How love for African home decor spawned a lucrative business

Houses

How love for African home decor spawned a lucrative business


Angela Mutethya, founder and team leader of Kapulangu in her shop in Lavington, Nairobi in this photo taken July 31, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Angela Mutethya describes herself as an African esthete with a good sense of design. She has a deep and keen appreciation of aesthetics, especially those of African descent.

You’ll catch that vibe in her walk-in closet, hear her talk about African culture and her uniqueness, and interact with her on the walls, corners and rooms of her home which is intentionally designed to tell an African story.

It was this love for beautiful, handmade African craftsmanship that led her to open Kapulangu in 2017. A home décor and interior design studio that delights curatorial spaces with unexpected and exciting handicrafts that exude African goodness, presented in striking beads, weaves and woodwork.

His business was a fluke, says the entrepreneur. Prior to Kapulangu, Ms. Mutethya owned a fashion house that did not work. Discouraged, she closed the business with a bang.

“With more free time, I started traveling with my husband to different countries. I would go to outdoor markets, buy things and take them home to decorate my house,” she says. Visitors noticed her and showered her with compliments that later turned into money.

“Inspired by the internet, I started creating this aesthetic in my home and lo and behold, people started shopping on my walls,” she says.

That her sense of style is attracting interest is no surprise since she grew up among the creatives. She remembers her grandmother weaving mats and baskets and making clothes from newspaper patterns.

However, these friendly sales piqued her curiosity for the creative space. She traveled to markets in Kenya to chat with artisans about their work. The entrepreneur in her has seen the void she seeks to fill through Kapulangu.

The need was clear. On the one hand, people both locally and globally were looking for a unique and authentic style that would allow their homes to tell a story and on the other hand, the extremely talented craftsmen had not found the finesse in their work that would attract a viable market.

“I would pass by Yala {Nyanza} and find artisans who could make wonderful handicrafts. I realized I could add a bit of value by showing them a design and making it functional so that instead of using a woven piece as a chicken coop, I would use it as a lampshade,” says the designer.

She also started reaching out to people in other African countries, creating a pool of artisans to work with her.

Four years later, Kapulangu works with over 16 artisans from different African countries who use traditional skills and craftsmanship to create a range of unique, modern, functional and durable handcrafted luxury handicrafts for different surfaces and spaces in our homes.

For example, the crown of the Yoruba kings of Nigeria is made from glass beads woven onto fabric in patterns like birds and comes with a metal stand. If you are looking for a centerpiece in your study room, entryway or console table, this would be the piece to buy.

There are also the Namji dolls from Cameroon – which come in pairs, male and female. Made from cowries, they will bring a decorative touch to your shelves and bathroom. There are also human statues from Ivory Coast.

Their signature look is men with exaggerated stomachs and women with exaggerated hips. For such striking features, they would make a perfect accent piece for a hotel entryway or on a console table.

Their most popular products include beaded measuring cups, Tonga lampshades, and mirrors that turn walls into conversation starters.

Tonga baskets are woven by Tonga women in the southern provinces of Zambia, Bolga baskets are made in Ghana and the iconic lightweight baskets are made in Yala, Siaya County.

These are sure to add a dose of elegance to carry-on luggage, turn supermarket aisles into walkways when shopping, and when not in use, they’ll accent dull corners of your home by using them as flower vases. .

Kapulangu products add pizzazz to household and everyday items like door handles, napkin rings, cocktail glasses and notebooks.

Overall, they have products from over 18 countries in store, made from over 40 different types of materials including grass, brass, shell, metal, palm, bone and recycled glass.

“These are traditional styles and methods finding their way into modern design. Products that will last a lifetime,” says the mother of two.

Membership has been amazing. After achieving sales of 30,000 shillings per month, she now averages over 500,000 shillings. The company employs six people.

Their main customers are the hospitality industry and homeowners, especially women, as they have the final say on the aesthetics of their homes.

“There has been a shift in the cultural and creative industry of music, language and art that has led to Africans becoming more accepting of themselves. They now proudly say that our culture, our style and our aesthetics are beautiful, and that the world takes notice and wants to participate in it,” says Ms. Mutethya. “The authenticity marker makes it more lucrative.”

This led to greater appreciation of the products by other countries. Kapulangu supplies shops in the United States and United Kingdom. Mrs. Mutethya’s biggest expense is ensuring the best possible quality to ensure compliance with international standards on their products.

The chief designer continues: “As this perception changes, it becomes cool to buy and style the African, resulting in familiarity with the product which increases sales.

The result of increased demand has been increased employability and better returns for local artisans. There are now wage rates for the weavers Kapulangu works with.

This means that traditional craftsmanship will not disappear with the evolution of modernity because artisans have a reason to preserve craftsmanship, she explains.

“When people buy these products, they buy African stories. Victory is the pride associated with being part of history,” adds the company owner.

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Betty K. Park