Her grandmother was married off at the age of 13. In 2014, depressed by the challenges facing women, she decided to launch a fashion brand that would champion and empower women and youth.
Five years later, Miss Baus is making strides to shine a bright light on her courageous quest. In 2019, after a 12-week training programme, she won the award for Social Entrepreneur run by the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, an initiative of the United States White House.
She speaks to Hustle about her journey.
How does someone go from being a dentist to running a fashion brand?
My grandmother was diagnosed with a rare skin cancer. At the time I was working at the Coast Provincial General Hospital. During ward rotations, I had seen so many cancer cases, and met patients who I connected with, only for them to die.
When I imagined my grandmother going through the same, it affected me to the point of depression. I couldn’t take being a doctor anymore.
In 2014, I quit and asked myself what else I was passionate about. I loved fashion and I loved community service, so I put the two together.
What does the Miss Baus brand stand for?
Empowerment, through fashion. I say this because it is difficult for young people and women in my community to find a voice. The women are afraid to speak out and the youth don’t think anyone understands them, so they don’t bother.
We have many strong organisations who champion these two groups in Mombasa, where I come from. But sometimes it’s a challenge for them to reach their target audience.
What we do at Miss Baus, is amplify the voices of these organisations by sharing their mission with our customers, who are mostly women and youth.
Tell us about your products
We sell clothes, bags, shoes and wedding packages. Most of our retail is done through social media. We post products on our pages; customers make orders and we deliver.
Our biggest margins come from wedding packages. In our culture, when a bride gets married, the groom’s people will give her a gift called ‘begi.’
‘Begi’ is a bag that contains almost everything a bride would want; clothes, shoes, handbags, perfume, make-up, you name it. Now instead of the groom’s people shopping for this product themselves, they hire us to do it.
How much is a typical ‘begi’ package?
We work within a client’s budget. We have done a ‘begi’ for Sh30,000 and we have done the same for Sh200,000. Ideally, the bigger the groom’s family, the more things will be included in the ‘begi’.
Where do you source your products from?
Our merchandise comes from India, Turkey, Oman and Dubai. We have partners based in those countries. Once we have selected the products we want, they put them together and ship them to Kenya.
How much was your startup capital?
It’s amazing how little I needed to start, Sh20,000. That’s all I had back then, I was unemployed and being given monthly cheques by my mother for carrying out small errands. People thought I was crazy when I walked away from my job, but I knew my soul was dying there.
Five years later, we get orders of Sh300,000 a week. I use this story to let women know that they have options, that they can start from anywhere.
What is the biggest challenge for women in your community?
Many of them are oppressed; they can be seen but not heard. Their husbands won’t allow them to work or do anything for themselves.
Some are as young as 15 when they get married. By the time they are 17, they have two children. According to UNICEF, there are approximately 527,000 child brides in Kenya. These girls later become women who live with depression and have no one to talk to.
How do you gain their trust?
They shop with us and when you have repeat customers, you can get them to open up. When they open up, we refer them to people who can help. One of the organisations we work closely with is Mentor Transform Youth (MTY), run by Salma Abdulatif. She’s only 25 but she has had an impact on a lot of young people.
What does MTY do, specifically?
They take young people through programmes that take them through leadership, innovation and skillsets like writing. In December this year, they will be running a two-day workshop; the Student Success Programme, targeting fourth form leavers.
We have come on board as Platinum sponsors for this event, supporting them financially and spreading word of the event through our 82,000 followers on social media.
How do you pick the organisations to back?
We do a lot of vetting to ensure that their mission and ours align. Another group we have partnered with is WeForShe, who mentor young girls in challenging situations. In 2018, Miss Baus joined their sanitary pad drive by donating towels to 190 girls for one full term. It cost about Sh50,000.
I came on board for that project when the founder of the organisation shared with me some of the stories of the girls. One of them would sleep with her father to get money to buy pads. I was horrified. There are many other similar stories.
Do you think we will ever get to a point when these basic needs are available to all girls?
I believe we can. For instance, through re-useable pads which are coming into the market. If a girl can reuse her towels, she doesn’t need to spend her school life worried about the next month.
What about child marriages?
This is a cultural mindset that we must continue tackling head on. I have encountered instances where orphanages sell young girls as brides to get funds to continue running their institutions. That’s how bad the situation is.
In 2020, Miss Baus will be launching a campaign which aims to join other voices addressing this tragedy.
It’s personal for me because my grandmother was a child bride. On the other hand, I am a single woman. My community looks down on single women beyond a certain age; people will try to shame you and make you believe there is something wrong with you. This also has to change.
Do you think enough people are playing their part to bring about change?
Maybe not enough, but we are many. In 2019, women are rising and standing up for themselves. The more they rise, the more others are inspired to follow suit.
Do you doubt yourself, sometimes?
I did a lot, at the beginning. I’d get people sneering at me saying, ‘Anauza mabegi’ (She’s just selling bags). In Swahili it’s really derogative. I’ve also been caught in crossfires trying to get women to leave their abusive husbands.Read more at:cheap bridesmaid dresses