Aliya Nakakawa is the Managing Director of AliSumSha Jewellery Makers which she started on July 10, 2011.
“I started with only 7,000 Ugandan Shillings, which was balance from a shopping trip to the supermarket that my mum had sent me to,” she says.
This was in 2011 and she was working with one of the telecoms in town. Together with like-minded employees, they formed a youth group called ‘The Young Rich and Famous’, which was more of a motivational speakers’ forum.
“We used to meet every Saturday to discuss new ideas on how we could change our lives and how we can be job creators and not job seekers. Our group targeted the youth from several institutions of higher learning, and we told friends to invite friends,” she narrates.
After a while, through these meetings, Nakakawa felt her inner self tickled as she explains. “There was no way you could leave without introducing the inner you, or what you were capable of doing. There was a lot of talking, interactions, and networking after the meetings. I kept asking myself what I could do until I realized I could make jewellery.”
Today Nakakawa makes handmade African jewellery plus necklaces, earrings, bungles, anklets, and belts. She is also into fashion and she has added clothes to the list of things she does.
“I have a very creative mind. I make things from papers, mineral water bottles, bark cloth, sea/cowry shells and normal beads,” the artistic entrepreneur explains.
HER TURNING POINT
Nakakawa’s defining day in business came when she sent jewellery and clothes to United Kingdom. In the process of making these items she was full of joy and excitement.
“It felt so nice that people around the world are in love with what I do and that people can afford not to buy from UK shops, but buy from me,” she says, with an achiever’s smile.
This was her turning point as an ambitious jewellery-maker and fashionista. As she shares her story, it is evident that this 24-year-old is hungry for success.
From this work she earned Shs800, 000. On average she will earn up to Shs150, 000 for items she makes, be it jewellery or clothes. Yes she still maintains her day job at Pearl Capital Partners (PCP Uganda).
“I want to pursue my passion broadly. I have a great passion for fashion, and currently, I am taking a short course in Fashion Designing and Tailoring at Latif Academy Talent School owned by Latif Madoi of Latif Designs,” she says as she goes about creatively weaving beads, threads and small metallic material.
Nakakawa branched out of what she studied to do something that she loves and is proud to earn from. She is a graduate with bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in both Literature and English.
LEARNING ON THE BUSINESS
“Every day is a learning day. Customers also teach me something, particularly those who want specific jewellery or designs. People are different so I have also learnt how to handle different kinds of people, and to be patient,” the 24-year-old entrepreneur explains.
Nakakawa says she is inspired by her mother who is very hard working. “I look up to her in everything I do. I take her footsteps. She never fails in anything, so I must never fail.”
She adds, “I am also inspired by a UK- based lady called Jacqueline Matovu who is former Miss Uganda, and organiser of Miss Uganda UK. She is hard working, disciplined, calm and she loves culture.”
Such inspiration has informed her motto, “I Work towards perfection”. This drives me to be successful in everything that I lay my hands on.”
CARVING OUT HER NICHE
Nakakawa uses bark cloth, cowry shells, sea shells, wood, banana fibre, paper beads, ebony, ivory, plastics, glass beads, and anything beautiful that can make necklaces or earrings.
Her pride in working with African jewellery lies in bringing out the best Africa has to offer in terms of creativity.
When buying materials she will always make sure she gets the best and at the best price possible.
She adds, “I buy depending on what, and how much I am going to make, lest, they get spoilt out of not being used. I buy my materials from Majestic Plaza, National Theatre, Buganda Road and sometimes Mombasa where I have friends. I have a friend who brings me some from Guatemala.”
When asked what makes her jewellery different from other jewellery on the market she says besides having unique designs she makes her jewellery with so much passion.
“This makes my pieces so strong and long lasting. You will never face the embarrassment of a broken necklace,” Nakakawa says.
Her jewellery prices range from as low as Shs1,000 to as much as Shs35,000. “These prices are determined by the prices of the materials or beads used. So I can also make one for Shs100,000. I also factor in time when pricing my items,” she adds.
ADVICE TO THE YOUTH
Nakakawa’s message to fellow young people is nothing more than what drives her. “Hard work! That is all I can advise the youth. When you finish school, working hard is the next thing.
However, to be happy in life, it is very important to know and explore your unique skill, polish it up and find a way you can make money out of it. To be happy in life, you must be in love with what you do. Do not chase the money, do what you like to do and let the money flow in freely,” Nakakawa advises.
Her wish list for the next five year is to save and start on building her business further and then also build a house which of course has to be fashionably beautiful.
But it is not all work and no play for Nakakawa. Away from life’s hustles she is an actress. She is also quick to say that she is a humble, down to earth, and respectful person.
“I respect every kind of person, whether old, poor, mad, broke, and young. I think this is a rare character amongst the youth today, and I think it makes me unique. I also choose my words wisely, and most of the times I choose to keep quiet, because I know how painful words can be. I am more of a loner so you will not find me in bars, or night clubs. I am home and at work most of the time, ” she says.
Nakakawa’s clients are mostly ladies. To find these ladies, she markets her products.
“Well, in the beginning, I used to sell door to door. My mum was my first customer, and next was her secretary, and then my best friend. When they approved that my jewellery was surely nice, I went ahead to share the idea online,” the young business lady explains.
When she got onto Facebook she was not just exchanging courtesies informing them about her products. She would also make appointments and deliver to friends and strangers in their offices and at their hangouts.
Since she was at university she also sold to her fellow students. “Right now I sell to people in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Norway, US, and Kenya.
These people see my stuff displayed on my Facebook page and they make orders.
I send to them through people who are going abroad. Sometimes I can ship the items,” she discloses.
She makes all this jewellery from home. Today she is grounded in good marketing but her three-year journey has not been without challenges.
THE FASHION BUSINESS
The fashion industry in Uganda - as it is in most other countries on the continent - is new and developing, but it is developing slower than it ought to because most Ugandans have been trained to value the international products before homegrown prducts, accepting particular markers of style, fashion and status.
This “imported is good” mindset will continue to hold back local development of indigenous fashion until designers and textile manufacturers find ways around it, or until indigenous consumers ‘come to their senses.”
Her worst day in business was when she delivered items to someone who refused to pay. “He told me to make him pieces for his mother, wife and sister. I went to his office ready to get my money back, but I never got it and until now he has never paid. It hurts,” the jewellery-maker recounts.
“And a few more people are not good at paying. People take jewellery on credit basis and they say they are going to pay at a given date and when the date comes, they dodge my calls.”
In the early days of her business, she was particularly hurt by losing Shs105, 000.
“I went back home and cried because this was in the early days of my business and that was supposed to be my biggest earning,” she recounts.
Still, there is another friend who took jewellery and failed to pay and consequently started hiding from her. The lesson Nakakawa learnt from such situations is desist from selling on credit.
But there are honest buyers too. “There are days when I can make up to Shs100, 000 which is good money. If I make this amount 12 times a month I would have earned 1.2m for a business I don’t pay rent for,” she adds.