By Agnes Kasemiire
“A couple of days ago, I completed an order of 150 masks alongside small bags to keep them. As we talk, I am working on an order to deliver to the Ministry Health. Soon, I will embark on yet another order of 500 masks from European Union that will fetch me about Shs 3.5 million,” Bashir Hamba told me. Hamba, 21, is a budding entrepreneur who has taken advantage of Covid-19 pandemic to reap from making face masks. When Uganda recorded her first case of Covid-19 in March, government imposed a total lockdown to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
These measures greatly impacted on Hamba’s fashion design business located in Kawanda town, along Bombo road. He closed his shop and sat home, doing nothing for weeks. There were no new orders. Luckily, one morning Hamba received a phone call from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) telling him of an opportunity to train in making masks. “I did not have any idea on how to make masks. The caller said they had a trainer based in Kenya who was going to train youth dealing in fashion and design,” he recalls.
The trainer, Anne Macris, created a WhatsApp group and added beneficiaries of Action for Fundamental Change and Development (AFFCAD) and IOM. The training on making masks was done virtually. “I kept wondering where I would get market for masks since Uganda had not been hit by Covid-19 yet. But they encouraged us to utilize social media to market our products,” he said.
After training, he made 20 masks. He used two meters of kitenge cotton fabric at Shs 10,000, two meters of light cotton material (for inner lining) at Shs 6,000 and three meters of elastic at Shs 900, bringing the total cost to Shs 16,900. While Hamba was still pondering on what to do with the first stock of masks, he received a call from a Kampala-based woman who wanted to buy 20 masks. He charged each mask Shs 2,500, fetching him Shs 50,000. “I was very happy and encouraged to make more.
I knew the future was bright,” he said. Meanwhile, he got an order of 20 masks from IOM with instructions that they were being taken to the health ministry for approval. Luckily, his product was approved and the health minister, Dr Ruth Aceng, bought some. “Watching the minister on television address the public while wearing one of my masks encouraged me to work hard,” Hamba said. Due to the quality of his products, Hamba received an order of 200 masks from IOM.
He was given the required materials and only charged them labour of Shs 2,000 per mask. He continued receiving orders ranging from 100 to 150 masks from businesspeople in and around Kampala. For each three-layer mask, Hamba charges between Shs 3,000 and Shs 7,000, depending on the volume one is buying.
Corporate Social Responsibility
When government was distributing food in Kampala and Wakiso districts, Hamba donated 50 masks to his community. Currently, he employs two youths and pays them Shs 500 for every mask made. However, when he gets big orders he pays them Shs 1,000 per piece. To cut on the labour costs, he works with interns and a handful of youths he trains in tailoring and designs. He charges each trainee Shs 150,000.
In three months, Hamba has managed to refurbish his workshop using profits from the business. He bought an overlock machine at Shs 1million and a button machine at Shs 500,000. His biggest challenge is the high transport costs. “Previously, a trip to Kampala was charged Shs 2,000. But now the same trip costs Shs 10,000. Yet sometimes I get urgent orders and have to make abrupt trips to Kampala to buy material,” he said. He advises fellow youth to work hard, be creative and stop despising work.
“It gives me satisfaction and courage to work hard after making high quality products,” he said. “I do not like taking money and my customers are not satisfied with the product. I feel like refunding the money.” Now he wants to grow, expand his business and brand. He intends to buy land and construct a fashion design school to train the youth.
Hamba completed senior six in 2015, but could not join university because his mother failed to raise tuition. He later studied fashion design funded at AFFCAD, a non-governmental organization that equips youth with livelihood skills.
Upon graduation in December 2017, Hamba received a startup capital of Shs 2.5million from IOM. The capital comprised a sewing machine, assorted threads, and an overlock machine, among other items. Early 2018, he rented a room and set up a fashion design business he named Heb Fashionz. He started by making occasional and office wear outfits, bags, uniforms, casual wear, kid’s attires, costumes for movies, hats and crafts. However, while his fashion and design started picking up, COVID-19 hit the globe.