Access to education is always an issue in many parts of the world. In Africa, many countries have been successful in reducing school fees since the establishment of the UN Millennium Development Goals and attendance has skyrocketed. However, the expense of the school uniform is still preventing too many children from the benefits of a proper education.

Kenya progressively eliminated tuition in 2002, yet the strictly enforced tradition of uniforms is still very much in place. Students are required to dress appropriately, or they risk dismissal at the discretion of their teacher, losing the opportunity to learn and grow in knowledge.

Concerned about this, our Kenyan entrepreneur Emmanuel Saopa come up with a business: the Marianist Uniforms Production, a company that provides high-quality uniforms, graduation gowns and sportswear that are affordable and accessible to all, especially the poor vulnerable households in Eastlands of Nairobi. Thanks to this activity, he has increased access to school uniforms for the poor so reducing inequalities in education.

The entrepreneur joined our Global MBA in Impact Entrepreneurship in Nairobi (Kenya) in 2018, to acquire the knowledge needed to improve his business and to excel in the uniform industry.

“I chose to attend E4Impact MBA because I was convinced that I would get the skills needed to improve my work. I’d like to extend my target market to other schools in many parts of the country.” he stated.

But let’s learn more about him and his company.

1. How was your Business Idea born?

The idea of Marianist Uniform Production started in 2003, after realizing that most of the students studying at Maria Training College were going to school in tattered clothes. This is because most of them were coming from poor and vulnerable households of Mathare slums and Mukuru kwa Jenga. It was observed that these students were shy to participate in class activities and most of the time were isolating themselves. This led to the introduction of school uniforms, which were then given for free to the students. However, this was not sustainable and the cost of running the vocational training college kept on increasing. Later on, the population of students increased and started having students from middle class who could afford to pay.

A survey was done in 2017 and the results showed that schools in the areas of Mukuru kwa Jenga and Eastleigh were facing a challenge to access quality school uniforms. Schools in Kenya expect students to wear uniforms and yet school uniforms are sold expensively: this is a problem that concerns the student’s parents. In addition to that, the results also showed that some students from poor and vulnerable households reported to the school, in the middle of the term, their inability to afford school uniforms. Therefore, this situation inspired the Marianist to start making school uniforms in order to solve the problem that schools were experiencing. The uniform business has an impact on the poor vulnerable households in Nairobi because Marianist Uniform Production not only makes uniforms accessible and affordable but also empowers the youths through job creation in the forms of tailoring, knitting and branding.

2. How can your business improve the life of the beneficiaries of your activities?

In Kenya, wearing of school uniform is compulsory and yet the suppliers are few and do not meet the demands of the market. Marianist Uniform Production has helped to increase the access to school uniforms for parents and schools in poor vulnerable households. This has led to an increase in the number of students enrolled in the surrounding primary and secondary schools.
For example, St Teresa secondary school, one of the beneficiaries located in Eastleigh, has been able to enroll 30 students from needy homes and street families, who had not access to education without school uniforms. We have to subsidize the cost of the uniforms to make them more affordable for them as well as embrace it as part of our corporate social responsibility.

Moreover, our business improves the life of the beneficiaries through job creation. We employed young people as tailors, knitters, printers and dressmakers to help in making school uniforms. So far, we have 25 employees who, through the salaries they receive, are able to take care of their families and live a comfortable life.

3. What has been the main challenge you had to overcome in your entrepreneurial experience? 

The main challenge the business faces is the competition from well-established uniform distributors, such as Kenya Uniform and School outfitters. The selling strategy that these companies use is to promise 10% commission of the profit they make to public schools when they send parents to buy uniforms from them. Some schools are lured into this, and they do not care about the affordability and accessibility of school uniforms to the parents. The price of school uniforms in those shops is way higher than the tuition fee. We were able to overcome this challenge by establishing a good business relationship with the schools about the affordability and the passion to reduce the burden which parents go through to access the school uniforms. When we visited some schools, some head teachers showed concern for the parents who cannot afford to buy school uniforms. For example, it was reported that some missed the first term because their parents were not able to raise the money for the school uniform. An agreement was reached with the schools to take care of the needy students by subsidizing the price of the school uniforms and other financial support as a way of giving back to the society.

4. In your opinion, what are the main qualities an entrepreneur should have?

An entrepreneur should be humble and tolerant, listener and proactive, trust worthy and persistent.

5.  Is there a person you are inspired by, i.e. an entrepreneur or a particular mentor?

Yes, I am always inspired by Peter Daino, the founder of Maria Training College who took care of youth, especially young women, in dire need in the Mathare slums of Nairobi. Every day, as he walked in slum , he met a lot of women that couldn’t carry out their pregnancy. He found out that they were frustrated when they get pregnant because they were not financially empowered. Therefore, he decided to start a college that offered technical skills to young women.

6.  What would you suggest to a new-born entrepreneur?

A new-born entrepreneur should have the passion to venture into a social business to solve a problem and have patience because, at the beginning, the results may not always be satisfying but he/she could create a positive impact in the long run.

7. Could you tell us a particular satisfactory moment you had in your entrepreneurial activity?

I felt so good when a customer confessed to me that the uniform she bought was well made. She came to buy it not because the older uniform was worn out, but because her son had out grown. She brought three other parents whom she had recommended and referred to our business.

8. Could you tell us how the MBA has helped you and your business?

The skills and knowledge that I acquired during the E4Impact MBA, helped me to excel in the uniform business, a project which everyone thought was dying. During my experience as an entrepreneur, I applied the skills and the knowledge acquired and I was able to transform the lives of those I work with and eased the burden on the parents and schools in sourcing the school uniforms. For example, apart from supplying uniforms to the six schools, we have been able to export some of our uniforms, including graduation gowns and caps, to Malawi.

Learn more about Marianist Uniforms Production:


Facebook page: IMANI Marianists