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Kenya’s Under-Rated Creative Arts

If you are reading this post and you were born and raised in Kenya and have parents who grew up in pre-colonial times and asked them what you should be when you grow up, you’d most probably get the following advice:

One, go to university and get into a respectable profession, which for most middle-class Kenyan parents meant studying any of the following subjects:  Medicine, Business, Law, Accounting or Engineering.

Then, get a good job in an “office” where you get to  wear a nice  suit and tie and sit your ass down in that cubicle  for the next 30 years of your life.   If you want to start a business on the side, fine, but don’t quit your day job.

Well, times are changing and we’re beginning to see a younger generation of Kenyans who are rejecting this corporate, cubicle lifestyle in favor of careers that they are passionate about, e.g. music, writing, acting, etc, etc..

So, I’m always fascinated when I hear about a Kenyan who actually had the balls to reject that 8 to 5 cubicle life and start a company based on a creative passion that they’ve always had and that is the feature of my story today.

I was watching the video below of this woman in Kenya who left that cubicle life behind and decided to start her own card company.  So, obviously (because I like creative people) — I decided to contact her and ask her a few questions about her company and how she did it and she was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to  answer my questions, which I present to you here.

** BTW – The website (if you are interested in ordering her cards is: Luwaki.net)

1)  The video feature on you that NTV played said that you worked as an accountant before you started this card company.  What made you leave that profession?

I left the employment world because I wasn’t content with what I was doing at the end of each day. I had no reason to look forward to work every morning and I therefore decided to take my hobby, which was making crafts and turn it into a business.

2)  Why cards? Did you have a personal interest in them? Did you detect a market void that was missing? Tell me why you decided to start a card company in Kenya.

I come from a family of creative minds. I have always felt that my calling was towards art & creativity  but I just hadn’t placed my finger on what exactly I wanted to do that was different . I started with paintings & sketches while in high school then I moved on to beadwork & wall hangings. As much as I loved making these items, I found that I slowly got bored. 1 day someone handed me a wedding invite that had been done in India. I was so fascinated by the rich detail in the card and so I thought to myself……Why not take my beadwork & incorporate it into card designs and give people something new, something different? 3 years later, here I am.

3)  I would assume that most of the buyers of your cards would be women.  Is this true or not and what is the gender breakdown of your customers?  Or any other breakdown, e.g. age, income groups, etc, etc.

Women like beautiful things, so yes, most of my clients are women. Men mostly shop for cards on Valentines day. There are no particular income groups because my cards are customized to cater for all. Different card have different prices, at the end of the day, it depends on what type of material the client wants and can afford to pay for.

4)  I personally I’m not into cards myself.  I don’t tend to buy them and usually when people give them to me, I’m more interested in fishing out the money from the cards than I am in actually reading any sentimental message that may be contained within them.  However, I know that many of my female friends are really into cards and they pay attention to the messages within them.  So, are your cards message oriented? And do you take the time to write out unique messages for each? Or are they mainly works of art that would be better suited for things like wedding invitations or office party invitations?

I have always mainly dealt with wedding & corporate function invites so the wordings were mostly supplied by the clients. I find myself paying more attention to the card cover. I recently, last year actually started making birthday & Valentines cards for shops and I have discovered that people are different and they might not like the message in a card so I usually just leave them blank with a page for the client to customize. I only put a message on request if it’s a birthday/condolence/congratulations.

5) Tell me about Kenyan consumer habits when it comes to cards.  Since you started this company, you obviously must have believed that there is a market out there for this kind of thing.  So, how do you see your companies growth potential for the future?

When it comes to cards, the only way to survive in this industry is to do something different every time. Kenyans are embracing the idea of handcrafted cards as opposed to imported ones slowly. My best bet is to keep changing my materials with time and I am guaranteed I will always have more & more clients and this will help my business grow. I see myself having a wedding shop in Nairobi & Jo burg in the next 5-8 years God willing.

6) When I first saw your interview on NTV, I said to myself ..well, this woman’s store and her company, could be in Brooklyn, New York or even in Harlem and the reason this thought struck me was because there is this whole movement towards ethnic (African-American ) art and products and the movement is being spurred by creative African-Americans who are based in Harlem and Brooklyn.   So, when I saw a picture of your cards, I thought that the cards would appeal to millions of African-Americans because of their emphasis on Afro-centrism.  Have you ever thought about exploring that (very lucrative) market?

I have actually had a couple of clients for the states and SA ordering their wedding stationary online. I just need to establish more contacts in the various countries, get stock & hopefully open Luwaki branches all over the world.

7) In terms of the card business, I always thought that the proliferation of technology was slowly going to destroy things like the card industry and other forms of non-electronic mail systems.  What are your thoughts on this?  i.e. Do young people (who are growing up on instant SMS messaging) have the patience to go through the process of selecting cards and mailing them? Especially when so many e-cards are freely down-loadable online?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t make sense to download a “hand crafted” card online. I find that as much as we live in this age of modern technology, many Kenyans still appreciate African art.

8) How do you do your marketing? I’ve asked all the entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed this question because without clients or customers, there’s no money.  So, how do you get your clients?

When I started, It was mouth to mouth whereby I would do some work for 1 client and that client would in return refer someone to me. Nowadays, I use the net, i.e., my website, face book, I attend wedding & craft fairs.

Well, that’s it.  Feel free to watch the video below and go visit her site and order some cards!

6 comments for “Kenya’s Under-Rated Creative Arts

  1. brown
    June 21, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Amazing piece of writing.I really enjoyed it.Check other amazing African writers and their books at http://www.booksfromus.co.ke

  2. Peter Mwariri
    November 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    We also do wedding cards and corporate cards.Customized gifts under a company name:Graphix and Print.kudos for nice interview

  3. kenyanentrepreneur
    August 16, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Mwikali:

    Send me info on your card company @ kenyanentrepreneur@gmail.com. Would like to learn more about it.

  4. Mwikali
    August 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Kudos on that very REAL article. I totally feel LUWAKI. Also been making cards for a while now, under the brand ENVISION TARIZI , was pioneer of the local greeting card market… took a long time to get the market to appreciate local stuff. Furthermore it’s so exciting to be involved in the creative industry at this moment, so much recognition going on locally….

  5. David Clark
    June 22, 2010 at 2:01 am

    Hi,

    Very nice interview and great inspiration for your readers like myself.

    I was also a professional person who did the 9 to 5 office but left because I found it uninspiring.

    I am currently looking at different opportunities and hoping to find something soon, this post may just give me the inspiration I need to make it happen, Thanks!

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