Christine Gathiuni’s Journey to Creative Entrepreneurship
After one year of no consulting work, Christine Gathiuni was demoralized and disillusioned. Then one day God gave her a vision of a creative business idea she could pursue.
“In the vision I saw lots of used shoes being transformed into beautiful colors and designs, makeovers, fashion and up cycling combined. (This was) divine vision from God-to upcycle and design used shoes as a service to clients,” recalls Gathiuni.
Gathiuni now makes money from giving old shoes a makeover. She is the founder and director of Afrishiq, a first rising enterprise that primarily restyles worn out shoes.
She says Afrishiq is a fusion of the word African and Shiq- a play on ‘chic’ meaning tasteful or stylish.
Clients bring their own shoes for color and design modifications including:
- Changing heels to wedges
- Resizing by up to one size
- Changing stilettos to chunky heels
- Shortening stilettos
- Changing closed shoes into open shoes
- Fixing new soles
- Fixing extra cushions in linings
- Accessorizing with flowers, straps or bows
Creating Eco-Friendly Shoes in Kenya
Before branching out into other types of fabric, Gathiuni worked primarily with shoes in African fabric. She has since incorporated bags, belts, sunglasses, boxes and accessories into the business idea.
In 2019, she ventured into custom made orders for apparel that she sells locally and overseas. Although she is still in the rudimentary stages, she reveals that the market has shown interest.
“The business model is profitable to the tune of 30 to 40% net profit monthly. I have three permanent employees and four others who add to the team depending on the type of order,” says Gathiuni.
Gathiuni sees a connection between her business model and environmental conservation.
“Clients are reducing their respective garbage while saving money plus we also use recycled materials for some of the work. Sustainability is key because there is no limit as to the number of times a pair of shoes can be revamped,”Christine Gathiuni
Growing up in Nairobi, she wanted to become a vet. She loved animals. However, upon graduating from high school, she decided to join the United States International University-Africa (USIU) in 2000, to pursue a degree in International Business Administration.
For five years Gathiuni had travelled across Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda doing holistic plans for individuals and families. She was a certified financial planner working at a financial advisory firm. But she quit the lucrative position to work as an Independent consultant for a donor funded programme.
However, it was not long before she was out of work. She had to come to terms with joblessness, something, she had never experienced before.
Upon graduating in 2004, she had worked in hospitality and sales for four years before moving to the financial advisory firm.
“l resigned because l was ready to consult on my own. l would travel around the country doing training and workshops for youth and investment groups. It was for a United States Aid for International Development (USAID) program,” says Gathiuni.
The USAID programme which started in 2010, ran for only two years.
As the program wound down, Gathiuni was optimistic about finding more training projects. She put out feelers in all her networks but no opportunities were forthcoming.
The vision God gave her was vivid and detailed and it immediately launched her out of her idle season.
Even though she had never worked in the creative space before, let alone designing, revamping or repairing shoes, she was highly convinced that her long-awaited opportunity had found itself in her hands. She grabbed it and held on to it, tightly and as it were, prevented it from slipping away.
She embarked on finding someone to work with.
Working With Local Designers
“I found a cobbler at a design and repair shop. When I used his services, we talked and he realized I would have more opportunities, so he left and came to work for me,” recalls Gathiuni.
Moving from offering financial services to a self-employed entrepreneur was not an easy journey for Gathiuni. Even so, demand for her services was growing, steadily giving her the confidence to carry on.
She started by giving her old shoes a makeover. Her friends and acquaintances, on seeing her in the restyled shoes, became her primary clients. Soon they were making referrals to her which ultimately grew her customer base.
After one years of running the business, Gathiuni started to attend trade fairs, expositions and other events around the country to showcase her products and services. She also set up a Facebook page to market her products online.
In 2016, she attended the African Women in Cultural Leadership (AWCL) program, organized by the Arterial Network as a mentee. She had been recommended to the network by experts in the creative industry.
The mentorship, she says, broadened her knowledge on different aspects of running a creative business. She also acquired skills on how to organize and run events on a limited budget.
Some of the challenges that Gathiuni faces in her business are standardizing the quality of output during busy seasons, getting good quality shoe soles and meeting demand for the shoe makeover service.
To offset these challenges, she hopes to get a bigger and better workshop with more equipment and machinery and to employ more people. She works from a small workshop in Umoja, a neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya and has a drop off point in the Central Business District where clients bring their orders.
Gathiuni’s background in finance has played a key role in keeping her business afloat.
“I enjoy bringing my finance background into the creative space from time to time. Fashion business requires corporate knowledge especially when wholesale clients come to negotiate. Creative entrepreneurship is dynamic and unique and allows for more self-expression than the financial services industry.”
So, to what does she attribute her success thus far?
“My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who leads me in all things,” concludes Gathiuni.