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.



Secondhand clothing- a route out of poverty

Here is a great update from Dan in Kenya!
Hello, my name is Dan Cembrola, one of Zidishas Kenya Client Relationship Managers. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in Nakuru and its outskirts.
Today I visited with Keziah at her store in the center of Nakuru. This store is one of her two businesses. In Nakuru, you will find many stalls lining the streets selling secondhand clothing. There are a few upscale stores that sell clothes for formal occasions and many local tailors who make custom made clothing, mostly for women and children. Outside of these two clothing options, most people purchase clothing from the street vendors. Keziah supplies these vendors.
Keziah, or her business partner and hopefully future Zidisha borrower Elizabeth, regularly travel to Nairobi to purchase bales of clothing. These bales are about three and a half feet wide and two feet in height, tightly packed with clothing. Keziah is not able to open the bales and inspect the clothing, they are sold as is. Similarly, after Keziah transports the bales back to Nakuru she sells them to the local vendors as is. Each bale costs about $75-$100 for Keziah to buy in Nairobi and she is able to resell them for $175-$220 in Nakuru. It only costs $2 to transport a bale from Nairobi to Nakuru, so Keziah is able to make a tidy profit on each one.
When walking the streets of Nakuru, it is not uncommon to see people walking around wearing American football jerseys from the 1990’s, tee shirts promoting small town American restaurants, and obscure US politicians. Obviously, these items of clothing were donated to various NGOs in America by people intending for their donations to be given free of charge to people in the developing world. In actuality, these items of clothing are shipped to Mombasa, they are then purchased by wholesalers in Nairobi, sold to people like Keziah in the clothing business, who then sells them to local vendors, finally the local vendors sell them to the townspeople who were initially intended to receive them for free.
The secondhand clothing business in Kenya is immense. Prior to my meeting with Keziah, she was completely unaware that the clothing she was selling was actually intended to be donated to people in need. The vast majority of clothing vendors are equally unaware. Regardless of the fact that these clothes were intended to be donated, it is probably best that this secondhand clothing business exists. It provides an income for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people.
In addition to her clothing business, Keziah’s second business, which she describes as her main focus and passion, is cosmetics. For the past three years, Keziah has been selling cosmetic items, including every type of make up imaginable as well as weaves and human hair wigs. All of these items are very popular among women in the urban center of Nakuru. Because of this, it is difficult to find a street that does not have a salon or cosmetics store.
Due to the high level of competition in Nakuru, Keziah travels to the surrounding villages to sell her wares. She has developed a loyal customer base in the areas surrounding Nakuru. With her first loan, Keziah increased her supply of cosmetics and human hair wigs, which is a highly profitable item. Keziah is also adept at applying make up, weaves, and wigs.
In the future, she envisions using her next loan and the profits of her two businesses to purchase a cosmetics store in Nakuru. Though competition is high in town, Keziah has many loyal customers from the surrounding villages and towns. Currently, her customers outside of Nakuru are only able to purchase her products when she is visiting their village. Since Keziah is often traveling, she wishes to have a permanent store in Nakuru where she would employ someone full time. Keziah believes, correctly, that this will allow her to travel and continue to expand her customer base while allowing her current customers to purchase cosmetics at their lesiure from her store.
Keziah is a very motivated young woman and has a sharp mind for business and her future is bright.

Suits for sale!

Meet Ann Wangui, a shopkeeper from the Rift Valley city of Nakuru, Kenya. Her second-hand suit business enjoys healthy margins thanks to low operating costs and high demand. From her kiosk at the heart of Nakuru’s municipal market, Ann sells at least 80 suits per month and diligently saves a portion of each sale for future investments in her business and family. As noted below, Zidisha has helped grow Ms. Wangui’s store and support her young children as they climb the ranks of secondary education. Last week, Vivien Barbier, Zidisha client relationship intern in Kenya, paid a visit to Ms. Wangui in downtown Nakuru. Take a look!

Hello lenders,

My name is Vivien Barbier and I’m a client relationship interns for Zidisha in Kenya. Today I visited Mrs Ann Wangui and her husband in their boutique. 

Mrs Wangui is running a shop in Nakuru’s market that sells second hand men suits. Every suit is in a very good state so it is hard to see that there are second hand. Before joining Zidisha, Mrs Wangui was client of other organizations that provided loans, but the interest rates were to high for her to make enough profit to grow the business. In addition to repay the debt, Mrs Wangui has to pay for the schools fees of her three children. Two of them are in high school and her youngest son is still at primary school. She told me that thanks to Zidisha and the low interest rate loan, the business is now much more profitable. Mrs Wangui also expects that her older son will be accepted to the university. In this case, the government will pay for his education. Mrs Wangui and her husband are putting a lot of effort to ensure the success of their children.

The last few months have been a rough time for their family, Mrs Wangui sister get very sick. Mrs Wangui had to pay for the important medical fees; this prevented her to pay back the loan during a few months. Fortunately, things are better now, her sister is doing well and Mrs Wangui can focus again on running her business. She also explained me that during the last month, the business was not great in the whole region. July and August are usually bad months for business and things improve in September. This is not the first time I hear that in the area; the other day, a farmer explained me that this was because the harvest period that only starts in September. 

Mrs Wangui plans for the future is to buy at least one new full suit to expend her product line. With second hand suits it is impossible to have a pants and a jacket from the same fabric and color. New suits can be sold for 30 000 KES ($350) so the profit that she can expect will be much bigger than for second hand suits. 

I lost the count of the number of time she said “Thank you” to the Zidisha community for having helped her when she needed it. She also told me that I should come back next year to visit her shop again and that I will be amazed by the change that I will see then. 

8th August 2012
Nakuru, Kenya

Learn more about Ann Wangui’s story here!

An Update from Madame Sarr

Dear Lenders,

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Mme Sarr at her house in the neighborhood of Parcelles Assainies, about an hour away from Central Dakar. Mme Sarr lives with her mother, her two sons and her daughter, as well as two brothers and their respective wifes and children.

Mme Sarr is very proud to be one of the first Zidisha borrowers in Senegal. Since her workshop was demolished she has been working from home. Mme Sarr employs a tailor, Mr. Maguette Olle Ndoye, who does most of the sowing. Mr. Ndoye is pictured smiling next to Mme Sarr’s new sowing machine.

Mme Sarr used part of her most recent loan to buy her new Singer 2OU33 sowing machine, which she uses to produce traditional Senegalese dresses, or boubous, using a technique called ‘Pakistani embroidery’, which yields higher quality products. Clients now come to her house to admire her boubous and place orders. Two of her nieces were very eager to be photographed wearing them; their pictures are included below.

Mme Sarr has also started to make ‘ecosacs’ for a local NGO which is planning to commercialize them. Ecosacs are devices made of polyester and tissue that are used to save gaz. A pot with boiling water and rice can be taken out of the fire and put inside the ecosac where the food will continue to cook until it’s done. When the ecosac is closed tightly around the pot, it keeps the heat in. Mme Sarr is provided the materials, and earns 8,000 FCFA (16$) for each completed ecosac. She’s made some 70 of them over the past two months and she is hoping for bigger orders.

In the future, Mme Sarr hopes to be able to buy the equipment necessary to produce using more techniques, including ‘petit fil’ and ‘gros fil’. She would like a big workshop downtown, with many employees, from which to produce and market her attractive boubous. 

Client Relationship Manager