, Paul’s grades weren’t good enough to study at college, not that he was too interested anyway. He realized he was more interested in working with his and hands and different materials. Together with a colleague, they began building crafts from computer designs. This eventually turned into building and upholstering furniture. Paul would sell wooden chairs from his father’s compound, however since the competition for wooden furniture was fierce, he began producing unique leather products like folders and coasters. He secured his first big deal with Zehineria Hotel in Westlands. He made them their menu folders, later coasters and eventually Zehineria asked Paul to make 200 conference pads for business meetings. Below are photos of all these products.
Only yesterday, thanks to the purchase of the curve cutting machine, Paul secured a deal with Kenya Scout to make 10,000 scouts, which are used to hold women’s head scarves together at the base of the neck. This is a huge deal, and it is thanks to Paul and his charisma and persistence, but also to Zidisha lenders. Without the machine, Paul could not have produced the curved edges needed for the scouts.
The deal with Kenya Scout has allowed Paul to bring his orphaned cousin to Nairobi from upcountry. The cousin will help him in producing the leather products, and in return Paul will provide room and board and pay for his college fees.
In the future, Paul is looking to continue securing contracts with Kenya Scout to produce pouches and belts. He wants to use these profits and loans from Zidisha to purchase more machines, like a laser engraving machine and hole punching machine. This way he can avoid outsourcing. Like a true businessman he wants to control all lines of production. This will also lead to hiring more employees.
After his meeting with me, Paul was headed to Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. There he works with small business owners to teach them how to market their products. He also plans on spreading awareness of Zidisha. The next time we meet, I will check out his workshop in a neighborhood outside of Nairobi. I am leather lover, so I plan on doing some shopping.