Three years ago, Jean d'Amour Uwimana could only manage to make about a dozen pairs of low quality sandals that he would then sell on city streets. The graduate of a six-month shoemaking vocational training course had only Rwf10,000 start-up capital. As a result, Uwimana resorted to making only a few pairs of sandals that he vended on city streets.
"After completing the shoemaking course, I wanted to practice the skills I acquired at school so I came to Kigali and started making 'simple' sandals. Initially, I used to sell each pair at Rwf1,000 on city streets as any other vendor," says the 23-year-old resident of Huye District. That is, however, history as the young entrepreneur now makes over Rwf200,000 daily from sales of leather products, including shoes and belts, at his Kimisagara-based workshop. The entrepreneur says he saves about Rwf600,000 from the venture monthly after paying all the operational costs and taxes.
When Uwimana dropped out of secondary school in 2014 due to lack of fees, he went into poultry farming at parents' home. He used little money raised from the venture and enrolled for a six-month shoemaking course at a local vocational training centre. On completing the vocational course, he thought everything would be a smooth-sailing and money would come fast and in plenty. But he was surprised that was just like a mirage. And when things were getting too hard for him, a discussion with one of the sector players provided that spark he needed to reinvent himself and work creatively.
He says after the discussion, he started looking at shoemaking as a profession unlike before. "So I started working hard and saving so that I could open my own workshop and engage in shoemaking as a full-time job," he narrates.
Two years ago, Uwimana used Rwf100,000 of his savings to start a shoe-making workshop in Kimisagara sector, Myarugenge District named New Arts Style. This was also during the period when the City of Kigali had put in place tighter laws against street vending.
The gamble has already paid off as the former street vendor presently produces different leather products, such as shoes and sandals, handbags, purses and belts, sold through three retail stores in Kimisagara, Nyamirambo and Nyabugogo.
"We make over Rwf200,000 from sales of these products every day. The whole venture is currently valued at over Rwf20 million," he said. He pays a total of Rwf450,000 in taxes and rent.
"We have, so far, trained over 80 youth in shoe-making because other partners, like the American Embassy, send youth they want to support to us and we train them. Some of my workers were trained by New Arts Style," he says.
The young entrepreneur currently employs 30 youth, including street vendors, secondary school dropouts and university graduates.
The degree holder works is the New Arts Style chief operating officer and earns Rwf400,000 per month. "I pay myself a monthly salary of Rwf600,000, while the other workers are paid over Rwf100,000 every month," he says.
Boost from planned ban on secondhand leather products
The young entrepreneur says more people are now buying their products ever since government announced plans to ban second-hand leather products.
New Arts Style sells men's shoes at between Rwf15,000 and Rwf25,000 a pair, which Uwimana says is more affordable contrary to claims by some Rwandans that locally-made products are costly.
In line with promoting the Made-in-Rwanda initiative, he says the firm has started tanning skins as part of the workshop's expansion strategy.
"We tan hides and skins using a homegrown technique by using locally-available raw materials. We are looking to establish a tanning factory in the future to reduce on the importation of finished leather," he says.
He says Rwanda exports hides and skins, but imports the same as finished leather at higher prices. "So, by setting up a tannery, we want to stop this cycle and also help bring down prices of finished leather products," he says.
The workshop receives many applications from youth that want to learn shoemaking, yet the firm has few machines and its operating place is small. We appeal to government and stakeholders like WDA to support us since we are promoting job-creation and self-reliance among the youth by equipping them with practical skills," he says.
According to him, 16 of the 80 youth that were trained at the workshop have already started their own business. Others are working, while some are still looking for start-up capital to establish shoe-making ventures.
Uwimana targets to expand the processing unit and build factory as well as establish more outlets in different parts of the country. Besides creating more jobs for the youth, the move will enable youth to acquire vocational skills for self-employment. "We also plan to buy modern and efficient machines to increase production capacity."
What others say about Uwimana
Jean Paul Ndagijimana, has worked at New Arts Style workshop since 2015. He started out as an apprentice at workshop after dropping out of secondary school due to lack of fees. He says he has been able to buy a Rwf700,000 piece of land using earnings from his job at the workshop. He earns Rwf120,000 each month. He has also bought tailoring machines for his two sisters using his savings.