Woman earns living dressing the dead

Baraka Karama @PeopleDailyKe

Death is dreaded and usually evokes grief for those close to the deceased. But whereas many fear it, Nelly Anyango, 46, says she depends on the dead to earn a living. Anyango has made a name in the lakeside city of Kisumu sewing clothes for the dead.

She sews dresses and suits for the dead and sells them in wholesale and retail. For the past 10 years, the tailor has stitched thousands of clothes for the dead, a job that has earned her fame and fear in equal measure.

At Kibuye open-air market where she has set up her shop, many people fondly refer to her as “fundi maiti” (tailor for the dead). I met her at her tailoring shop last week busy negotiating with a bereaved family.

The family was preparing to remove the body of their loved one from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital mortuary on a Friday and had come to book for a dress. “Nitakushonea na Sh3,500 bei ya mwisho. Wewe sasa umekuwa customer wangu,” ( I will sew the dress at a cost of Sh3,500. From today, your are my customer,” she told the client.

Any other business

Her elderly client agreed to her terms and gave her the money to proceed with the work.

For the past 10 years, that has been Anyango’s means of making a living. “It’s just like any other business it’s only that my customers are the bereaved but to me its normal,” she says.

The former househelp says she discovered that there was a great opportunity in sewing clothes for the dead when she lost three relatives on separate occasions and the families had to send a person in Nairobi to buy the clothes.

“In this region, people respect and treat the death with dignity. There was demand for sewing clothes for the dead but many people feared it. And because I had tailoring skills, I decided to quit my job to venture into the business,” she says.

   Some of her close friends severed links with her immediately they learnt of her new job. “My friends and those who knew me kept off.

They said that its believed if you are doing that kind of work or associate yourself with that kind of person then you die quickly. Up to date, they avoid me like plague,” she reveals. Anyango, who is a widowed mother of seven says the tailoring business has enabled her educate her three children up to university.

“Even though people work treat my work with contempt, I am able to feed by children and send them to school,” she says. The prices for the ready made suits and dresses range from Sh1,500 to 7,000.

Expansion plans

She has established contacts with mortuary attendants in both public and private hospitals who regularly refer clients to her.

“They know me and they have seen the kind of work that I do. They always inform me of a possible client and I give them commission for that because its business,” she says.

On many occasions, she goes to the morgue to get the exact length nad size of the deceased before she starts to sew the dress or suit.

Anyango, who  has hired two people in her tailoring shop, now says she intends to expand her business to other counties.

“My aim is to have branches in various counties to serve my clients,” she concludes.

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