Juggling and multi-tasking seems something women do without even realising they are. Joyce Ayugi, a student at Uganda Technology and Management University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems and Technology is also making ends meet through creating wearable art pieces.
Head wraps, head bands, necklaces, all made out of colourful African print, satin and seed beads are some of her creations. The founder of Mara_House UG, Ayugi started back in the 2015 and she was inspired to create unique accessories for her natural hairstyles. She used Youtube tutorials and Pinterest to hone the skill.
At the start, Ayugi had to deal with her parents, who did not like the idea of handwork because they believed this would stand in her way of excelling in academics.
“One time, I bought a maroon T-shirt which I cut into pieces to make a necklace. My mother saw me and she was so furious that I was wasting clothes. She did not know what I was up to.”
Ayugi’s mother was later mesmerised by the beautiful piece Ayugi had made out of the T-shirt. Her mother offered to pay Shs25,000 to motivate her.
Over the years, Ayugi has learnt more skills to get more out of the business. She has been to workshops that have trained her in areas of pricing, marketing, leadership, and she is currently taking online classes in digital marketing. With most of her trainings done online, data is the major currency and she uses Shs7,000 worth of data on a weekly basis. Ayugi adds that these trainings have taught her ways in which she can market her products online to increase the number of clients and sales.
Starting with Shs100,000, which was from her savings, Ayugi was able to buy glue sticks, glue gun, Ankara fabric, hair combs and a few t-shirts which she cut to practise with. While she continues to hone her skill, Ayugi has created a niche among young women who buy her hair accessories.
Located in Mutungo-Bbiina, she must reach beyond her neighbourhood in order to keep afloat. “I market my products through word of mouth thus using every opportunity to tell someone about my products, through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Ayugi looks back at the day she received an order for 200 pieces of accessories and when she made sales worth Shs1m. However, there are also those cold times when she made only Shs50,000 in a week.
Ayugi says while many women think they must have the exact outfit to wear an accessory, a headband, necklace, hair combs can just be matched with any outfits to make a fashion statement without necessarily matching with the already existing outfit.
Ayugi says with the products locally made, people presume they should be extremely cheap. “Like any other job, craftwork requires a lot of time, attention to detail and money to make unique pieces and the product price should reflect all this input. Many business proprietors forget to factor in transport costs and labour,” she says.
In the early stages, she hired a third party to sell her items, who later abused her trust by defrauding her of the money and the collection of crafts she was given.
Despite all these challenges, Ayugi is determined to grow her business and her client base. Her family support, especially from her father who once thought it would only serve as a distraction from her studies, keeps her going.
She has also added to the family income. “I am determined to excel at both. I have managed to contribute tuition for my little brother through my craft business.”
Despite being a startup, Mara_HouseUG B partnered with Tugenda Designs, a jewelry business based in the US. Through this partnership, Ayugi supplies her crafts to clients in the diaspora.
Ayugi wishes she had realised earlier the importance of staying true and authentic with her work. “Having learnt all that I know from the different individuals, I have watched on YouTube, I was reproducing their work, yet I needed to bring out my own personality for I believe that we can only birth what we truly love. As one that loves unique pieces, I had to draw the creativity from within and ideas started to emerge. No one can do it like you because a part of you will always be on a particular piece created.”
She believes the future is bright as she seeks to partner with other people and also delve in other ventures. “We are seeking to create more partnerships and secure market beyond Uganda. We are also venturing into creating coffee tables using old car tyres and woven sisal to diversify our products,” says Ayugi.