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Kenyan Salon owner weaves her way to become a college director

Uzuri Hair and Fashion College founder Mercy Githinji.

For many people, a job that takes you to foreign cities in the Far East twice a month and earns handsome profits would be a reason enough to stay in the comfort zone.

But not for Mercy Githinji who closed down a garment shop at Freemark Shopping Complex in Nairobi to set up a small hair and fashion college in Thika town.

“When I started Uzuri Hair and Fashion College in 2001, we used to operate in two rooms,” she says. “I was the receptionist, manager and the tea girl since I was also serving people refreshments”.

The business was barely scraping through since the Sh80,000 startup capital she had saved from the clothes business had to be split between rent, water, phone, electricity and other expenses.

“Things would have definitely turned worse had it not been for a lady friend who lent me two hair driers since she had just closed down her salon,” she says. “I will forever be grateful to what she did”.

It took Ms Githinji a long time to secure a premise for the business since landlords were denying her access to their property because she looked too young for the kind of enterprise she wanted to start.

“Eventually we found a place and set up the college which started with four students,” Ms Githinji who is also an author says. “But since the fees paid by the four learners could not pay all the bills, I turned the place into a salon and still maintained the school”.

The salon, she says, did so well that it became one of the most popular fashion centres in the town, attracting 40 students. In six months, she closed the beauty parlour to her clients’ utter dismay and directed all efforts to the school.

Uzuri Institute expanded adding fashion design, catering and information technology courses.

“From two rooms, the institution grew to occupy a whole floor,” she says. “Six years after launching the college, we bought our own premises where the college’s main campus is located”.

Besides having two campuses in Thika, Uzuri Institute also opened another one in Nairobi a few months ago. While the main campus in Thika concentrates on technical courses, the town campus, still in Thika, caters for business administration and information technology with courses tailored for the working class.

“To ensure that we open our heritage and philosophy of excellence to the people in the capital, Uzuri opened a branch in Nairobi along Kipande Road,” Ms Githinji says.

“We train entrepreneurs and what makes us different is you must leave Uzuri with a business plan which we examine as a final project,” she says. “This means the student can easily start a business since our goal is to make them job creators not job seekers”.

“The courses are re-engineered by aligning the content with real life demands that learners are bound to encounter,” the director notes. “For instance, we add communication and computer skills to office management course”.

Uzuri Institute’s ultimate goal is to franchise its brand not only in Kenya but also across the region.

Asked about one of her toughest moments during her long journey from a two-roomed salon owner to the executive director of three-campus institution, Ms Githinji says being discriminated against on gender by a financial institution was her worst experience.

“When I was buying the premise where the main campus stands now, a bank denied me loan on grounds that I was not married, which came as no surprise since getting over 10 million as a single woman five years ago was a big deal,” says the Phd student.

“I had to approach another bank which I was not banking with to get a loan”. But today, she says, many financial institutions ask her to take loans with them meaning her headache is not getting the money but the loan it at lower rates.

At the moment, she is building a modern office park which will not only create more space for her institution but also offer rental offices for other companies

Nation

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