Jane Ngoiri Goes to Denver

Posted on October 02, 2012, by Lizzie Presser, Half the Sky Movement

In May 2012, Jane Ngoiri traveled from Kaputiei village in Nairobi to Denver, Colorado to share her story at the PBS Annual Meeting. It was her first time traveling outside of Kenya. The meeting of journalists, filmmakers, and other stars of the documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide gave her new hope, not only for her personal dressmaking business but also for the women and children around the world who are need of economic support.

A former prostitute, Jane pulled herself out of abject poverty by taking out a micro-loan in Nairobi. Now, she runs a business cutting old gowns and retailoring the fabric as children’s dresses that she sells in the local market. She also stars in the PBS documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Jane, third from left, speaks on a panel with Sheryl WuDunn, Olivia Wilde, and Rebecca Lolosoli. 

“I now believe that my business is well known,” she said, thrilled with the number of people who approached her in Denver about her work. “Now I believe so many people will come to buy my dresses, my necklaces. My business will be big, my vision will expand.” Jane even sold a few dresses and a dozen necklaces while staying in Colorado.

Nicholas Kristof first introduced Jane to his readers in a column on economic empowerment in September 2011. After his column was published, Jane was floored by the immediate response. Hundreds of dresses arrived at her doorstep and now, she says, her income is stable enough to send her children to school.

“To all the people across the U.S. who sent me dresses, I want to say, ‘Thank You!’  I was shocked to receive all the dresses. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone involved in the contribution,” she said. “ I still don’t have a store, I don’t have employees, I do all the tailoring myself, and I take all my clothes to the market. But this has really helped!”

Aside from giving a presentation on her own story while in Denver, Jane also had the opportunity to hear from a wide array of other women who had found enough motivation and support to fight past poverty. She was inspired by the stories she heard and moved by Nicholas and Sheryl’s dedication to raising awareness about economic need. 

Jane Ngoiri outside the PBS Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

“Sometimes when I’m in Kenya, I think I’m the only one who is poor and not living the good life. But I came to understand from these presentations, from the movie clips I saw, that in places like Colombia, Afghanistan — in  every country — we are one. It is only the names of countries that are different,” she reflected. “And it doesn’t matter where you come from — it matters where you are going to.”

With just a small loan, Jane built a business that has taken off. Now, her dreams for the future are expanding, too. In recent months, Jane has developed a new business plan that she is trying to launch: a town theater. If the children in her village have access to a theater in their community, she reasons, they won’t have to spend time and money on transportation to theaters that are far away.

“Time is not waiting,” she said before boarding a plane back to Kenya. “And time is money. If you don’t do something now, you just may never do it.”


Thanks to the overwhelming support from donors countrywide, Jane now has enough dresses to last her a long while. If you’re looking to donate old gowns, check out some of these organizations below:

Brides Against Cancer collects and sells old gowns to help provide wellness and educational services to people affected by breast cancer

Brides for Haiti, run by St. Mary's Catholic Church in Barnesville, Maryland, sells donated dresses at consignment shops to raise money to help its twin parish in Haiti, St. Joseph's Parish in Carcasse. 

Bridal Garden sells wedding gowns and uses the money to help New York City children in need. This is a great way to help underprivileged children in the region.