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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Simba Shop proffers fair trade African goods to Iowa small town(s)

Michael Gituma always has Africa on his mind. As president of the Simba Shop, Gituma operates one of the vendors at Marketplace on Main that sells fair trade products, including handmade recycled jewelry, coffee, chocolate, bags, bowls and woodwork.
Gituma first moved to Iowa six years ago from Meru, Kenya for undergraduate study at William Penn University in Oskalooska, IA. After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management, he went on to begin a master’s program in International Business through Walden University. Through the sale of fair trade items in Grinnell, Gituma not only enables his own economic means but also that of his Kenyan community through fair trade while staying connected to his roots.

Michael Gituma, entrepreneur and owner of The Simba Shop, poses with a statue and wooden utensils in his store located inside Marketplace on Main. Photograph by Leah Lucas.

Gituma’s bold business endeavor has been operating for just over a year, since October 2010.

“I didn’t know if it was worth risking [the initial start-up],” Gituma said, “but is has been growing ever since its start. I began with a kiosk and have already expanded to a whole booth.”

Fair trade to Gituma is more than just a marketing strategy for his items, but a true ideology and lifestyle to which he is committed.

“Fair trade works to make sure that people are paid a fair price. It makes sure that they are paid fairly in accord with the amount of time that it takes to make a product.”
Gituma explained the alternative to fair trade, which includes a corporate system in which items can be sold on the black market for only a fraction of their true cost, due to the exploitation of labor.

The true question, as stated by Gituma, is, “Are these people able to pay for their kids’ schooling?” he asked. “Fair trade makes sure that people are working in healthy conditions and can afford their basic living needs.”

Gituma has enjoyed Grinnell thus far, remarking on the diversity that the small town provides. He has also enjoyed his time as a vendor at the Marketplace.

“I like it, it is a good opportunity to test the waters first [before operating an independent store]. Gitma said.

Gituma is already thinking ahead as he considers diversifying his products in hopes of selling his wares year-round in the future.

Gituma’s hopes and dreams do not end at his booth in the Marketplace, but expand to possibilities across the state, with worldwide impacts.  One business plan of Gituma’s includes selling fair trade coffee as well as craft gifts in Simba shops in small towns all across Iowa. These Simba shops could be more than just a store, in Gituma’s visions, with the possibility of offering a sit-down coffee and tea area. In the process, Gituma wants to bring some African culture to small-town Iowa, as he ponders the option of serving traditional Kenyan snacks to customers.

Another of Gituma’s ideas is to begin programs in Kenyan villages near his home and market what they are selling. “I don’t know how big I can grow,” Gituma said, “but I like to think big. … It’s all in the horizon, but first, I need a few more sales.”

So if you’re looking to buy one-of-a-kind gifts with a conscience this holiday season, look no farther than the Simba Shop, conveniently located inside Marketplace on Main at 913 Main Street.

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  • M

    Michael GitumaDec 14, 2011 at 8:57 am

    This is very exciting not only for me, but for Fair Trade and all people who are committed to fair communities, a fair society, and a fair world.

    Let’s do this together.

  • M

    mikeDec 14, 2011 at 7:11 am

    keep representing Kenyans in the diaspora congrats

  • E

    Edwin Kajigi MutumaDec 13, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Congratulations Mr.Gituma.Nothing pays like having a business mind.Keep the fire burning as Simba Shop grows…

  • I

    IdelDec 13, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Good job you are doing Mike…Kudos!