At 23, Maria Nantayi is the director of Taitai Fashion Wear but being a director is only a title. In her boutique, Nantayi is busy stitching dresses just like any other employee.
After completing high school in 2010, she did not wait for her results from Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb). She had a passion for fashion and was looking for a way to start. When she talked to her father, Christopher Kyeyune, about her keenness to start out in the fashion world, he advised her to take up a course in that line.
After her Ordinary Level (O-Level), Nantayi enrolled at Tiner International School of Beauty Hairdressing Art & Fashion and was awarded a Diploma in fashion after a two-year course. After school, she was ready to start making clothes, but her father thought she could start with an internship to gain experience. But Nantayi thought otherwise. “I did not have any money because neither my father nor my big brother could give me money yet I felt I was ready to start. My eldest brother gave me Shs100,000. I had already identified a place where I would pay rent of Shs50,000,” Nantayi explains.
Even before getting the money, she had contacted a lady at Zai Plaza in town to let her rent part of the shop. In one of the corners, she started stitching dresses.
One of the requirements before she joined Tiner School was a sewing machine which cost Shs40,000. This turned out to be her biggest capital when she set out to do business. Of the Shs100,000 she got from her brother, only Shs50,000 was left, yet she needed a table on which to work.
“There was a carpenter in our neighbourhood who I asked to make a table for me, but told him I did not have money. He told me he would make me one but only after I paid a deposit of Shs30, 000. The table cost Shs40,000,” she explains.
She was left with Shs20,000 which she used for transport. “I made sure I utilised this money. I would have a heavy breakfast then head to town to work. I would not have lunch but with time, the people I worked began sharing with me,” she recalls.
At the time, she was staying in Lweza. “Taxis from Lweza to town cost Shs1,500 but to go back home, I had to find ways of saving on the transport cost so I would walk from Zai Plaza to Kibuye and board trucks to save Shs1,000. These trucks charged Shs500,” she adds.
Nantayi says she would wake up early enough to board cars that charged Shs1,000 to town, saving Shs500. As she worked, she looked for jobs here and there. That is how she met a lady called Angel for whom she sewed gowns.
“I sewed the gowns so well that Angel gave me many orders. As I stitched the next gown, I would put the finished one on display. Whenever people would come to look at the gowns, I would recommend them to Angel if they wanted to buy,” Nantayi recollects.
She also made friends with Ahmed Kayiwa, the proprietor of Satellite Studios in Old Kampala, who recommended her to some couples for gowns. “He sent me couples whom I made dresses for and they liked them,” she recounts.
At the time, Nantayi says her focus was not making money but building a name.
On the advice of Kayiwa, Nantayi got a Shs2m loan. It was around that time that Kayiwa was going to China to shop. She sent him for materials worth Shs300,000. With luck on her side, a friend recommended her for a job to make 50 graduation gowns for Gulu University. “I made Shs1m. Business picked up and my client base grew. I have bought a Shs2m plot from this,” she says.
How she runs the business
Nantayi says a client buys material and she does the stitching. She says her gowns, mostly of American satin, are usually rented out for between Shs700,000 and Shs1.5m. The gowns are decorated with beads.