Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Case Study: Placidie Murebwayire Dresses up Her Fashion BusinessPublished: April 28, 2010
Placidie Murebwayire barely escaped the 1994 Rwandan genocide with her life. Murebwayire's 2-year-old son was killed in the genocide, and she was attacked and buried alive while pregnant with her second child. Although she survived all this adversity, it continued to affect her life in different ways, including depression and a lack of the motivation she needed to reopen her small tailor shop. "I couldn't stop thinking that we, Rwanda, were all lost in our sorrows," she says.
Marketing on the Streets and in the Pews
Orphaned at a young age, Murebwayire never knew the fate of her mother. Some told her she was dead; others told her she had fled the country. After the genocide, people began to stream back into the country from Uganda, including some who told her they had seen her mother in that East Africa nation. After a long search, the two were reunited. It gave Murebwayire the confidence that hurdles could be cleared and that, in fact, anything was possible. For example, this renewed spirit was further buoyed by Murebwayire's decision to start attending church again. "It was a miracle I survived" the genocide, she says. "It must have been for a reason, for a purpose."
The mother of four, who also cares for eight orphans, realized that many people in her life depended on her. In addition, she knew that by not living her life to its fullest potential, she was limiting the options her children would have as they got older. That realization inspired her to start thinking of ways to reopen her business. She had always liked fashion. Since her adoptive family could not afford to give her much of an education, she asked a Congolese neighbor to train her in tailoring. In 2004, she opened a new tailor shop on the outskirts of Kigali. There wasn't much foot traffic inside the store, so Murebwayire would strike up conversations with passersby who would admire her nice clothes and ask her to make them something fashionable to wear.
She also approached mothers at her church and asked if she could make outfits for their children, knowing the women weren't as particular about their children's clothes as they were their own. After she made the children's outfits, the women would recognize her tailoring talents and ask Murebwayire to make their clothes as well. In addition to women's outfits, she made wedding dresses, school uniforms, employee uniforms and household decorations, especially for the nursery.
But while she was handy with a needle and thread, she was not as adept at handling her business's finances. She mixed up her personal and business books. She couldn't keep track of her profits and losses. Everything was disorganized.
Exports to America
Then Murebwayire was selected to participate in the six-month Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women entrepreneur certificate program, held at the School of Finance and Banking in Kigali. Murebwayire learned such skills as finance, accounting, marketing, writing a business plan and how to get a business loan. At the end of the six months, Murebwayire was one of two grand prize winners in the program's business plan competition and was awarded $5,000 by the William Davidson Institute, which operates the training for Goldman Sachs. She plans on using her prize money to buy more machines to improve the quality and volume of her work.
Since enrolling in the program, Murebwayire has seen her profit margin increase 20%. Her business generates 500,000 Rwandan francs per month (about $900 U.S. dollars) in sales and has won several contracts. In addition, she says the program taught her how to market her business and how to improve customer service. For example, she reads catalogues and looks online for the latest fashion trends.
Thanks to ties to a Rwandan friend living in Boston and connections through her church, most of Murebwayire's newer clients are Americans; she exports her products to mainly Massachusetts and Georgia. She has also hired an accountant who has advised her that she needs to add more employees to her current staff of five. Murebwayire's life, due to many factors, has improved and her business is growing. She no longer feels lost in all her sorrows.