These Tailors

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We close this year with an introduction. Eddy Ashioya. You will be seeing his work here on Thursdays Lights On section. I’m taking him under my wings, my protege. For those joining us, Lights On is where we pay bills but with storytelling. Because a product is a story. So, please, Eddy, grab a seat there… not there, that’s Cliff The Tall’s seat, the one next to it. Someone will hand you a virgin cocktail. 

Happy Holidays folk. This year has been rad. Thank you for reading. I appreciate it. May the last person switch off the lights here. 

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Kenyan tailors. What is it with them? 

You know that tingly little feeling you get when your tailor says “Come tomorrow! Hii ni kazi ndogo.” That? That is common sense leaving your body. And the sparkle in their eyes that you notice now is nothing more than a desire for your money. 

A Kenyan tailor is blessed with the gift of gab. The way they sew excuses together, it’s like they were trained for this. I remember a friend of mine, decent chap recounting his tailor story in a deep luo accent, “I left my sati at a tailor’s one day, when I went back he told me: unajua uzi yangu ilikuwa imeisha alafu mtu mwengine akakuja na boxer imeraruka nikaona hio ni emergency..wacha nimshughulikie kwanza..” 

So smooth. Excuses galore. Nowadays it no longer disturbs my chi. In fact, tailors who are on time scare me away. How? Why? Who are you and what have you done to the tailor that was here? You know how watu wa mali mali have a similar voice? Or how those guys who hawk in town sound exactly the same? 

“Dawa ya kuku, mende na viroboto! Nasema dawa ya uku, mende na viroboto!” 

Most tailors are just a beta version of that. 

By the time you get your clothes back, blood, sweat and tears have left your body dehydrated. A tailor can teach you patience and lead you on a journey of self-discovery about just how much you are willing to handle before you contemplate giving it all up. Sometimes, you have to remind yourself that the jail time is just not worth it. 

The legend goes that once, a Kisii man was told by his mechanic that his car was really spoilt and would take two weeks to even ignite the engine, only for him to see his mechanic and his whole family going to church, in his car.  Methinks, Kenyan tailors are not so far behind. It’s only a matter of time. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. 

I wonder how they feel when they go to church, listening to the pastor raise fire and brimstone sermons on all those who sin against the Lord. A Kenyan tailor will just sit there, basking in the gnashing of teeth and throwing an ‘Amen’ here, a ‘hallelujah;’ there and a ‘Praise Jesus’ over there yet your clothes remain unattended to.

If we were living in the Old Testament, the tailors would have no qualms being referred to as Sadducees.  I mean, how would they feel if they went to heaven and St. Peter tells them their house is not ready?

I think trusting a tailor is like being in love. By love, of course, I refer to romantic love – the love between man and woman, rather that between cow and its calf, or a boy and his dog, or eating habits of Chinese bigot or two head waiters.

It’s a constant struggle between: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? 

“Yes you are right you gave me these clothes 6 months ago but I will finish them today,” 

I’m a happy man.  I haven’t been right in 2 years now. When a tailor says ‘kujia kesho’, it can mean anything from between now and 20 years. Ah tailorspeak, the original enigma code. If the Germans had used this during WWII we would have never cracked it. We need to fix this country, but we need to start with the fundis. 

They bask in our frustrations more than they gloat with their lies.

Maybe the only reliable fundi is the barber. But even then if you left your head, you’d probably not find it shaved and would have to walk around headless for months.  Should we just abduct fundis with materials and send them to a secluded location without food and water and let them work till it’s done? Have I been watching too much Netflix? 

But you’d have to go all the way to Kisumu, and meet Riwruok Mo Gwedhi.  It is Luo for “ Tukiungana we are blessed.’ Riwruok Mo Gwedhi, a mouthful, is a group of 15 women who started out in 2002, and are known as arguably the best living tailors in Kisumu.  But it was not always that way. 

They took a loan of 50k, initially to do poultry, and found their true north, after the venture failed to lay any success. After a rough patch, they took another loan from Women Enterprise Fund/Coca-Cola who also trained them. Armed with knowledge and experience, this time they made good of their lessons, and delved into dressmaking, finding what really suited them. 

Diving deep into tailoring, they bought three sewing machines, and after a rough patch, business slowly started to pick up. Now with WEF support, they are servicing their loan while looking forward to expand. And because Kenya is a country of deals, they also make peanut butter on the side. That is when they are not busy supplying schools uniforms with their five machines. Of course they are good at what they do and have created employment by hiring two other tailors to ease the workload. 

You know the precision that comes with age. Growing up, mother was the first tailor you met. She’d call you all the way from town because of her fading eyesight to insert the thread into the eye of the needle (great band name). From there, she will sew all your clothes, picking material from here to patch there. Grafting, but for clothes.  

And unlike other tailors, these ones – Riwruok Mo Gwedhi – hang pictures of clothes they can actually make. Because you know some tailors come up with designs that leave you in stitches, which is not the stitch they were hoping for.  

Of course, they, and in extension, we are here now because of Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) and Coca-Cola initiative that don’t want to make a big deal out of this but have supported over 1.1 million women access interest-free loans. 

Proverbs 31:10 says that “a good wife is hard to find.” I I think we should rephrase that verse. A good tailor is hard to find, she is worth more than a suit and she is the pride of her clothes makers. He who finds an honest tailor, finds a good thing. 

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104 Comments
  1. I have rough stories with tailors…. They say that fundis were cursed after they agreed to build the cross to crucify Jesus. I somewhat agree that all fundis are out of this world

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  2. Reke gwire!‍♀️

    I had a Burundian make me a kitenge skirt, he did this and in good time. He gained some ‘political’ mileage and I trusted the dude by giving him another jobbo! That was my biggest mistake As I write, the dude is doing a ‘meet &greet’ thingy in his remote village huko kwao I’m a woman, and because of that I gave another ‘kalewa’ fundi and he swore by his ancestors that come Monday the work will be done. I’m consoled by the fact that these fundis are the same that crucified Jesus on the cross.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New year
    Have a fundiless year good people

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  3. I request we have the option of subscribing to either the Tuesday post, Thursday post or both of them.

    Naomba tu…..sababu Mimi am into the Tuesday posts more than the Thursday posts…….
    Za Tuesday have some suspense that the Thursday ones don’t.
    We know za Thursday lazima they end up with a good ending….but za Tuesday, we! Anything goes .

    All in all, I wish you well as you pay your bills.
    And thanks for mentoring others…..means we’ll always have a constant supply of fresh reads… You’ve paid Oyunga Pala his debt by leaving mantalk to a younger fellow, and now this new intro.

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    1. but i think you will just know before you start reading so there is another option of ignoring…BECAUSE Tuesday stories are posted on Tuesdays its like a dose that you wont miss and lights on are random,,lets all be appreciative pls..

      Merry Christmas darling

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  4. Seemingly today Biko decided to go fit for Christmas clothes.Do these things still exist?
    I miss the good old days. Nowadays there is nothing like Christmas clothes like it doesn’t come with that Christmas hype you feel me?

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  5. Lol, this does happen I won’t refute but there are Fundi’s out there doing this job as a profession you know, and they are very serious about it….
    Not blowing my own trumpet but I left my job as an advocate to venture into fashion and design and I can tell you till today 90% of my clients if not a 100% can attest I run things differently and I’m based in Nairobi….my page on Facebook @ThesuitstarOfficial and on Instagram @thesuitstar

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    1. Niko and ashioya needs to pay bills.invite them at your place and they will give us a good literature on your work.marry Christmas and happy new year.

  6. “Should we just abduct fundis with materials and send them to a secluded location without food and water and let them work till it’s done?” hahaha this is too much Netflix no doubt. Even so, they seem like they will just find a way of disappointing even in seclusion..a leopard never changes its spots Biko..even if they will try so hard. it is an innate character of theirs

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  7. “….could not lay any success””…..”…find what really suited them…”…”Because you know some tailors come up with designs that leave you in stitches, which is not the stitch they were hoping for “and many other phrases. This is a very well executed piece! Good work Eddy

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  8. A Good Tailor is Hard to Find.She is worth more than A Suit and She is the Pride of Her Clothes Makers.
    He who finds an Honest Tailor finds a Good Thing

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  9. True Biko.
    Kwanza hapo pa you have to choose between being right or being happy…
    Very true! Hehehehe…
    But tailors…abeg… all fundis have a problem.

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  10. absence of evidence! Fundis will be the end of us, you leave them doing repairs on your garment but by the time you’re back to collect it you find it’s been unattended since the moment you left! I keep changing ’em the moment this happens.

  11. Congratulations Eddy, it is a hilarious read and thank you Biko for mentoring others with the same passion.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy new year to all.

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  12. Am I even me if I don’t take this opportunity to market myself? Check out African Yuva. Great peeps, They deliver on time.

    On another note, Ashioya, It’s really good to see you here!

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  13. I almost threw my fundi from the fourth floor on the eve of my wedding. For the 3 months he was sewing the suits, he used to ease my complaints by saying “Mimi husona suti moja na 6 hours hii yako ni kazi mtoto.” Were it not for the best man, there would not have been a wedding because he stopped me from beating the fund up just on time. You should have seen the children’s sad faces because the fundi Never managed to finish their clothes. Alafu, the son of Cain has the audacity of asking me, “kijana arusi ilikuwaje? Naomba unirusie mapicha nionyese watu kazi yangu”…brally fuuu

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  14. Is this it??? Tailors?? i feel totally deflated!what happened to the summary for the Women and Marriage series?? Well… wouldnt want to be a party popper!! Good luck to Eddy…Happy Holidays

  15. We don’t know each other (at least most of us) but you guys already make feel like my distant bros and sisters.

    This year has been rad, tough, it has been everything….si ni life?

    Congratulations Eddy, make it count.

    To us all, Happy holidays and Biko, Thank you man. I have learnt, relearned, adjusted, have gown wise and more aware to things that lie with us.

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  16. How timely!… This being their peak season, a big shout out to the fundis who deliver what they are supposed to, and on time, ya’ll a special place in the after life!

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  17. Eddy Ashioya. Tick! Tick! Tick! You are in the same league as your mentor. Well done and all the best. Have holidays to Biko, Eddy and the gang!

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  18. I found me an honest tailor, her stitches are spot on. ah i love her, she is slowly transforming my wardrobe and payment, very flexible, she is actually the one who calls me to schedule fitting, it feels good to work with her.

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  19. Hi Biko,
    I am a big fan and love every article. However, am not Kenyan and unfortunately do not understand swahili. Could you consider providing translations for your non-swahili fans? It would be much appreciated.

    On a different note, welcome Eddy!

    Happy holidays!

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  20. My Congolese fundi hapo Eldy still has me seething 3 years later!!! He chopped my dress (I gained more weight than I approximated- 26 weeks preggerz). Said it was an easy fix to just put a V patch on the armpit seams (guess it was boobs that grew heheheh). Wacha I go pick up the next day like he told me. I see dress is surgically severed, no sign of any work. His partner is there. I sat and waited. He picked up twice ati ako njiani. He must have forgotten he was dealing with a preggo woman. I had all the patience. If my dress was not getting done, no one else’s was getting done. Nilipiga kambi mpaka mall ikafungwa . His partner kept receiving calls from him. I guess he was checking to see if I have left. Next day was baby brother’s wedding. Imagine nimeleta nguo kutoka’Merica but useless. Tuskys saved the day. Complete with kibeti na viatu coz the ones I had for the blue dress couldn’t go with the orange kitenge outfit from the Tusky’s shelf.
    I’m thankful my Vietnamese tailors hapa keep their words. Kesho ni kesho. Congolese, tafadhali don’t believe the beautiful accent that coats the words that roll out of their heavy tongues. Utapata stroke. Utabaki bila ‘sati’ na suti my fren!

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  21. Daddy’s suit needed a minor alteration. He took it to a local fundi who said it would be ready the following day. Days turned to weeks and eventually months. 7 months later, it was finally ready, hallelujah! When dad gets home and tries his trousers on, mum notices something, there is a big kiraka on the backside! It turns out the fundi had an accident with an iron box and decided to patch it up! Huyu ataonea mbinguni viusasa! Merry Christmas everyone.

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  22. Hehe….too true…but i know two great ones….rare to find all.
    But I have realized IT guys ‘kidogo’ behave like these fundis sometimes…

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  23. Anyone that calls themselves a fundi is damned!! Awe Fundi wa viatu. wa mbao, wa nguo, wa stima, ama hata wa mawe… They all came from the same mother. you will need grace to deal with them, especially when you cannot avoid them.

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  24. My local fundi Gichuhi in Gilgil does a good job and delivers his stitches on time.when he is not able he is honest enough to let you know.He is a good thing as per Eddy’s proverb 31:10.

  25. And the worst part sometimes is that what you saw(them tailors saw) is knot (not ‘sic’) what you get… I gave up on these guys.
    My saying… All fundis are cut from the same cloth carpenters, tailors, mechanics younamethem

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  26. The legend goes that once, a Kisii man was told by his mechanic that his car was really spoilt and would take two weeks to even ignite the engine, only for him to see his mechanic and his whole family going to church, in his car. Methinks, Kenyan tailors are not so far behind. It’s only a matter of time. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

    I wonder how they feel when they go to church, listening to the pastor raise fire and brimstone sermons on all those who sin against the Lord. A Kenyan tailor will just sit there, basking in the gnashing of teeth and throwing an ‘Amen’ here, a ‘hallelujah;’ there and a ‘Praise Jesus’ over there yet your clothes remain unattended to.

    …………………..This!!!I just died

  27. These fundis can be very frustrating. I remeber hawa fundi wa viatu kunaye nilipelekea kiatu. For more than 2 years I checked on it na bado alikuwa akisaka sole. It 5 years now and I guess hajawai tengeneza.

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  28. Great scribe in making. Worth his salt. He didn’t waste his script with clauses we are so used to like a stitch in time that I was looking for all trhough to write him off. QUALIFIED! He’s outsmarted me to be in the next class that seems never to be.

  29. A big welcome to Eddy!

    I think tailors invented the merry go round! They can take us round!

    Happy holidays friends.

    Having said that, lights off!

  30. I have been a victim of this, a delay of 2 months!! i threatened him that i will call the police.The dress was done under 2 hours!!1

  31. I’ve never forgotten what my grandmother (God rest her soul) told me, that all Fundi’s are cursed more so carpenters because they made the cross that Jesus was crucified on.

  32. Forget the tailors, cobblers are far much worse. 5yrs now and my shoes that just required an all round stitch are “still locked up in a store whose owner went missing now 5years” I gif up

  33. Ahahahaa…”She’d call you all the way from town because of her fading eyesight to insert the thread into the eye of the needle (great band name). ” I used to wonder why they could not do it on their own, now i am a victim and i am forced to call my daughters to do the same for me. I hope they do not phrase it to their friends like you have done Biko…

    Talking of Fundis, i have had to chill for some months now because of the same lies..i will go back for my clothes after one year. It hurts !

  34. “Maybe the only reliable fundi is the barber. But even then if you left your head, you’d probably not find it shaved and would have to walk around headless for months. Should we just abduct fundis with materials and send them to a secluded location without food and water and let them work till it’s done? ”

    Haha. Yes, we should. They have tested our patience for long enough.

  35. My fundi stories are many. I have a dress that I was being done for a friend’s wedding. I left it at the fundi. I’d rather be happy. It’s now six years and two babies later, no dress.