Needle and Thread


by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

The whirr of a sewing machine fills the little room, the gentle noise softening the edges of the day. Aat Atikah sits at her table, using both hands to guide a strip of fabric beneath the needle as it bobs. She settles into the familiar, soothing rhythm of sewing. She blinks, her eyes keeping up with flash of thread through a pattern of flowers. This is going to be a beautiful dress.

Aat Atikah, called Atik by her friends, family, and lenders, is a wife, mother, and designer in Bogor, Indonesia. Age 38, Atik has three children. The oldest, a son, is 21 years old and lives elsewhere in their island nation. The two younger daughters, ages 15 and 1, live at home with their mother and father. Since the birth of her first child, Atik has been a stay-at-home mother, leaving her eight-year job as a tailor in a garment factory upon confirmation of her pregnancy.

As a young woman, Atik says, “I had a lot of dreams that I wanted to achieve.” She had big plans to build a clothing empire. “I wanted to be a woman entrepreneur who has a large industrial garment factory,” she said. She wanted to “Provide jobs for the needy… Help my beloved family’s economic welfare.” When Atik became a mother, however, she put that dream on hold.

Spending her days in the role of what Atik terms a “normal housewife,” Atik has provided for the needs of her family physically, emotionally, and mentally. As her children grew older, Atik began to have some free time. With her entrepreneurial spirit firmly intact, she took up sewing for neighbors and relatives. As word of her excellent tailoring work spread, Atik began to receive requests from people she did not even know. Atik had, inadvertently, launched a small tailoring service. This business grew, and allowed her to provide a supplemental income to increase her family’s economic welfare.

Presently, Atik is able to accept and fill one order a day. She alters pants, makes shirts, and designs dresses. You name it, she sews it. With customers paying an average of $2 to $10, depending on the complexity of the order, Atik brings in $14 to $70 per week. As her husband is the family’s primary breadwinner, Atik is able to contribute to the family’s funds while also putting some money away for future investments. Currently, Atik says, “I have only one dream. I just want to be happy with my lovely family.” Familial happiness and entrepreneurship need not be mutually exclusive, though, and this is something she well knows.

With her skills and expertise lying in the realm of fashion, Atik is well prepared for a venture into clothing and textiles. The dreams of her youth are coming back to life, coming off hold. “I really want to have a bigger, industrial clothing production and employ many employees,” she said in her January 2016 application for a $50 loan. “But I know it cannot be achieved easily, cannot be instant. There must be a process that I go through to achieve success. Therefore, at this time, I would like to start from zero.” Her zero is what she calls her “little tailor shop,” the table in her home where she slides her seams beneath the whirring needle of the sewing machine. With her first loan, Atik purchased a stock of fabric, and that fabric turned into profit.


Atik is working, “slowly but surely,” toward her long term goal of a clothing empire. Six months after her first loan, she returned to Zidisha. “I am very happy I know this site and all of you,” she said. “This program has much helped my business grow up.” With her second loan, a larger sum of $200, Atik plans to buy a new sewing machine. “Yipiiee hehe,” she exclaimed in a discussion post. “I will buy a machine to make my production better. Hope all lenders… know and trust me and can help me again.”

As Atik has said, there is much hard work ahead of her. With help, however, from Zidisha lenders, she has come several steps closer to reaching her goals. Hard work and determination can take a person far, and with a little help from friends around the world, anything is possible.

If you would like to make something possible for an entrepreneur, head over to our loans page and contribute to the project of another self-starter like Atik.



Breaking gender stereotypes

Rosemary Kimani is an ambitious woman, who runs a hardware store within the Nakuru town centre. Opening up a hardware business is no easy feat, especially for a woman in Kenyadue to a lack of investment capital and male domination. Loans are greatly needed to thrive in this business in order to secure inventory, machines and for an overall expansion and diversification of the business itself. Through accumulating stocks and other fixed assets, Ms. Kimani had big plans for her business. Below is a recent update on the progress of her business. The interview was conducted by Zidisha’s Client Relationship Manager in Kenya, Vivien:

Hello Lenders,
My name is Vivien Barbier and I’m a client relationship interns for Zidisha in Kenya. Today, I visited Mrs Rosemary Kimani in her shop in Nakuru where I also add the chance to meet one of her daughter and grandson. 

Mrs. Kimani operates a small shop in the street that sells plumbers material and other hardware products. She is a wholesaler and do not sale on retail. Her job consists mainly of visiting the retail shop in the area to sell her products. Today, especially because of the meeting I had with her, she stayed on the shop and sent her employee on the field to sell and to collect payments. To stay competitive with other hardware suppliers, she often had to agree to be paid by her customers after a few days. She is doing only for customer that she knows well but this makes her business in need of a large working capital, which limits the growth of her business. 

Using the loan of Zidisha, she was able to buy materials before receiving the orders from her customers. It allows her business to be much more efficient and competitive. Due to her good knowledge of the market she is able to predict demands and to order quantities required. In the future, she will request a bigger loan to Zidisha, so that she can increase further the size of her stock. She also wants to grow even more her business by adding electrical supplies to her product portfolio. She already has a small inventory of electrical supplies but it is too limited to make her an important player in the local market. She also plans to open a new shop in a better location; a new shopping mall that is currently being built. She already made the request for the boutique and is waiting for the answer of the real-estate developer. 

Mrs Kimani and her family have not always lived in Nakuru; they had a house in Kiptangwanyi but were forced to abandon it during the post election violence in 2007. They started a new life in Nakuru and pray that next year general election will be peaceful. I’m very happy to see that she has been able to put her life back on track after such tragic events. 

Even if she is a successful entrepreneur, Mrs Kimani doesn’t know how to use a computer or to speak English. Alice, her daughter will help her to interact with Zidisha. She is very thankful to all Zidisha lenders for their support. She told me several times, when I was in her shop, that what I was seeing had been made possible by Zidisha. 

A Barber Shop is Born

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently residing in Mugaa, visiting Zidisha borrowers in nearby villages. 

“I’m very hard working,” says Jane Wambui without a tinge of boastfulness, but rather a sense of pride. Rightfully so, Jane is 27 years old and already a successful businesswoman, not to mention a mother of two. Jane and her husband own a kinyozi (salon) and a produce stall in Miti Mingi. As Jane and I speak from her stall, we peer across the street at the kinyozi where we can see her husband cutting the hair of a young gentleman. In another minute, Jane gets a customer wanting to buy bananas, evidence that their two businesses are thriving. 

Jane is an experienced Zidisha member, already repaying her 2nd loan. She comments on how she finished repaying her first loan 4 months early, and she anticipates following this example for her second. The creation of her family’s kinyozi was possible because of Zidisha. Through her first loan of Ksh 50,000, Jane was able to rent a space, buy all the necessary machinery (i.e. shavers, razors), stock her store with hair products and shoes, and even buy two batteries that enable her shop to stay open during the frequent power outages. While her husband is in charge of styling the men, Jane takes care of the children haircuts when not working at her produce stall. We have all heard of children being fearful of haircuts, with scissors too close for comfort and strange noises and smells permeating the air. Jane gestures towards her face, implying this is the answer to their haircut jitters. Although both Jane and her husband have no formal training in barbering, she explains to me that, “some courses come from the heart”. To further prove how hard working she is, Jane speaks about her two cows, one of which was bought with her second Zidisha loan. With the milk from her cows, she is able to make Ksh 15,000 a month, which then assists in paying for school fees (both boys are in boarding schools) and rent for her kinyozi. 

Upon leaving, Jane reaches for a banana, the ripest of the bunch, and gives it to me as a gift. Refusing to take my money, she makes me promise to visit again, even extending an invitation to her home. As I make my 6km descent home, I think about Miti Mingi, one of the smallest villages I have seen in Kenya, but filled with people possessing the biggest of hearts.

An education that paid off

Studying clothing production for four long years has surely led to fruitful results for young businesswoman, Oureye Faye, who started a sewing business after receiving her diploma. Personal and economic hardships such as her father passing away and her household ceiling breaking did not deter her willpower to thrive financially, especially in her efforts to support her four children and the families of her brothers and sisters. It is imperative that she gets back to her sewing space as soon as possible to generate income for her family. She is using her Zidisha loan to achieve this objective, along with investing in fabrics and expanding her workshop. One of our Client Relationship Interns, Sam Gant was able to interview the ambitious Mrs. Faye about her business plans, the details of which are provided below:
My name is Sam Gant and I’m currently one of the Client Relationship Managers active in Senegal. On Thursday June 14th I stopped by Mme Faye’s atelier in Parcelles 12, a small workshop attached to her family’s house with bookshelves full of brightly colored fabric and a very fat rabbit dozing under the footpedal of her sewing machine. Mme Faye is garrulous and savvy, and explained to me that she had divided her Zidisha loan into three parts so as not to use it all to quickly. Due to the fact that many clients buy BouBous on credit, she needs to have a significant stock of capital to buy fabric to make new clothes while waiting to be paid for completed products. She sells between four and six boubous per month for between 10,000 and 15,000 CFA depending on the complexity of the order and her relationship with the client. She is able to finish elaborate garments in a matter of days, a cabability born of experience (she explained that she has been making traditional clothes since the age of 15, 15 years of experience by now.)
Although she supports a large family and the profit margins of couture are thin, Mme Faye’s Zidisha loan allows her to dramatically expand her client base and receive income more regularly. I hope to post a few photos I took of her and her family over the next few days. If you comment she is also planning to put up a post sometime next week and I’m sure she would be happy to answer specific questions.

Natural Healing in Dakar

Mme. Traore

Living in a developing country presents many challenges that Westerners have long forgotten about. Over the counter healthcare products, for example, are something that most can purchase at a whim. In Dakar, Senegal things are not so easy. Madame Aissatou Traore is trying to provide some relief for those in need of such healthcare products. By partnering with Arizona based Forever Living Products, Aissatou is able to distribute their health products in Parcelles, a neighborhood of Dakar. Sam Gant, our Client Relationship Intern, had a chance to meet with Mme. Traore recently. You can read about their meeting in Sam’s own words below:

Dear Lenders,

My name is Sam Gant and I’m one of the Client Relationship Managers here in Senegal. On Thursday June 7th I had the opportunity to meet with Aissatou in her home in Parcelles, where she showed me both the aloe vera plans that she grows in her courtyard and the astounding variety of aloe vera refined products she sells–through her company she has access to more than 300 products. Mme Traore believes strongly in the value of natural supplements as preventative management, and explained how a variety of dietary supplements and ointments could serve to keep her clients healthy. Aissatou is a model vendor for FOREVER products– she has used aloe products to help her mother through a bout of illness, and with her profits from sales she recently moved to a larger apartment. 

She is a very capable and canny businesswoman who is willing to put in long hours of travel to succeed in the entrepreneurial field. She recently made a14 hour long day trip 50 kilometers outside of Dakar to spread her products, and keeps meticulous notes of all of her clients to keep them stocked with their chosen supplements. 

Mme Traore is very grateful to her lenders for supporting her, and works hard to overcome any setbacks she encounters. 

Sipping Tea in Nakuru

Our Client Relationship Manager Achintya Rai recently met with another one of our borrowers from Nakuru, Kenya. Margaret Wanjiku runs a food kiosk in Nakuru where she proudly serves the best tea the area! Check out what Achintya had to say about their encounter below:

Hello Lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai. I paid a visit to Margaret Wanjiku Kara on 28th March 2012 in the Rongai area of Nakuru (Kenya)

Margaret owns a small teashop in Rongai. Margaret took the Zidisha loan to buy stock for her shop and to pay the school fee of her daughter who’s in standard 6. She bought things like milk, charcoal, flour etc. with the help of her Zidisha loan and was able to increase her customer base. So much so that now she is planning to open another teashop nearby. The new shop will be looked after by her daughter (Margaret has three daughters and the name of her shop is “Mama Judy”, which literally means- mother of Judy, Judy being one of her daughters).

When I visited Margaret, she was very busy and there was a constant stream of customers at her shop to drink her tea or buy mandazi- a type of snack made by deep-frying leavened dough. I asker her for tea and speaking very frankly, the tea was the best I’ve had in Kenya- and I had a lot of tea in Kenya. Margaret’s tea was richer and had stronger flavors. Though Margaret was quite busy, she graciously answered all my questions. It was a little tricky talking to her because even though she could understand me and I could understand her, many people in the shop volunteered to translate both of us. Margaret was constantly smiling in all this commotion and came across to me as a very pleasant person. She was shy when I took out my camera but I think that’s the reason why her picture came out so well.

Margaret stays on her small shamba (farm), which is a few kilometers away from her shop. She has a few goats, chickens and cows on her shamba. With the next loan she wants to buy a plot in Rongai center and later on build on it.

My one regret is that I could not finish the tea that day. Kenyans serve tea in these huge half-liter mugs and that day I was on a tight schedule. Margaret also later refused to let me pay for the tea, but I explained to her that Zidisha’s aim was to see her business flourish and do well and there was no way I was going to take away from her revenue so she finally allowed me to pay.

I wish Margaret the best for her future

11th May 2012 

Full House

Our Client Relationship Manager recently met with Eunice Ngetha in Embakasi, Kenya. Eunice runs a detergent business where she sells her products to the public and institutions. They are dangerous chemicals but Eunice is experienced. With three children of her own, and an additional 5 she and her husband adopted, you could say she has a full house!

Check our what Achintya had to say after meeting Eunice:

Dear lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’s current Kenya Client Relationship Intern. On 7th March I met Eunice Ngetha in Embakasi area of Utawala in Nairobi.

Eunice was part of a Self Help Group that taught its members to make detergents and disinfectants. Eunice later started her own business of making these and selling at prices lower than the market. The detergents and disinfectants Eunice makes are used by hospitals and schools to wash floors, clothes, utensils and lavatories. 

The chemicals Eunice uses are dangerous to store so she buys them only after she has received an order. And she receives many of them. She said to me “Even if I go to America I’ll find an order!” I have no doubt she will because Eunice is one of the most confident persons I have met here. 

Eunice told me about an incident which confirmed to me that she is a great marketer. To transport drums of detergents to faraway places, she loads them in public buses and the customer unloads them at his location. She once lost 25,000 Kenyan Shillings worth of detergents when the customer told her he never received it. But she never complained. And now she has very good relations with this customer.

Eunice found Zidisha on her own. Her earlier loans were very costly so when she needed capital for her business she ‘googled’ it and found Zidisha. When I met her she had not yet received the disbursement of her loan but she planned to use it to buy chemicals for this big airport contract she had recently got.

Her husband is the principal of a school in Machakos where Eunice also used to work as a matron. She left that job and shifted to Nairobi when the business picked up.

Eunice has three children, two of whom are studying. She has also adopted five children. Three of these are orphans in her village and the other two are bright students from a school she went to sell her products to. The principal told her that these students couldn’t afford their school fee and Eunice readily decided to sponsor them. This is one trait I have found common in many Kenyans, this incredible desire to share their wealth.

Eunice’s dream is to build a school. She told me that she has already bought 3 acres of land in an area called Embu for this. I expect great things from Eunice. With her energy and her desire to help others, I wish she succeeds in whatever endeavors she undertakes.

9th April 2012