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.
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.