From Soccer Pro to Sewing Pro in Sierra Leone

Tejan, proudly outside his new shop

As a young man, Tejan had long dreamed of being a professional soccer player. For fifteen years, he played with one of Sierra Leone’s top teams, the first division Regent’s Olympic.  But even as a star defender and captain of his team, his earnings, essentially a portion of what was taken at the entrance gate, were seldom enough to make ends meet.

In 2002, deciding to supplement his income, Tejan apprenticed with a local tailor, learning the highly skilled art of making dresses, shirts and pants from scratch. Using long rolls of colorful lappa, (an imported fabric, usually cotton), he spent long days at his sewing machine in one of the many small alcove-like shops that can still be seen off Freetown’s busier streets.

Even as he continued to pursue his professional soccer aspirations, he knew the day was coming when he would have to make a clean break in order to support his new wife.  Eight years ago, Tejan did just that, opening a small shop of his own and purchasing two basic sewing machines and an electric ‘Singer’ which can handle the more complicated designs known as plant and embroidery.  

In so doing, Tejan rolled with the punches and fashioned a new dream that better suited his needs.  He continued to work long hard days and soon enough witnessed the fruits of his labor for a second time.  Just six months ago, he moved again, this time to a much larger shop. With the additional space, he now has three basic sewing machines, four Singers and a very modern machine called an 'Overlock' that can do even more complicated designs.  But perhaps the most promising aspect of Tejan’s story is that he now employs two additional tailors and two apprentices, thus passing his skills on to future generations.

While Tejan had no family members in a position to lend him the capital he needed, he decided instead to apply for a loan from ARD (Association for Rural Development), one of Kiva’s oldest microfinance partners in Sierra Leone. With the additional working capital, he plans to buy more material and extra trimmings that will be needed to make full use of his increased capacity.  He has already begun wholesaling his product to other entrepreneurs and also hopes to create a fuller display area outside his store in order to catch the passing trade. As such, he is moving beyond the traditional business model of most tailors in Sierra Leone, scaling up as a small manufacturer and retailer, while still doing made-to-order designs.

Tejan’s is an inspiring success story about a man with a dream, albeit his second dream. He is now in a better position to support his family, with plans to support his four year old daughter's education all the way to university level. He is adamant that he could not have done this without the help of people like you, the Kiva lenders half way around the world. He told me to say "a big thank you" to those who are so far away and yet, by a miracle of the information age, so close to hand.

To lend to Tejan right now, please click here. To support the dreams of other borrowers at ARD Sierra Leone, please click here.

About the author

Shane Fahy

A native of Ireland, Shane received his bachelors in Marketing and Entrepreneurship in 1993. Relocating to the US shortly thereafter, he has since worked in telemarketing management, community outreach, fundraising, market research and as a volunteer. While challenging and rewarding, these positions helped to augment his primary career aspiration as an actor in the theatre. Getting off the beaten track while travelling in the developing world, he visited outlying tribal regions and poor slums, underfunded orphanages, schools and hospitals. In 2007, he returned to Ireland to study for his Masters in International Peace. Learning about microfinance for the first time, it struck him as a sustainable aid model that favors the empowerment of people over the creation of dependency. Shane is ready to immerse himself wholly in this new adventure and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve with the distinguished members of the Kiva team and KF22. He hopes to learn a lot from the experience and eventually build a full time career in the service of the greater good. He is particularly animated by small, local businesses that are both financially and environmentally sustainable while enriching the local community.