Kenya: Entrepreneur Specialising in Kanzus Capitalises on Social Media to Push Sales

As technology advances, so have modes of marketing products. Each time 32-year old Salim Abdalla uploads a short video on TikTok marketing his products, he gets hundreds of views, and from that, makes a sale or two.

Mr Abdalla, who specialises in menswear, specifically thobes, popularly known as 'kanzu' in Swahili, has joined a new generation of entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of this and other fast-growing apps to sell their products to millions of potential customers.

Abdalla's shop, which he has christened 'Qamiis', is based in Old Town, Mombasa County. The kanzu is common among Muslims at the Coast, who mostly wear it on Fridays, their dedicated day of worship, and also on special occasions such as during Eid celebrations and at weddings.

Apart from Facebook and Instagram, Abdalla uses his TikTok account, which has over 18,000 followers, to market his kanzus.

"The good thing with our followers, however small the number, is that they are all active. Whenever I post a video, someone must place an order," he explains.

While his shop limited him to residents within Mombasa town, an online presence has opened up his business to clients in Malindi, Lamu, Nairobi, Garissa, and even neighbouring countries.

For every customer he gets, he takes short video clips of them wearing their new attire and posts them on social media with the tag, 'Qamiis'.

"I have invested in a good camera. My shop is also well lit to ensure the photos and video clips are of high quality because high quality pictures and videos are what attract clients," he explains.

Starting out, his major challenge was marketing his shop.

"To even convince potential customers that I had a quality product or to visit my shop was not easy, but by making use of the various platforms on social media, I have managed to counter this challenge," he says.

Abdalla, who was a salesperson in a boutique that sold men's clothes before leaving to start his own business, explains that the need to offer something unique and earn money that matched the effort he put in is what motivated him to go into business.

"Kanzus have been around for a long time, but these days, everyone wants fashionable, good quality clothing - I import mine from the United Arab Emirates," he says of what sets his kanzus apart.

Abdalla, through help from family and friends, opened his shop towards the end of 2019, only for Covid-19 to come knocking in 2020, leading to closure of scores of businesses after the government put in place a variety of restrictions to curb the spread of the disease. His was one of the businesses that shut down.

"That was a tough time to be in this business, bearing in mind that last year's Ramadhan was low key, so not so many people were buying," he points out.

With a business that had just begun, he knew that his investment would go down the drain if he did not adapt to other ways of selling, this is where social media came in. His shop became a full-time online shop.

He targets the middle class, but also sells to celebrities, politicians and wealthy businessmen. His prices are dictated by the type of material, make and finishing on the kanzu.

To supplement his income, he sells caps worn with the kanzu and perfumes. Recently, he begun dressing bridegrooms.

He hopes to expand his business to towns such as Nairobi and Garissa, where a majority of his clients come from. Talking from experience, he advises entrepreneurs just starting out to be patient since some businesses take time to succeed while other fail to take off at first try.

"It is all about taking a risk, and while at it, remember that failing is normal."

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