Most youthful Malawians endure a lengthy search for employment as the queue for jobs in both the public and private sectors keep lengthening.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that a quarter of Malawians aged 18 to 35 are looking for employment, but cannot find any. The number could be bigger.
However, Aggie Mbewe, from Kasungu, feels it is not good enough for the youth to scramble for existing jobs. The 27-year old is creating jobs for her peers.
She spent two years without a job after obtaining a diploma in irrigation technology from Natural Resources College (NRC) in 2016.
She put the certificate aside and decided to turn her pastime—fashion and design—into a big business.
Three years on, the hobby has become handy in lessening the hardship associated with the country’s massive youth unemployment.
Mbewe learnt the ropes from a tailor in Mchinji during a three-month recess from NRC.
“My sister’s friend was a gifted fashion designer. I was impressed, so I felt like becoming one,” she explains.
Luckily, Mbewe’s sister had some fabrics, which eased her hands-on lessons.
Her tailoring skills and offerings caught the eye of her sister, who supported her training.
After the recess, Mbewe returned to NRC happy and with an extra skill she now uses to beat poverty.
“My holidays bore some fruits. I could sew some good garbs,” she recalls.
Mbewe’s drill at NRC was almost everything and tailoring just an aside.
“I was only fascinated to design and make my own wear,” she states.
When unemployment kicked in, Mbewe temporarily worked with the National Registration Bureau (NRB) as a registration officer.
“After three months, I was back, languishing at home. As such, I used my savings from the temporary job to buy a sewing machine,” she says.
This put Mbewe’s business on the path to success.
She recalls being stopped by an admirer in the middle of Chilinde Township, Lilongwe.
She recalls: “The woman looked at my dress and asked: ‘who did this splendid work?’ She was surprised to hear that was my work.
“We exchanged contacts and I later made a dress she liked. From that moment, I became her personal tailor and she brings me new customers. That was my breakthrough.”
To enrich her knowledge, Mbewe spent most of her time reading fashion and designing pages on the Internet.
A Kasungu-based choir hired her to design their uniforms for the launch of their videos.
This would mark the beginning of the end of her worries about what she had learnt in college.
In no time, she shifted from Lilongwe to Kasungu, where the demand for her skills was surging.
She was working from home while looking for a shop in the middle of Kasungu Market.
“I registered Footprints Tailoring and Designing in 2018 at the Registrar General Office in Lilongwe,” she explains.
Establishing a tailoring business in the congested market was never easy as she was a novice and looked young among old-timers.
Mbewe networked with her friends to attract more customers and grow the tailoring business.
As demand grew, she teamed up with her younger sister Kate, who was studying fashion and designing at Don Bosco Youth Technical Institute in Lilongwe.
Today, Mbewe stands tall as a reliable tailor and the fashion designer to call in Kasungu.
She owns three extra electric sewing machines and trains girls in tailoring and fashion designing.
“I am self-reliant. I pay my rentals and bills without any hustle. I also pay school fees for my niece and support my family in times of need,” she says.
Her success has not gone unnoticed.
Engender Health, which runs a women’s economic empowerment programme in Kasungu, engaged Mbewe as a role model for girls at Bowe Vocational Training in the district.
Patrick Gwaza, a former knowledge management and communications lead officer at Engender Health, says: “Mbewe has admirable self-belief and her work is world-class.”
The women economic empowerment project trained girls in several trades and used entrepreneurs such as her to inspire the trainees.
Mbewe also showcased her designs during a fashion show organised by Waste for Wealth, a non-governmental organisation which promotes reduction, reuse and recycling of waste.
Mbewe likes watching movies, listening to music and going to the gym during her free time.
She no longer dreams of getting employment in agriculture.