Somalilandsun – Dheeman’ was established in 2009 by Qani Abdi Alin, a resident of Hargeisa and former student of Admas University in the city. ‘Dheeman’s’ origins can be traced back to Qani’s first year at university when she began her studies in management.
The idea of establishing a fashion and tailoring business was explored during her studies at Admas University and by the time she graduated in 2007 Qani not only had a basic plan for how she would set the business venture up, but partners from her university days. After graduating with a BA, and while working for an NGO, Qani and two friends from Admas worked on developing a plan to establish a sewing and dressmaking business after identifying that a good quality and reliable tailoring service was difficult to find in Hargeisa.
After reflecting on the process involved in setting up in business and determining that most of the tailoring work undertaken in Hargeisa was provided by men, Qani and her two friends looked at the opportunities in the market to create a women-led tailoring and fashion service.
After establishing that there was an opportunity in the local market for quality tailoring and completing market research into the tailoring needs of Hargeisa-based women, Qani developed a rudimentary action plan that would support the establishment of the business that was to become Dheeman Tailoring & Fashion. Believing that women would be happier dealing with female fashion consultants and tailors, Qani and her friends then established a tailoring business working from her home, but building a client base that was happy with the service offered.
As client work developed and grew out of the home-based business, Qani explored the opportunities for securing financial support to expand and formalise her business activities within a more formal, publicly recognised corporate structure. After exploring unsuccessfuly the opportunities to secure start-up funding from two local Somaliland-based banks, Qani took the decision to secure the start-up funding from within family and friendship circles. Having secured 60% or approximately $6,000 of the required project funding from within her own family, Qani persuaded her two friends to invest the remaining 40%. With the funding secured to establish Dheeman as a limited company and partnership, Qani and her two friends then searched for and found two workspaces where the newly registered business could develop its production and retail activities. Having acquired rental leases on two workspace sites near the Maansoor Hotel in Hargeisa, Dheeman Tailoring & Fashion was born. One site was planned as a production and tailoring workshop, while the other was planned as a fabrics, clothing and fashion accessories retail outlet.
Customer orders that had originated from within family and friendship circles now grew out of word of mouth associations that acknowledged customer satisfaction with the quality and reliability of the service provided as well as the price. As the three friends found their days increasingly busy Qani looked for and eventually hired an experienced tailor with his own machine to undertake simple design work and more complex finishing work to clothes.
With a growing number of clients wanting designer finished clothes tailored to meet their specific requirements, Qani recruited three experience Ethiopian tailors to help meet the demand from clients.
With a combined monthly rent of $500, split $320 and $180 between the retail and workshop units, Dheeman not only covers its staff and overhead costs, but makes a tidy profit for Qani that is constantly being reinvested in helping to make the company more competitive. Fixtures and fittings are constantly being upgraded, as are the fabrics and accessories that are sought by Dheeman’s customers. Dheeman in November 2013 also began wholesaling operations, selling 7 own design products to clothing shops in Hargeisa, Berbera, Borama and Burao. Aside from its women’s fashion lines Dheeman is manufacturing ‘low cost’ school uniforms for children whose families are unable to purchase school due to their low incomes.
Qani believes that the business in which she is the majority shareholder is now worth about $180,000; Dheeman’s equipment inventory including 13 modern sewing machines and three training machines for her recently instituted apprenticeship programme to build sewing and tailoring skills in the wider community.
Managing men has proved to be a challenge for Qani, so the emphasis recently has been on building the skills and confidence of women recruited to vacant or new sewing and tailoring positions within the company. With six staff now classified as long-term employees, Qani and her partners also now run a six-month long apprenticeship programme to train up potential staff or provide participants with the skills and confidence to work for others or start-up their own operations. This side of the company’s operations is run as a not-for-profit activity, participants being only required to pay $1.50 for a six-month registration and mentored apprenticeship that involves supervised training four days a week for six months. Free to seek alternative work elsewhere, Qani and her partners believe the support for vocational and professional skills and capacity building will serve Dheeman well, as the relationship provides the latter with access to a growing network of appropriately skilled and motivated tailors and dressmakers in time of need.
With a $50,000 grant from the SBF, covering workspace renovation, training, sewing, embroidery and garment production equipment, Dheeman has grown from its original staff of three to fifteen. With Qani and a partner managing the company’s growth and research and development activities, ten staff work in the garment design and workshop on production activities, while three staff support the expanding retail and wholesale activities.
With customer tastes becoming increasingly diverse, Qani is looking internationally to explore and source fabrics and accessories that will meet the tastes of Dheeman’s clients. Suppliers that once provided garments and materials from the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia and Djibouti have now been joined by suppliers based in the UAE and Dubai. Supplier relationships are being strengthened through contacts to logistics companies both inside and outside of Somaliland. The knowledge base of Dheeman is also growing as Qani and her partners seek to understand how international markets and the supply chains that connect them work.
In terms of lessons learned on this journey of establishing and growing Dheeman, Qani says that you “need to look outside your little circle of friends and beyond the community in which you work and live” as new product ideas and support for your business dreams can be found in places you never imagined. Qani says that she has learnt that “patience and planning pay off” and that “hard work and a determination to be successful are especially important if you are a woman wanting to succeed in a man’s world.”
Mrs Qani Abdi Alin
Dheeman Tailoring & Fashion Co.
Profiled by the Somaliland Business Fund-SBF