What you need to know:
- I didn't want to walk down the aisle with the normal traditional bridal dress, so I took it upon myself to crochet it to bring out my personality and to show other brides that the art of crochet can produce a statement piece.
- I designed a mermaid dress with pineapple details because I love pineapples, the dress was white, I imported the yarns from turkey to craft it.
When Joan Aoko graduated from Maseno University in 2015, she was sure that it would not be long before she got a job.
She was not disappointed, she managed to get a job with the county government of Kisumu, and later on with an NGO, where she worked until 2017. In her two jobs, one thing made her different from her colleagues. During her lunch break when her colleagues were having lunch and socialising, she would be busy crocheting.
"I grew up loving art, and learned how to crochet when I was nine. My late mum taught me how to do it,” she says, adding that she seriously picked up the art in 2015 as a hobby to keep herself indoors since she an introvert.
It was a hobby that gave her extra money on the side in the midst of her busy schedule. She knitted mostly tops and swimwear.
Turned into a business
Her hobby turned into business in 2016 when she launched a crotcheting business. She named it Byaoko.
When her contract with the NGO ended, she decided that she would not go back to formal employment.
"I started my business with Sh500. I bought a packet of acrylic wool for Sh400 and a crochet hook Sh100 and went down to work,” she says.
Her first project was baby shoes, which she made after watching a tutorial on YouTube.
“The shoes weren’t perfect, but it was a good start, I later made a scarf, then a bikini. I also I opened an Instagram account to market my work.”
She got her first client through social media, a woman that bought five pairs of baby booties for Sh1,000.
"I was very excited that day, and though I lost touch with my first client I still recall what she told me, that I would make it really big”.
Her designs have since grown to include dresses, crochet swimwear, baby-wear, warm-weather wears and bridal wear.
She has established a huge clientele for her crochet work which requires her to sometimes work late into the night to meet the demand.
Believe it or not, Aoko is so good at what she does, she knit her own wedding dress, which she wore on her big day in 2019.
Imported the yarns
“I didn't want to walk down the aisle with the normal traditional bridal dress, so I took it upon myself to crochet it to bring out my personality and to show other brides that the art of crochet can produce a statement piece.
I designed a mermaid dress with pineapple details because I love pineapples, the dress was white, I imported the yarns from turkey to craft it. Honestly, my gown stole the event! Everyone was amazed, no one would think yarns and hooks can actually be used to make a gown. And yes I got orders after the wedding, currently I'm working on three bridal dresses, one client is in the USA and two brides in Kenya.”
The pricing for her products depends on the type of material used. She mostly uses imported yarns to make her products and for bridal dress she used mercerised lace cotton yarn. It also depends on the complexity and time spent on the design and size. The swimwear sells from Sh2,500, dresses from Sh7,500 while bridal gowns start from Sh45,000 upwards.
“I market my products on social media, especially on Instagram, referrals from repeat clients have grown my client base. Right now, I’m busy with the construction of my website as I explore more avenues of marketing,” she says.
Most of her clients buy her crochet wear for special occasions such as holidays and as birthday gifts. She explains that her clients view her creations as luxury wear that makes them stand out.
“I customise to the client’s size, colour and style, wich ensures a perfect fit besides bringing to life their sense of fashion and personality.”
She believes that the fact that you cannot find the crochet pieces in every store you walk into makes them unique.
Anything handmade, she points out, is very labour intensive and time-consuming, especially crochet.
“It can take me five hours to crotchet a crop top, a day or two for swimwear depending on how involving the design is, and a month to two for bridal dresses.”
An employer, she has trained three employees who help her whenever she has a mass production in the works.