Grace is also a beader with the Olorien co-op. Although married at the Olosho oibor village, her original home of birth is Enkorika village. In this village the women combine beads with fabric, usually on shirts or dresses or small accessory items such as purses in a unique way not found in other Maasai sections. Grace’s leap into self-employment begins when she forms Nalepo Enterprises in 2009 after realizing that milk for cereal is not available in the community. She finds a small space in Ngong Hills where she opens a Milk Shop. After buying the milk wholesale, she processes it for sale in her shop, adding sugar and flour to the shelves. As her business grows, she hires three employees: two women and a man. To make it more convenient for her customers she enlists a money transfer service on her phone, as an M-pesa Agent. This is a technology that uses the Safaricom (service provider) platform to transfer money and make payments.
It is 2012 and a customer contacts Grace to ask her to design and create a bridal gown along with beaded shirts for the men who will be in the wedding party.
Inventory is needed to complete this bridal request. In order to buy the fabric and other materials she sells the milk company and the money transfer service. She hires a tailor and for the next six months she and two women make the fashions from her home. Images from the wedding appear on Kenya Television Network (KTN). The minister, Bishop Julius Tinkoi, who presided over the wedding begins to receive calls from people asking, “Who made the dresses for that wedding party?” With this sudden interest for her work Grace puts together a promotional book of photographs. A computer donated to her by Robert Stafford of New Canaan Congregational Church, Connecticut (USA) helps in promoting her products. She uploads them on her face book page and OLX online market. Soon she is receiving numerous orders.
In 2013 Grace travels to Bucks County for the second time to represent SIMOO at presentations scheduled by MCEP. Her husband of six years, Daniel Salau Rogei is the Program Assistant for SIMOO. He will stay at home in Kenya with their three children: Two girls–Linah Silantoi and Faith Rayon–and a boy, Isaac Sabaya. Grace brings several of her original beaded dresses and accessories which are added to the table of Maasai original jewelry. Sales from this day are returned to help with Maasai children’s school fees. We give Thumbs Up to Grace after leafing through her album of photos. One of her dresses for sale on the table calls my name. I buy it and know that because of this transaction a child will attend school.
A short time after Grace returns to Kenya she leases a small rental space in Ngong Hills. This is where she’ll manage her sewing business instead of out of her home. In 2014 when a second space one floor up becomes available she takes it and opens a shop to sell her clothes and beaded jewelry.
And that brings us to our visit to Grace’s shop after our excursion at the Ngong Hills Market.
We arrive to find her putting the final touches on a Maasai-themed dress to be worn that evening in a pageant that will crown Miss Tourism Kenya 2015 in Nairobi. We all agree–This is a Huge opportunity for Grace! Grace’s dress and model were selected to represent Miss Kajiado County at the Nairobi event. Grace brought Linah who is only 6 years old, to the county audition. Linah (in this photo she is third from the left) was thrilled by all the pageant energy and soaks it all in like a sponge in water. Grace tells us how Linah begins copying the way contestants walk across the stage. The pageant organizer Naisiae Karia, so taken with Linah’s outgoing personality, gives her time on stage to greet the audience at the opening of the Miss Kajiado County finals.
The day after the Miss Tourism Kenya 2015 pageant we learn that Grace’s Maasai model came in Second. “That’s ok”, says Grace. “This was her first time in competition.” Grace’s voice tells me: Next Year—She Will Be Back
I ask Grace, What are your goals for the future?
“I want a larger shop. And I plan to set up sales for my clothes through my cell phone and online platform. I hope to target the up-market as well as weddings and fashion shows.”
The clothes she designs carry a well-made finished look. She also celebrates the Maasai colors and fabrics, keeping the traditional while mixing a contemporary look. Grace is currently designing shirts for Moses ole Sakuda. He is a Maasai who serves in the Kenya government’s Parliament for Kajiado West. Moses ole Sakuda will wear Grace’s shirt at an upcoming major political rally that will take place in her home village. Part of her clientele includes staff in the State House who work for MP Sakuda.
Grace is also enrolled in classes for Fashion and Design at a vocational training school in Ngong Hills. One day soon I believe Couture by Grace will be walking down the Red Carpet!