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After a Terrible Fire, a Fashion House Makes a Come Back

After a devastating fire that led to the loss of everything, Rich Fulfillment Fashion House is once again navigating the tailoring landscape of Liberia.

Rich Fulfillment Fashion House is a female-owned fashion house that started about 10 years ago. Elizabeth Gibson started her business with only one sewing machine.

She later got a loan from a local bank and increased the number of machines in her shop and hired more workers.  The business was doing well and growing. Everything suddenly changed one day when a fire gutted her business center in 2011.
The cause of the fire to this date, she said, is unknown. Everything was well secured by the close of day. While on her way home she received a call informing her that her shop was on fire. “I lost everything: customers’ clothes, sewing machines and personal effects. I was deeply frustrated,” she said.  “I informed the bank and asked for an extension in my payment term. The bank said they regretted the situation but weren’t responsible.” After going through a period of unbearable problems for two years, coupled with the burden of loan repayment, “I mustered the courage and had to go into my personal savings to restart the shop,” Gibson said. “I then moved to a new location, began sewing myself and later recruited a contractor.”

Shortly thereafter in 2012, an employee of Building Markets’ USAID Sustainable Marketplace Initiative Liberia (SMI-L) was shopping at Rich Fulfillment. “She knew from the physical presence of the place and watching me sitting behind the pitiful machine that something wasn’t right,” Gibson said. The employee asked if Gibson knew of SMI-L. When Gibson said no, she explained the SMI-L services. She concluded by encouraging Gibson to visit the office and take advantage of training and other services.

“Meeting Building Markets changed my business very much,” she said. Gibson attended the general procurement and financial management training where she learned about service delivery, customer service, basis business management and operations, as well as financial management. “I regularly receive SMS and emails about tenders in the area of tailoring, and I have also been fortunate to attend a SMI-L Matchmaking event,” Gibson said. In June 2013, SMI-L hosted a Monrovia matchmaking event geared toward the needs of concessionaires including Firestone, Putu Iron Ore and Aureus Mining.  “The event was of great benefit to me, and I made very good business contacts,” Gibson said.

Additionally, Rich Fulfillment Fashion House successfully won a bid for $4,224 from UNDP to sew 176 Uniforms. The contract was won through SMI-L’s Tender Distribution Service (TDS). “This contract with UNDP will help my business to grow,” Gibson said.   The store started with one employee and now has a total of five full-time workers and six contractors.

Gibson spoke of her passion for sewing and her desire to train other women to be professional tailors in the future. She concluded by saying “I want Building Markets to help Liberian businesses with more training, preferably in packaging.”

The SMI-L is made possible by USAID: through the American people.

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