Of more essence in life is the ability not to give up. You have to keep at it till you make it by fashioning your way, just like anyone else, to earn a decent living and courageously live life maximally, expecting no favors but the fruits of your hard work and determination.
Cedrickbilabonga Bila, a Congolese citizen, has been making heads turn with his African wear designs tailored to adorn the clients.
Having resolved to travel from Congo and dwell in Kenya for peace and greener pastures, his start led him to Eldama Ravine sub-county of Baringo County.
His name, Bila, though in Kiswahili means ‘without,’ in Congolese it means a ‘winner’. His journey is nothing short of hard-earned victory.
He hails from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a city of 17.1 million people.
According to the World Bank, the DRC is the world’s fifth poorest nation. The bank has tried to improve the country’s living standards through various key basic needs such as education, health and energy.
As of 2021, the country’s population is 92.4 million people, according to the World Bank. The country is mostly locally unbanked, paving the way for Kenyan and Rwandese banks to dominate.
Unfortunately, the thorax of Africa and the world’s creamy country has suffered the wrath of the ever-brewing thirst for power by its authoritarian leaders.
This has contributed to regular conflict eruptions and distractions that have seen many of its citizens seek refuge through the most gruesome ways; fleeing war, heartbreak and desperation.
Such misfortunes have spurred the world to devise ways of aiding the Congolese in their quest for a better life.
After going through his education and completing the 6-6-3 curriculum, Bila graduated with a Diploma in Tailoring but could not secure a stable job.
He engaged himself in manual jobs at a restaurant to earn a living.
His designing skills would still be noticed by his mother, who advised him to try and stick with designing to make a living, but it was easier said than done.
A year later, he traveled to Kenya, but the language barrier limited his communication because he could only speak French and Lingala.
In 2016, his French conversation in one of the recreational facilities was admired by a certain pastor, who connected Bila with a Nigerian friend.
His tailoring and designing skills started paying off the more he put them to work.
His connections also grew due to his excellent work; he made clients from all over Kenya and his network led him to other prospects. He started learning English and Kiswahili.
In 2017, his connections proved productive as he landed his current job in Sobak.
Sobak is one of the largest proprietors in Eldama Ravine Sub County, among the first to start an industry where shoes and clothes are designed for mass production.
With Bila’s skills and tenacity, the place has attracted more customers, and the workload has even pushed him to have an overnight shift.
Working at Sobak from morning to evening, Bilabonga says there was a need to have his own side hustle to cater for his growing passion for design and also meet his employer’s demands.
Stumbling blocks on his way
His personal links from his previous job were constantly referring clients to him. He would do the work and send them back. This led to him purchasing a manual tailoring machine, and he later added two more electronic machines.
“Unfortunately, this created a conflict of interest,” he recounts.
In his vision, he strives to offer pocket-friendly services that will attract more clients.
He felt that his dream should not die too, as he had moved with his clients from far and none was from his current job. Fears that employers always have.
With the conflict arising, he was forced to do away with the electrical machines.
“You can only defer a dream but not kill it,” he insists.
This made him hire out the machines to his friends in Marigat town. Unfortunately, the market there was not as productive, so he moved them elsewhere.
“My strong will has always helped him survive,” he explains.
He moved his side hustle to a new town, only retaining the manual machine. Still, his dream spurred him to go on and maximize his free time to make it.
His skills caught the eyes of fellow tailors in the area.
“They used to send me their clothes-in-progress to do the design cut, which I did for free and returned to them,” explains Bila.
He appreciates that the business is now growing across the world.
He also designs traditional attires that are sold by his clients abroad.
Equally, he does tailoring designs for curtains, men’s shirts, bridal teams, companies’ uniforms, and Pollo shirts and remains abreast with the current market demands and designs.
Most of his customers, he says, come from Migori, Mombasa and Kisumu.
Bila believes in going past limitations.
“Discipline and consistency in my work have always borne fruits,” he acknowledges.
In his current job, he trains trainees and is passionate enough that he wishes to one day have his tailoring school, which would capacitate him to offer more to the society.
“My passion is driven by Josue Sindani, my role model back home, a renowned Designer and Tailor who has perfected his skills with time and earned the trust of many, and who has massive followers due to his job,” he says.
Though Bila is not a refugee, Kenya is home to about 568,325 refugees and asylum seekers, with 53, 439 coming from Congo, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, as of the end of October 2022.
The proceedings from his business have helped him support his family diversely.
For him, his home market is vastly congested and he does not anticipate heading back soon. To him, Kenya is a haven.
Kenya, through the East African Community, officially welcomed the DRC as its 7th member on April 8, 2022, with President of DRC Felix Tshisekedi signing the Deed of Accession with EAC heads calling for help to end the conflict that has been affecting the Eastern part of the country.
Most of his country-people living in Kenya engage in tailoring and are successful at it. Others are in the entertainment industry as artists, while many others sell African wear and vitenge (African design clothes) in the Kenyan market.
For Bila and other Congolese living in Kenya, the future is bright as long as they stick to the nation’s laws.
For most Kenyans, living with foreigners is a norm. They come in, blend in and get accustomed to the spirit of hard work.
Through legalized marriage procedures, some have become Kenyan citizens. Even with the borders now open to most of them, Kenya is their favorite destination, “a land of milk and honey,” as they say.
To date, the Congolese have managed to influence Kenyans with their Lingala music, dancing styles, and African wear through people like Bila.
The culture of men bleaching their faces and making their hair is yet to be embraced, as Kenyan men believe such styles are for ladies. Among the Congolese, it’s prestige and stature.
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The Congolese women prefer having long hair, thus the birth of human hair and hair dying, the same influence rubbed into the Kenyan daughters who have embraced the rather expensive lifestyle.
Through his designs, Bila’s influence on the residents of Eldama Ravine sub-county and its environs has kept growing, and his designs keep evolving with time.
You can contact him on Facebook at Cedrickbilabonga Bila for your share of designs and event attire.