By Fitzgerald Munyoro
For many small scale businesspeople in Zimbabwe, the outbreak of Covid-19 spelt doom but for Grace Shamhu the pandemic has changed her life.
Shamu (57), from Odzi in Manicaland Province, was a struggling tailor when the country was forced into a national lockdown in March 2020 to stop the spread of Covid-19 and she initially feared it could mark the end of her 32 year-old enterprise.
“My sewing machine was beginning to gather dust and I feared my dress making business was dying,” Shamu said.
“I had put away all my material as I had lost hope that the business will be resurrected.”
The widowed mother of three, however, saw her fortunes changing dramatically after she was introduced to a business empowerment group.
“Just like other tailors, the Covid-19 pandemic had curtailed my business,” Shamu said.
Before Covid-19 I used to have customers who would come from as far Mutare.
“I used to make dresses for traditional ceremonies such as lobola and repair work suits for the local artisanal miners in Odzi.”
“I could afford to buy day to day households for my family with my little business.”
“However with the announcement of the lockdown my clientele base suddenly dried. I did not know how I was going to feed my family.”
A chance encounter with a business empowerment lobbyist through a WhatsApp group led to a drastic turnaround for her business that was already moribund.
“During the lockdown I met Selina Chinembiri who is the Manicaland coordinator for Women Alliance of Business Association for Zimbabwe (Wabaz),” Shamus said.
“She talked me into joining Wabaz and encouraged me to look for innovative avenues to get capital during the lockdown period.”
Chinembiri encouraged Shamu to find ways of using her sewing machine to make money during the lockdown.
“I then attempted to make masks and I managed to make just one mask,” she said.
“After making the mask, I took a picture and uploaded the image onto a community social media platform.”
The post attracted her neighbour’s daughter who is based in Ireland and it opened the floodgates for the struggling entrepreneur.
“She said that she was interested in the type of masks I was making as they had three layers,” Shamu added.
“Coincidentally, the government of Ireland had regulated that citizens should have masks that have three layers.
“I later discovered that masks with three layers are encouraged because of the mostly cold climate, they are warm.”
She added: “So she gave me an order of 250 masks which I delivered.
“She was quite happy with my masks and now she has ordered 350 more, which I am currently making.
“She is paying me US$2.69per mask.”
Shamu has been promised more orders because her brand is in demand in the European country.
She is using proceeds from the export of the masks to branch out into other business ventures such as confectionary.
“I have managed to set up another baking venture because of the mask making business,” Shamu said.
“As we speak I am baking buns, which are quite popular in my area.
“That venture has also benefited other women from my community as they buy from me at a wholesale price and then they sell them at a retail price.”