International Review of Education

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 341–361 | Cite as

Technical knowledge and skills development in the informal sector in Kenya: The case of custom tailors

  • Edwinah Amondi Apunda
  • Helena M. de Klerk
  • Teresa Ogina
Original Paper


Custom tailors working in the informal sector in Nairobi, Kenya, mainly acquire technical skills through undertaking traditional apprenticeships (TAs). However, most of these tailors are semi-skilled, produce low-quality products and are often poorer than their formally trained counterparts. This qualitative case study explores the aspects of technical skills and knowledge which tailoring apprentices develop, and the factors which influence these outcomes. The findings show that apprentices do acquire basic technical skills for immediate application to ongoing tailoring activities (such as how to take body measurements, draft patterns, and cut, sew and finish constructed garments). However, apprentices do not acquire the technical knowledge that underpins the trade. Most master tailors who have completed TAs lack technical knowledge and have no access to technical skills upgrading. This perpetuates the cycle of basic and limited technical skills transfer to apprentices, poor performance and poverty among tailors. Both apprentices and master tailors expressed concern over knowledge limitations in TAs and a need to access further training to improve skills and acquire knowledge of the trade. The authors of this article argue that, technically and pedagogically, skilled master tailors are critical to improving training quality. Complementary training in theoretical knowledge is also important in improving apprentices’ technical skills and understanding of the trade. Inclusion of TAs in government policy may help ensure sustainable improvement of skills.


technical knowledge and skills development informal sector Kenya tailoring traditional apprenticeships 


Perfectionnement des connaissances et savoir-faire techniques dans le secteur informel au Kenya: le cas des tailleurs – Les tailleurs sur mesure actifs dans le secteur informel de Nairobi (Kenya) acquièrent essentiellement leur savoir-faire technique dans le cadre d’un apprentissage traditionnel. Néanmoins, la plupart d’entre eux sont insuffisamment qualifiés, fabriquent des articles de faible qualité et sont plus pauvres que leurs confrères qui ont bénéficié d’une formation officielle. La présente étude de cas qualitative explore les éléments des connaissances et savoir-faire techniques qui sont transmis traditionnellement en confection ainsi que les facteurs qui influencent ces résultats. Les conclusions révèlent que les apprentis acquièrent certes les compétences techniques de base pour une application immédiate dans les actes courants de la confection (prise de mensurations, traçage de patrons, coupe, couture et finition de vêtements conçus). Ils n’abordent cependant pas les connaissances techniques qui sont à la base du métier. La majorité des maîtres tailleurs qui ont accompli un apprentissage traditionnel manquent de ces connaissances techniques et n’ont aucun accès aux mesures correspondantes de perfectionnement. Cette situation entretient le cycle du transfert minimal et limité des compétences techniques aux apprentis, du faible rendement et de la pauvreté parmi les tailleurs. Tant les apprentis que les maîtres tailleurs expriment leur souci concernant la limitation des connaissances dans l’apprentissage traditionnel et le besoin d’accéder à la formation continue pour perfectionner leurs compétences et acquérir des connaissances sur le métier. Les auteures de l’article affirment que sur le plan technique et pédagogique, les maîtres tailleurs qualifiés sont décisifs pour améliorer la qualité de la formation. La formation complémentaire en savoir théorique est également importante pour améliorer les compétences techniques et la connaissance du métier chez les apprentis. L’intégration de l’apprentissage traditionnel dans les politiques publiques pourrait contribuer à garantir un perfectionnement durable des compétences.


  1. Adams, A. V., de Silva, S. J., & Razmara, S. (2013). Improving skills development in the informal sector: Strategies for sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, DC: World Bank. Retrieved 2 May 2017 from
  2. Aggarwal, A., Hofmann, C., & Phiri, A. (2010). A study on informal apprenticeship in Malawi, Employment Report, No. 9. Geneva: International Labour Organization (ILO).Google Scholar
  3. Aldrich, W. (2008). Metric pattern cutting for women’s wear. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  4. Atchoarena, D., & Delluc, A. (2002). Revisiting technical and vocational education in sub Saharan Africa: An update on trends and challenges. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), UNESCO. Retrieved 28 April 2017 from
  5. Balwanz, D. (2012). Youth skills development, informal employment and the enabling environment in Kenya: Trends and tensions. Journal of International Cooperation in Education, 15(2), 69–91.Google Scholar
  6. Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544–559.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, P., & Rice, J. (2014). Ready-to-wear apparel analysis. Boston, MA: Pearson.Google Scholar
  8. Burke, S. (2011). Fashion designer: Concept to collection. London: Burke Publishing.Google Scholar
  9. Bye, E., Labat, K. L., & Delong, M. R. (2006). Analysis of body measurement systems for apparel. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 24(2), 66–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. EC (European Commission). (2000). The memorandum on lifelong learning. Brussels: European Commission.Google Scholar
  11. Edwinsson, L., & Nilson, A. (2009). Dignity IV: Fashioning Kenya – A study of Kenya as a market for domestic fashion brands. The Swedish School of Textiles. Retrieved 20 June 2010 from
  12. Ferej, A. (1997). The use of traditional apprenticeships in training for self-employment by vocational training institutions (VTIs) in Kenya. In N. Petrov (Ed.), Training for self-employment through vocational training institutions (pp. 101–107). Geneva: International Labour Organization (ILO). Retrieved 28 April 2017 from:
  13. Ferej, A., Kitainge, K., & Ooko, Z. (2012). Reform of TVET Teacher Education in Kenya: Overcoming the challenges of quality and relevance [working document]. Tunis: Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). Retrieved 24 June 2016 from
  14. Fiore, A. M., & Damhorst, M. L. (1992). Intrinsic cues as predictors of perceived quality of apparel. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 5, 168–178.Google Scholar
  15. Geršak, J. (2002). Development of the system for qualitative prediction of garments appearance quality. International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, 14(3/4), 169–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Haan, H. C. (2006). Training for work in the informal micro-enterprise sector: Fresh evidence from sub-Saharan Africa. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  17. Hope, K. R. (2012). Engaging the youth in Kenya: Empowerment, education, and employment. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 17(4), 221–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. ILO (International Labour Organization). (1972). Employment, incomes and equality: A strategy for increasing productive employment in Kenya. Geneva: ILO.Google Scholar
  19. ILO (2000). Promoting gender equality in Zimbabwe. Report on the workshop on “Capacity building for the informal sector in Zimbabwe”. Harare: Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare (MPSLSW)/ILO Promoting Gender equality in Zimbabwe project.Google Scholar
  20. ILO (2001 [1973]). Convention concerning minimum age for admission to employment (ILO 138). London: ILO. Retrieved 20 July 2016 from
  21. ILO (2012). Upgrading informal apprenticeship: A resource guide for Africa. Geneva: International Labour Organization (ILO).Google Scholar
  22. Johanson, R. K., & Adams, A. V. (2004). Skills development in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank Regional and Sector Studies. Washington, DC: World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kaane, H. (2014). Youth employment in Africa: Policies, mechanisms and schemes for integration of youth into the workforce and job creation. Kenya Country Report for the 2014 Ministerial Conference on Youth Employment. How to improve, through skills development and job creation, access of Africa’s youth to the world of work. Abidjan: Republic of C^0te d’Ivoire, Ministry of State, Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs and Vocational Training/Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). Retrieved 23 February 2017 from
  24. Kamau, P., & Munandi, I. (2009). Innovation in the Kenyan clothing sector and its impact on employment and poverty reduction. Draft report. Nairobi: University of Nairobi, Institute for Development Studies. Retrieved 25 February 2013 from
  25. Keiser, S. J., & Garner, M. B. (2012). Beyond design: The synergy of apparel product development. New York: Fairchild.Google Scholar
  26. Kemp-Gatterson, B., & Stewart, B. L. (2009). Apparel: Concepts and practical applications. New York: Fairchild.Google Scholar
  27. Kimle, P. A. (1994). Design education and the creative experience: A conceptual framework. In M. R. DeLong & A. M. Fiore, Aesthetics of textiles and clothing: Advancing multi-disciplinary perspectives. ITAA Special Publication vol. 7, 58–68. Knoxville, TN: International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA). Retrieved 23 February from
  28. Knowles, L. A. (2005). The practical guide to patternmaking for fashion designers: Juniors, misses, and women. New York: Fairchild.Google Scholar
  29. Lave, J. (1982). A comparative approach to educational forms and learning processes. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 13(2), 181–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mbugua, J. K., Mbugua, S. N., Wangoi, M., Ogada, J. O., & Kariuki, J. N. (2013). Factors affecting the growth of micro and small enterprises: A case of tailoring and dressmaking enterprises in Eldoret. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 4(5), 285–293.Google Scholar
  31. McCormick, D., Kinyanjui, M. N., & Ongile, G. (1997). Growth and barriers to growth among Nairobi’s small and medium-sized garment producers. World Development, 25(7), 1095–1110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McCormick, D., & Ongile, G. (1993). Growth and the organization of production: Case studies from Nairobi’s garment industry. Discussion paper no. 294. Nairobi: University of Nairobi, Institute for Development Studies. Retrieved 23 February 2017 from
  33. Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  34. MoE (Ministry of Education). (2012). A policy framework for education: Aligning Education and Training to the Constitution of Kenya (2010) and Kenya Vision 2030 and beyond. Nairobi: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  35. MoHEST (Kenyan Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology). (2014). Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) policy. Nairobi: Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology.Google Scholar
  36. MoYAS (Kenyan Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports). (2012). Skills gap analysis for graduates of youth polytechnics, vocational training centres & out-of-school youth. Nairobi: Government of Kenya.Google Scholar
  37. Nelson, C. (1997). Training goes to market: A comparative study of two Kenyan training programs. Business development Services Case Study. Bethesda, MD: Microenterprise Best Practices, Development Alternatives, Inc. Retrieved 23 February 2017 from
  38. Nieuwenhuis, J. (2012). Qualitative research designs and data gathering techniques. In K. Maree (Ed.), First steps in research (pp. 69–97). Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.Google Scholar
  39. Nübler, I., Hofmann, C., & Greiner, C. (2009). Understanding informal apprenticeship: Findings from empirical research in Tanzania, Employment Report, 32. Geneva: International Labour Organization (ILO).Google Scholar
  40. Nyerere, J. (2009). Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector mapping in Kenya. Amersfoort: Edukans Foundation.Google Scholar
  41. Palmer, R. (2009). Formalising the informal: Ghana’s national apprenticeship programme. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 61(1), 67–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. RoK (Republic of Kenya). (2011). The Industrial Training (Amendment) Act, 2011. Nairobi: Government Printers.Google Scholar
  43. Shaeffer, C. (2014). Sewing for the apparel industry. England: Pearson.Google Scholar
  44. Shields, M. R. (2011). Industry clothing construction methods. New York: Fairchild.Google Scholar
  45. Shiohata, M., & Pryor, J. (2008). Literacy and vocational learning: A process of becoming. Compare, 38(2), 189–203.Google Scholar
  46. Tate, S. L. (2004). Inside fashion design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Google Scholar
  47. UIL (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning). (2012). UNESCO Guidelines for the recognition, validation and accreditation of the outcomes of non-formal and informal learning. Hamburg: UIL.Google Scholar
  48. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). (2012). Youth and skills: Putting education to work. Education for All Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  49. Walther, R. (2011). Building skills in the informal sector. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2012. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved 5 June 2016 from
  50. Willig, C. (2008). Introducing qualitative research methods in psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  51. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edwinah Amondi Apunda
    • 1
  • Helena M. de Klerk
    • 1
  • Teresa Ogina
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PretoriaHatfieldSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations