NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 4 – Coming back home to Kenya after studying abroad, Sue Muraya knew one thing – employment was not an option.
“There was nobody who could employ me as a fashion designer. It was so different, so new for Kenyans. At the same time I was over qualified for this market. So when I came back it was almost obvious that I was actually going to go into business,” Muraya recounts.
She studied at a fashion school in New York and had lots of passion and energy for her craft; but found it hard to get employment in Kenya’s underdeveloped fashion market at the time.
Still, Muraya craved the feeling of having the freedom to be her own boss, so she created her own employment and went into business.
However, the dream of starting a fashion line proved to be a major challenge, especially in the area of financing and recruiting human capital.
“When I came back I had to start from scratch, figure out a way to get tailors. Every single step was discovery. If you want to have a career and make money, it gets very difficult,” she said.
However, Muraya would not let those few teething problems hold her back, because in 2001 Kenya Fashion Week was born, out of what Muraya said was a need for local designers to showcase their talent.
“I spoke with a lady I was dealing with from M-Net Face of Africa and I said ‘why don’t we start this and get an event going where we get designers in and models.’ I dealt with the designers and she was with the models,” she said.
Kenya Fashion Week ran for six years, after which, Muraya was faced by a pivotal business decision that would change everything.
Transitioning into development (real estate) with her husband, she admits, was not an easy shift, especially because she would be a woman in the industry that is dominated by men.
“In terms of business and being a woman, that was a big hurdle in terms of perception. It’s the society wanting to know what I knew about housing or projects and business because of the transition from fashion to development. When you’re doing houses your mind thinks differently,” she said.
The merge seemed to work after all and today Muraya handles the sales and marketing end of the Suraya Properties, one of Kenya’s most successful development companies.
Making the move to development, Muraya says, became easier especially in terms of seeing tangible growth that was not as forthcoming in the fashion business.
“I do not regret it because it was a good shift. Though I am very passionate about the fashion industry, it’s got a certain growth element in the country so whatever you’re putting in there’s a certain level you feel you are not moving beyond,” she noted.
Although multi-million shilling developments in some of Kenya’s most exclusive neighbourhoods have brought the couple success, Muraya says she sees the company catering to a younger clientele.
“One of the things that has been very exciting for me is to house people, not a certain class. I feel either it is not understood how to get into owning homes for the younger generation or the price is out of range,” she said.
Suraya is already developing homes as low as Sh2.1 million with plans to go down as low as Sh1.5 million.
Knowing the challenge most youth face with unemployment in the country, Muraya says if there was one piece of advice she would give young upcoming entrepreneurs it would be to build their business into an organization that makes a difference in society.
“The truth of the matter in Kenya it’s the establishment of businesses that will help the next generation. Stop complaining, do what you can to move the country forward.