Clifford Akumu With a twang that borders between a mixture of urban and rural upbringing, Catherine Soi, 35, would pass as your normal banker or a model. But she is neither: she uses wood pallets to make an array of elegant furniture. The young entrepreneur is the owner of Soi Pallet Design\u2014a novel outfit birthed in 2018 that is making in-roads in the overcrowded arena. Wood pallets have been around for decades as mechanisms for shipping and storing larger items. However, few saw their value and so were thrown or used as firewood. But now, Soi has found a new use for them. With two workshops in Kisumu and Nairobi and more than 10 employees, the pallet design company has set sight on penetrating the corporate furniture scene and expanding across Eastern Africa. She is an entrepreneur\u00a0 who wears many hats; if she is not designing elegant furniture, she is checking on a family she fully supports from Kiboswa area, Kisumu county. She learned about the family\u2019s predicament two years ago from a social media group called \u201cKisumu Mum\u201d. The mother had abandoned her family.\u00a0 With her savings and well-wishers contributions, Soi was able to build the family a decent home. Four months after the house was complete, Soi tried to convince the woman to return home and take care of her three children, but her interventions were futile. The woman eventually switched off her phone. Long line of artists The father would then do the unthinkable; he sexually abused the daughter, an act that would later land him in Kodiaga Prison. Catherine Soi showcases different types of furniture made out of wooden pallets. Photo\/PD\/CLIFFORD AKUMU After seeing all these forms of abuse, Soi later decided to place two boys at Ebenezer Rehabilitation Centre and their sister at Familia, a non-governmental organisation in the county. She understood the struggles and decided to stick with them, \u201cI had a rough childhood and at some point I used to live like that. I will support them till the end,\u201d she explains. Making a name in a male-dominated field for Soi, has not been a walk in the park. After several false starts and numerous discouragement from her peers, she finally found her passion: wood pallets, which she gets from godowns in Nairobi. She chuckles as she recalls a situation in which one of her clients almost backed out of an offer after realising she was a woman. \u201cThat week I had not sold anything, so when the client inquired about a particular design, I was jubilant. After meeting him, he kept asking whether the carpenter was still on his way coming. I told him I am the carpenter. He didn\u2019t believe me, until I started showing him some designs,\u201d she says. Soi has tried farming, boutique business, but always come back to wood, she narrates, \u201cIt has taken me several years to realise that is my purpose in life. I have dipped my hands in farming, opened a boutique, but I always return to using pallets.\u201d As a designer, Soi is always trying new things. At six in the morning, the single mother of four wakes up, says a prayer, checks her social media pages and email, where she interacts with clients before heading to the workshop in Lolwe estate, Kisumu county. At 8am, she gives her employees instructions on new orders and checks progress of other designs, before heading out for meetings or social media marketing. Digital marketing and referrals, she notes, is what makes her enterprise soar. In a good sale, she pockets between Sh10,000 and Sh30,000 for a three-seater household pallet sofa-depending on the design and material used. But finding her passion in wood pallets traces its way several years ago. Despite coming from a line of artists, Soi never dreamed of becoming a carpenter and even excelling in the trade. She recalls one incident in 1982 with her grandfather, a revered carpenter then in Makimenyi village, Bomet county, who forecasted her later years as an entrepreneur. \u201cAt age three, I occasionally visited my grandfather\u2019s workshop. On this particular day, he was working on a table. I was so disruptive, so he gave me a hammer and some nails to keep me busy. And true to his \u201cprophecy\u201d, I was so engrossed in the process that he managed to complete working on the table,\u201d she laughs. He was preparing me for something big, unknowingly, she explains. Her sister is in interior design and her uncle, a carpenter, currently works for her. Interestingly, it is an entrepreneurial path she bumped into, albeit, accidentally, but her steel determination to make her mark in Kenya\u2019s furniture scene is eminent in her designs. Support single mothers In 2017, before venturing into carpentry, she worked for a mobile phone manufacturing company as a sales representative covering Western region. With tight schedules and an irritable manager, who used to violate their rights, Soi developed health problems. \u201cWe used to work for long hours. And when you were found with a slight mistake; the manager, a foreigner, would subject women to 20 press ups and men 40 press ups as a form of punishment, so I had to endure the pain, since I really needed the job. And worse, the manager used to threaten us with a sack\u201d says Soi. And when she could not stomach it anymore, she quit. Life outside employment was rough. She moved to a new house, but did not have any furniture. With little cash, she had to be creative. \u201cI went to the shop and bought wood pallets, which I used to make some few furniture for my new house,\u201d recalls Soi. After some months, she got a job as a M-Pesa attendant, but she did not last long there, too. Then came the eureka moment, as she puts it. \u201cI was feeling bored, so I decided to post seats I had made on my Instagram page under the topic \u2018Do It Yourself\u2019. Within minutes, I started getting inquiries,\u201d says Soi. I did the same on my Facebook page. \u201cAnd the results were amazing. That day alone, I got four offers,\u201d she says, adding that she did not even know how she would deliver the furniture to her clients. \u201cI had to rely on my clients deposit to finish the job. Although they were not aware. My first orders turned out to be too lousy. I instantly became a carpenter. I used to learn from YouTube on pallet furniture making and new designs,\u201d she adds.\u00a0 Soi has received several awards, including Blaze by Safaricom Award under the Production and Sales Category in 2018. She also attended a Start-up Accelerator Programme by Ygap, an impact entrepreneur investor from Australia that supports social entrepreneurs to impact persons living in poverty. She started doing things differently after the trainings; sharpening her entrepreneurial and book keeping expertise. Like any startup, access to capital still pulls her pallet-making business back from shooting to the league of big players. \u201cI do not have enough credit to grow. I am knocking on doors for capital to grow even bigger,\u201d she says, adding that she plans to pass her skills to single mothers unable to put food on the table. For now, she is determined to pass her skills to the next generation of women and would not stop. \u201cI will only be satisfied when I pass my skills to other women, especially single mothers like me,\u201d she says.. Soi maintains her support for women in \u2018odd\u2019 jobs. \u201cAs a woman entrepreneur, I will be celebrating empowerment. It is no longer weird for a woman to do odd jobs. Most women are out there getting and excelling at the once-perceived odd jobs\u201d she concludes.