By MARTHA DERUAGE
RUNNING a small business during the Covid-19 pandemic is difficult but as people adapt to the new normal, business activities are slowly picking up, says a local tailor.
Jake’s Tailoring owner Julie Sailas Kia, who specialises in sewing meri blaus and Pacific design wear, said the initial lockdown last year had impacted many small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), including hers, but as many people adapted to the new normal, business activities improved.
“When the new normal came into place, I relied on advertising my products online and using DHL Express to deliver my products to clients from across the nation,” Kia said.
Kia has clients from around the country including Milne Bay, Port Moresby, Chimbu, Rabaul, Madang, Bulolo, Madang, Kimbe, New Ireland, Western Highlands, Eastern highlands, Manus, East Sepik, Enga, West Sepik, Lae, Kainantu, Jiwaka, Northern and Tabubil in Western.
She also has clients in Brisbane and Melbourne.
There were even inquires for her products coming from people living in New Zealand, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
“When the Covid-19 hit PNG last year, I noticed a drop in my financial status because everyone was worried about the virus, business activities dropped,” she said.
“The restrictions imposed by the Government were bad for businesses. Big businesses were not really affected but SMEs were hard hit.”
The 28-year-old, from Gunangi, Sinasina-Yongamugl, Chimbu, came a long way from finishing school, handling odd jobs to owning a tailoring company.
It all started after Kia finished school in 2013 at the University of Natural Resources and Environment in East New Britain, but was unable to secure employment in the formal sector.
After graduation in 2014, she came to Lae, where her she grew up, to live with her parents while looking for a job.
After five years of searching in vain for a job, her mother, who also sews, decided to teach Kia how to sew.
Kia’s mum encouraged her to keep herself busy as well as make money to support herself while looking for a job.
“I bought a sewing machine and my mother took a day off from her busy schedule to teach me how to sew. I caught what she was able to teach from the first day,” she said.
“Within a month, I was able to master the art of sewing quality meri blouses,” she said.
Kia first started selling to individual customers.
“I would sew up to 60 to 70 and distribute it to women in Lae city, Goroka and Chimbu,” she said.
“I sold each for K25.
“When I noticed that the market was good, I bought more material from the Asian shops and started increasing the number of blouses I sew.
“Seeing that my customer base increased, I started advertising my products on social media – Facebook and WhatsApp.
“From there, interested customer and clients started making inquiries.
“My first delivery was to a woman from India who lives in Lae.
“From individual customers, I started selling for customers in bulk of 10 to 30 pieces.”
Seeing that the customer demand kept increasing, Kia bought another sewing machine in 2019 to cater for the increasing demand.
Kia also hired an assistant to help her sew.
In 2020, the demand went even higher as by now she had customers from all over the country. She bought another sewing machine and hired another woman to assist.
Kia, with the aim to provide quality products, bought an over-locker sewing machine that uses multiple threads to seam fabric while also overcasting to cover raw edges.
Despite the pandemic, she still works from home, sewing up to 100-plus blouses a day.
Kia currently employs four people, two who sew and two who knit.
When asked if she plans to expand Kia said: “I am is still looking to employ more people to help me sew and knit.
“I also have plans to expand to other centres.”
As usual, challenges like juggling motherhood and a business to keep food on the table for her young family was a struggle.
“My first born son is four and the younger one is a year and seven months so it is a struggle finding free time to sew,” she said.
Kia’s supportive husband is from Kerowagi, Chimbu.
Kia said other challenges at the moment was the pandemic, weather and regular PNG power outage.
“But, I believe in hard work and commitment so I continue to work hard,” she said.
“I thank God for the strength God has blessed me with.”
The highlights for Kia this year were having to register her business on March 30 with the Investment Promotion Authority and have all her products customised with her clothing label “Jake’s Tailoring”.
“To women out there, when you don’t get employed, do not think that it is the end for you, start from somewhere, take time and your hard work will pay off. Never give up when the journey gets tough,” Kia said.
“Don’t quit, only losers do.”
By MARTHA DERUAGE