Mr. Andrew Kio may be recognized as an actor who made several appearances on television shows and others may recognize him from his stage performances at the Phoenix Theater about nine years ago. But Andrew is not your ordinary actor.
At just the age of 34, he has managed to set a pace in the clothing industry by breaking out of the norm and establishing his own clothing line. Nine years ago, Andrew saw a need for change in the fashion industry and decided to launch Blacjack Kenya. With no prior knowledge in the fashion and clothing industry, he learnt the art and trade of fashion and is now on his way to becoming one of the biggest producers and distributors of jeans in the Eastern African region.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Andrew Kio. I am 34 years old and I’m an entrepreneur. I am the founder and director at Blacjack Jeans Limited which I started in 2007.
How did Blacjack jeans start?
I was studying a course in Business Management at Career Training Center, a correspondent course from Cambridge University around 2004. As a student, I had to find a way of making money so I started with the clothing industry. Back then I was sort of like a middleman. I would get orders from students for their jeans then I would get their measurements and take them to the tailors who would stitch up the jeans; from there I would deliver the jeans and earn some money from it.
As I progressed I realized that some of the customers would complain about the quality and workmanship of the orders, so I decided to do something about it. I started slowly learning the art of tailoring – designing, cutting and stitching – and from there I decided to start my own jeans clothing line.
Now I design and cut the material myself and since I have the best quality machinery, I’m able to produce five-star quality custom-made jeans for everyone.
Did you always picture yourself getting into this line of work?
Honestly not really. When I was a kid I wanted to be either a doctor or an engineer. As I got to do my A levels, I started developing a love for IT. But I then realized that all these institutions, be it hospitals or engineering firms, all need managers; so I decided to get into business management because I knew that with those managerial skills in mind, I would be able to fit anywhere.
Describe to us your typical day at work
I wake up at around 6 or 6:30 a.m. and I’m at work by 8:30 a.m. I have two locations for my business; Jericho and Buruburu, but I’m mostly situated at Jericho – that’s where the magic happens. There’s a lot of cutting, stitching and distribution that goes on there.
I’m a hands-on person when it comes to my business. get involved in the process of seeing the material coming into life to a pair of jeans so most of the time you’ll find me with my scissors and tape measure cutting away haha.
When I’m not at Jericho, I head over to Buruburu to oversee the work that’s being done down there. At times I also get calls for deliveries and meetings so my schedule is not fixed per se.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by a lot of things but all of them mostly revolve around change.
The jeans market is over Kshs 30 billion in Africa alone. We have the material: cotton, the processing industries, the tailors and the ready market. Instead of importing clothes, jeans in particular, we should be making our own clothes.
We usually get second-hand clothes from other countries. Jeans in particular are a hard bet to find especially for the African woman. Most of the jeans are tailor-made for American/Asian women who are not as curvaceous as African women. Thus you find that even in the event of an African lady getting jeans, most of them don’t even fit right. So we spend a lot of money going to the tailor or even not buying these jeans and that is losing market and income in itself.
Blacjack jeans thus come in to deliver quality jeans that are specific to such details. We get measurements and we design a customer’s jeans for them to fit in the right way; just like the way the common blackjack gets stuck on people’s clothes.
What are some of the biggest moments of your career so far?
Back in the day, Carnivore used to host some shows over the weekend. One particular one was ‘Ignition’ which was sponsored by Energizer. I went to the event with one of my jeans suits with my name on it and one of my friends really loved it. I decided to go back to the tailor who made the suit and he showed me how to take measurements and I did the same for my friend. In those days jeans and suits would cost around Kshs 1,600 and I sold it to him at Kshs 3,000. That was my first-ever sell.
I realized that with the money I got from acting couldn’t even compare to the money I would get from one suit. Sometimes we would go for practice sessions for almost three weeks then held a show for three weeks and get paid only Kshs 4,000 for the 6 weeks.
Recently, we also got a much-needed boost for the business. We were one of the companies that benefited from funding from Keroche Breweries Limited as part of a nine-month mentorship program. We received Kshs 1 million in capital funding. It was such a big moment for us.
Also, when KFC came into the Kenyan market we were still relatively small as a business. We would make up to 5 jeans or even less per day and we weren’t even a registered company then. But they believed in us. They saw that we were on the right track and we had the potential to become great. They requested me to make up to 100 pairs at a go – that was one of our first and biggest deliveries so far.
What are some of the ups and downs you’ve faced in your business?
Some of my close family and friends didn’t believe in me. They couldn’t imagine how I had studied business management and also had my acting career but still chose to open my own company. They just couldn’t believe that I had decided to become ‘just a tailor’
We’ve also gotten a few setbacks with our orders. Some clients would make an order and they wouldn’t take their delivery, some of them wouldn’t like our workmanship thus forcing us to replace their jeans which take us back on our profits and sometimes orders would get held back or cancelled because the fabric wasn’t available.
Finances are also a big issue especially when it comes to purchasing machinery. Brand new machinery can cost up to almost Kshs 2 million.
We have had a few failures but that’s what makes Blacjack what it is today. I choose to see them not as mistakes but as opportunities to learn and grow better as a company.
How many employees do you have so far?
We are about 13 including myself.
I usually train my employees. I believe in letting them learn through their mistakes. I don’t expect them to be perfect but I believe in allowing them to make mistakes as long as they are learning and there is progress in their workmanship skills. Different people have different speeds of learning.
You were an actor and you even starred in some popular television shows. Tell us more about that.
Haha that was such a long time ago. I have done over 30 productions at the Phoenix theatre. I starred in shows like Waridi, Demigods, Tabasamu and Tahidi High.
Most of the money I got from the shows was used in funding my business. The dream to see my business succeed was always at the back of my mind with every show I did.
Some of my fellow actors would actually still buy my jeans and trousers even though the workmanship was not yet as good. They really believed in me.
Even Zawadi Nyong’o (Lupita Nyong’os sister) still looks for me to supply jeans to her. She really loves rocking Blacjack jeans and she also pushes me to market my jeans more than I do right now.
Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
We want to really expand our business to become worth a few billion and also have everyone wearing our jeans. We want to grow to the point of shifting my main clientele from just walk-ins to bulk orders. I also want to install better equipment and get to minimize production and marketing costs by exporting my own material
I truly believe that all we have in Africa at the moment is enough to see us develop into a clothing superpower. Africa needs to be doing more for herself. We lose over 300 trillion shillings in clothing alone in Africa, imagine what we could do if we were to retain that money in the continent. We don’t even make our own handkerchiefs, they’re made in China! And this is not just in the clothing industry, so many of the products we use are imported from other countries and this makes money for foreign franchises, not for the African people.
We need to get to a point where we make our own products and we are proud of what we do.
You can find some of the wide variety of BlacJack jeans on Facebook, Instagram and Jumia as well.
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