In the age of social media, the internet is awash with business ideas from YouTube’s how-to clips to do-it-yourself Pinterest practical hacks.
It is here where Irene Muja, 28, found her business idea.
Muja uses recycled tyres to make furniture, an idea she picked from Pinterest.
A graduate of International Business and Project Management from Malaysia, she describes herself as a self-learner, social entrepreneur and passionate about art and craft.
Muja recalls that during her travels in India as a student, she slept on a bed made of tyres, an experience that stayed with her. Years later when she decided to start her own business, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, but then remembered the bed of tyres and she hit the internet for ideas.
She stumbled on how to make furniture from recycled tyres on Pinterest and was hooked. She taught herself the skills of how to make furniture and other pieces by watching DIY YouTube clips.
Although tyre recycling was a novelty in Tanzania back then, recycling in general was not to Muja. Her family used to sell manure made from food waste.
Muja set up Mabaki Mali Enterprises in Dar es salaam where she turns old tyres into indoor and outdoor furniture and home décor pieces such AS eco-friendly flowerpots.
She has six employees whom she trained in the art of recycling tyres into furniture. She makes stools, tables, lounge seats, garden seats and flower and plant holders. Her creations are well received going by the sales she’s making.
“We price our items from a minimum price of Tsh30,000 ($12.90) and maximum of up to Tsh2 million ($860.31). For example, a set of four chairs, table and mirror table cost Tsh400,000 ($172.06). Delivery is free within Dar es salaam, and currently we are looking for agents in outlying districts to establish our work there,” she says.
Muja is also happy that her choice of material in a small way helps the environmental by reducing rubber waste and its accompanying pollution, and creates employment while pushing the recycling agenda. She says more trees are cut due to the high demand for timber in the furniture sector.
Her company sources old tyres from dump sites and garages.
In one month, the company collects and cleans more than 500 old tyres from across the city, and can accumulate 200 kilogrammes of waste tyres.
After cleaning, the tyres are fashioned into different items and touched up with paint, wood, glass, or coloured rope, to give them the enchanting touch and look to ensure durability and unique look.
Her biggest clients are outdoor restaurants, bars, hotels, but also private customers who want to decorate their gardens. Recently she started supplying some supermarkets in Dar es Salaam.
Incidentally, in 2018, Muja was recognised as the most inspirational woman of the month in the environmental sector in Tanzania, and the same year she was awarded in Nigeria as the second Best African Brand in Nigeria.
She was also nominated by Smart Cities and Innovation for a certified three months incubator programme under the World Business Angels Investment Forum in Ghana, 2018 and was placed third in entrepreneurship organisations global student entrepreneurship awards in Tanzania, 2018.
At the 2018 Saba Saba international trade fair in Dar es Salaam, She won the first prize under the category of innovative product in Dar es Salaam.
Being a female entrepreneur has its downside, she says, as the sector is male-dominated, but she insists that no one should be judged based on their gender.
She started by producing tables and flower pots to test the market during an exhibition and was surprised that buyers actually liked her products and she received her first order of 10 pieces of garden decorations.
“I was so scared because it was my first customer and I didn’t want to mess up, but things turned out well and orders started to come in after some few months through word of mouth recommendations. I was also nominated as a finalist in a competition among African creative businesses organised by a Nigerian organisation called Bellafricana and I was ranked second.”
She plans to set up a creative lab to train street people innovative and eco-friendly means of creating products while fighting environmental pollution.
She uses social media to advertise her products but also relies on the traditional media such as radio for mass reach. She however uses social media platforms to reach markets Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia.