By Jessica Roy

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

When you walk into one of our partner schools, you will notice the students looking good in their new uniforms. At first glance you might not fully realize all the stakeholders it takes to make this happen, and the stories behind them. Some of the key contributors to this project are the tailors we work with, one of whom is Vincent Ochieng from Kisumu, Kenya.

Vincent was introduced to tailoring by his father who was a tailor. Vincent and his brother worked in their father’s business where they learned the ropes before they ventured out and started their own business. He has now been a tailor for over 24 years. The journey has not been easy, Vincent has had his ups and downs and he had to take a break from the business between 2012 and 2013 when most of his customers shifted to buying “mitumba” – imported second-hand clothes that are often readily available at a cheap cost. Business was so bad that he shifted to a new market and started selling women’s shoes to generate more income.  

Luckily, his tailoring business started picking up again and he returned to full-time tailoring after a few years. Around 2020, Vincent got connected with David, the Executive Director at Riley Orton Foundation. David oversees all of TFE’s Kisumu uniform projects. It was a great connection because during the Covid pandemic, while a lot of businesses were struggling,  he got his first order from David to make some uniforms for a local school. They started out with 30 uniforms to test the quality of his work. As Vincent describes it, “I took my time and made sure I did a great job with the uniforms and produced the best quality so I could be entrusted with more business”. From that point on, the jobs picked up and he has continued to work on uniforms for additional schools in Kisumu. Vincent tells us that “David values timely delivery of uniforms so I have to keep my word, and constantly update him on the process of production”.

From almost shutting down, making school uniforms for TFE has turned things around. Vincent has now expanded his business and works with two other tailors, and he is in the process of setting up a second shop at the local market. This new shop will focus solely on selling ready-made uniforms for locals. From this experience, he realized that most families would have to go into the city centre to purchase uniforms for their children which increases the costs when you factor in transportation. He can now tap into this market and offer quality uniforms, closer to the community and at an affordable cost for the locals.  

At a uniform distribution at Gombe Kokulo Secondary School, Vincent was present to make sure that all uniforms fit correctly, and also to get new measurements for any new students. You can tell that he is proud of the work he has done with the uniforms. “It is amazing to be working on a project that is benefiting your community, this is my village, and I get to work with David to serve this community”. 

“This project has changed my life, it does not only help the students in the school who we are offering the uniforms to, but also us, as tailors who get consistent business. I consider this opportunity as a privilege, having a daughter with disabilities and being able to afford her education at a special school for the deaf. This project expands our income and helps us help our community at the same time”. Vincent has five children and his eyes light up when he describes everything he has been able to do as a result of the project and the financial stability that has come with it. There are a lot of good things coming for Vincent! He has recently bought a new machine for his store in Kisumu to improve his production process. At the end of my chat with Vincent, he says to me with a lot of positivity “I am going to move ahead, by next year, I will be somewhere”.

We are able to achieve our goals thanks to the hard work and dedication of tailors like Vincent who partner with us to make our vision a reality.