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Untrained but brilliant tailor

IF YOU are in Choma town for the first time and you want a professional tailor, one of the places that will probably pop up is Aubrey Nkumbwa’s tailoring shop.
Although he is not a trained tailor, Mr Nkumbwa, 38, has turned out to be one of the best with some colleges offering tailoring courses in Choma district now engaging him to train students as interns in his shop.
His passion for tailoring was came about in 1997 when he started learning home economics at Mwaata Basic School in Kalomo while in his eighth grade.
“Initially, I was not even taking home economics but one day as I was moving around classes, I saw girls in the home economics class cooking, so I passed my hand over the window to steal some of the food.
“In the process, I cut myself on the hand so badly that the teacher noticed what I was trying to do. So, she told me that I seemed to have interest in home economics and that is how she made me join the class,” Mr Nkumbwa explains while showing the reporter a mark of the cut on his hand.
He did home economics from Grade Eight to nine and developed a lot of interest in the needle work component which made him learn parts of a sewing machine.
Mr Nkumbwa sat for Grade Nine examinations and proceeded to Zimba Secondary School, where he studied up to Grade 11.
He dropped out of school because his father died and there was no one to sponsor him.
“My mother and father divorced when I was three months old and went separate ways to remarry, so I was staying with dad, my stepmom and stepsiblings in Kalomo. But after his death, my stepmother sold the house as a way of removing me from the shares,” he narrates.
He did not know where to go and the closest he thought of was to use the skills he learnt in home economics to do casual jobs in tailoring shops in some markets in Kalomo.
The jobs helped him to add up to his knowledge on tailoring.
“I then became so good that the owners of the machines started becoming jealous and frustrated me. That is how I moved to Choma in 2008,” Mr Nkumbwa says.
In Choma, he started doing piece works at Choma Milling and raised enough money to sit for General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations and successfully obtained a certificate.
Shortly after obtaining the Grade 12 certificate, Mr Nkumbwa got a contractual job with the National Assembly under security.
“So I started saving and I sat down and thought of what could happen if at some point my contract was not renewed. By then I was running a small make-shift stall and I thought I should invest in something bigger.
“And what came into my mind was tailoring, which I am passionate about. So that is how I bought industrial sewing machines and started sewing during my off days,” he says.
Today, his shop, which is located at a complex within the Choma town centre, has grown and government officials, teachers, nurses, police officers and other categories of civil servants are his major customers.
It is also being used as a training centre for institutions like Chodot, Namukwela Youth Resource Centre and a non-governmental skills training centre. Students are attached to Mr Nkumbwa for practicals.
Mr Nkumbwa has employed two people whom he has trained to do the work as professionally as he does it.
“I have a job although we work in shifts so I ensure that even though I am not around, my employees give quality service to our clients,” he says.
Mr Nkumbwa’s dream is to grow his shop into a factory with a lot of machines. But he acknowledges that such growth will require a lot of money.
“As at now, we are already doing uniforms for Choma Day Secondary School, Jimeil Private School, nurses as well as for some security firms. And of course, we do a lot of different chitenge designs, wedding attires and different school uniforms among other things, depending on what a client wants,” he says.
Mr Nkumbwa believes he could create more jobs if his business grew into a factory.
He also dreams of creating a training centre for school dropouts who find it difficult to earn a living,” he says.
On how he maintains and grows his clientele, Mr Nkumbwa treats his customers as bosses.
“I don’t shout back even when a customer uses abusive language on me. I just keep quiet even when I know that I am right. I do not use my mouth to convince my customers, I just do quality work,” he says.
Mr Nkumbwa admits that some customers have complained of delays in making their outfits.
“Some have even gone and taken the material to other tailors but they have come back to me saying despite delaying, I do an excellent job. My principle is, I would rather delay and do an excellent job,” he says.
Mr Nkumbwa encourages his customers to take their attire days before the function to allow him to take his time and make it according to expectation.
He encourages young people not to regard tailoring as a job for poor people but as a very platform on which to start life.
“There is nothing like rising and falling in tailoring. As long as you have the knowledge and do a good job, you will always have customers. Besides, all you need for a start is a machine and cotton, then you are good to go,” he says.
Mr Nkumbwa is married to Olipah and they have three children together.
He is a member of the Seventh–day Adventist.