Starting in 2008, for its Phase Two program, TechnoServe’s Young Women in Enterprise (YWE) was considering how to identify businesses in which to place the young women in internships so they would learn both the soft and hard skills of employment. Through local connections, YWE discovered Alina Benson Enterprises, which weaves Kenya’s traditional Kikoi cloth then manufactures garments and other woven products from the Kikoi cloth.
Introduced by one of TechnoServe Kenya’s staff, the Young Women in Enterprise program met with Alina Benson to explore her hiring YWEgirls as interns. Due to the long distance most of these girls might have had to travel to work, the program did not establish a formal relationship. But her story was both fascinating and a wonderful inspiration to all women entrepreneurs. As a young Kenyan woman, Alina spent part of her time in Ethiopia learning how to weave Kikoi cloth with innovative designs and techniques. Back in her home country of Kenya, Alina converted her energy, creativity, and new knowledge into her own Kikoi-weaving business. She figured out how to build her own looms, source organic dyes and heavy-duty yarn, and began churning out thick, colorful cloths that could be used as traditional shawls and sarongs. Over time, Alina’s success grew as she hired and trained workers, built more looms, and identified new markets and customers. Unfortunately, her husband was jealous of her business and wealth, stole all her money (millions of Kenya Shillings), and one night turned her out of their house at gunpoint with just her nightgown and slippers.
In typical entrepreneurial fashion, Alina found inner-strength and support from friends to re-start her business. She increased production via 6 looms, many weavers, tailors to sew and embroider garments, and dramatically expanded markets. In 2007 Alina constructed her own facility to house her factory, some apartments and small kiosk businesses. Alina understood that African women like her face many obstacles to success for themselves and their families. So she was hired by The World Bank and Government of Kenya “Jua Kali” (small business) program, to train groups of rural women in weaving. There are now hundreds of women of all ages across Kenya who learned to tie-dye, sew garments, weave kikoi cloth, and generate income independent of farming–many trained by Alina Benson.