Steady Strides Toward Growth - Grace Mbugua - Jeilo Collections

February 22, 2022

For the longest time, bags have been a key accessory in lifestyle and fashion. The concept of having the right bag has changed shape over several decades. While in past times it was simply a fashion piece to complete a look, it is now a necessity whose style, color, and functionality are taken into consideration upon selection and purchase. Bags are useful for multiple reasons, and the more creative and functional they are, the more they stand out.

Grace Mbugua is the founder of Jeilo (Jesus is Lord) Collections, a company that manufactures leather and textile bags, gift items, and accessories. She is a businesswoman whose joy shines through and through. Partly because she found a solution to a problem that disturbed her for years, but also because she’s found herself credited for other people’s joy. When asked about the latter, she gleefully shares that it’s seeing the smiles on her clients’ faces whenever they are satisfied with the bag they have purchased.

Prior to this business, Grace simply had an interest in bags. After several years of employment, she followed her passion and made the daring leap into the world of business in 2014. Partly aware of the talent within and on the outskirts of Nairobi, Grace set about looking for tailors from different communities. Her aim was to utilize skilled crafters by subcontracting them.

However, the lack of commitment to routine orders from the crafters soon posed a challenge to the project when getting her inventory made. Grace went back to the drawing board. The nuts and bolts of executing a business idea were testing her, but she was determined to eventually build an enterprise.

She turned to her husband and shared her mission. He offered a listening ear and, as a course of action, helped her stretch out her idea to identify the steps to take. Eventually, with a clearer picture of what the business would provide, they agreed to go into business together. 

Next came the research and sourcing phase. “The challenge I previously experienced was the lack of high-quality, long-lasting bags. This frustration became an inspiration to start a passion project,” says Grace. “I wanted a bag which I could use several times and it would still look good!” The key ‘ingredient’ in creating a sustainable, classy accessory was leather. And so, as part of sourcing, Grace began looking for the right, durable fabric to create bags that a local market would purchase. 

Everything seemed set, but there was a feeling that would not go away. She’d soon realize that she was selling herself short by targeting Kenyans only. And so she challenged herself to grow a business that would appeal to an international market. 

Before long, the project became much bigger and changed into a business: Jeilo Collections. It has since grown in leaps and bounds. Having started in an extra room at her family’s home, Jeilo then moved to a workshop an hour outside Nairobi before coming back to the extra room where it grew. “The business grew inside our home and started taking up more space beyond the room. At this point we realized we needed to set up a proper shop, so we moved into a commercial office.” This became the location where Jeilo Collections would expand. Beyond this office, the company now has two full-fledged retail outlets in two malls in Kenya. Growth further included hiring the right staff and increasing the business’s capacity through the purchase of equipment.

Yet before this growth, Grace knew business systems were a key component in the survival and growth of her company. “When we were still very young as a business, we needed to put our house in order. And to do this, we needed to have the skills that any business required: how to develop a business plan, how to manage business accounts, and how to identify your target market and market to them.” This deep desire to flourish as an entrepreneur led her to the Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy

The Academy enhanced her business attitude. There was more she could do with the business, whether it was for profit, for sustainability, or for her community. 

On the sustainability front, considering materials and the production process was important. “We now ensure we have minimal waste. We have a method where we create different products from material that would otherwise go to waste. This is how we have been able to expand our products beyond bags.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Kenya, there was a sudden increase in the need for masks. With sufficient material at their disposal, Jeilo Collections became one of the local pioneer companies to produce unique face masks that would serve as essential items that had fashionable touches to them. And sure enough, the moment Grace and her team launched their newest product, sales hit the roof! With more purchases and the rise in demand, she purchased more machines. The surge in sales piqued her business mindset and the recurring questions were, beyond masks, what else did people need? “We considered interior spaces and after doing some research, we found that there was a market for pet beds and oversize bean bags for home comfort.”

Jeilo Collections’ bags are currently in stock at seven outlets of one of Kenya’s leading supermarkets. Reflecting on her entrepreneur journey, Grace concludes,

“Being with Sinapis has been a journey because by being part of this community, I have been able to go beyond the training. I have received technical support, especially with looking for investors and funders who we can work with.”

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