A workers’ strike at Thika Cloth Mills (TCM) 17 years ago gave Tejal Dodhia, managing director of the company, the fighting spirit she has used to keep the firm’s doors open and mills running for years.
A young girl at the time, Ms Dodhia had accompanied her late father Mahendra Khimasia to the plant in Thika, where he was faced with a threat of mass exodus of his workers due to delayed salaries.
Kenya’s once thriving textile industry was experiencing hard times in the 1990s, as shrinking markets forced many factories to shut down, leaving thousands of people jobless.
Things were bad. We could not afford salaries and the workers had decided to go on strike demanding their dues, Tejal, who was in her mid-twenties at the time, recounts.
My father gave them two options they could go to the streets, or stay and fight on. They chose the latter. I thought to myself that if the company means that much to them, it should mean something to me too.
TCM was founded in 1958 by Ms Dodhia’s grandfather (Somchand Khimasia) and his brothers. They relocated from India to Kenya where they started out by selling cutlery on Mombasa streets in handcarts.
They thereafter set up a trading vehicle Mombasa — Bhagwanji and Company — which led to the formation of companies such as TCM, Bahari Mills and East African Match Company, the makers of Kuni and Steam Ship matchsticks. The last two companies were closed.
The Khimasia family also founded Trufoods and Kabasi Canners. This business, known for the Zesta and Kenylon brands, was later sold.
TCM started off by selling vests. Today, the company’s core business is supplying the makers of school and security uniforms, dust coats as well as overalls.
The textile firm, which Ms Dodhia owns with her sisters Jesal Khimasia and Archna Khimasia, also makes promotional caps and bags for corporates as well as kikoys and kitenges for the retail market.
Ms Dodhia admits it has been tough keeping the company afloat over the years due to high operating costs and an influx of cheaper imported goods which undercut the local market.
The company was ranked 99 in the 2016 edition of Top 100 survey. It has employed 650 skilled workers and is supporting 22,000 small-scale cotton farmers from Mpeketoni, Makueni, Kitui, Nyanza, Mwea, Meru and Voi.
Ms Dodhia says emphasis on quality and fast deliveries are some of the things that have ensured loyalty from its over 400 customers including Bata Kenya, Aga Khan Hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital and several government institutions.
The company has 25 machines which produce 650,000 metres of cloth every month, an increase of 100,000 meters following a recent upgrade of its equipment.