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Artist eking livelihood from innovation on wooden furniture

“I used to agonize a lot whenever I woke up early in the morning to go to work in Nairobi city because from deep in my heart I felt I didn’t get the job satisfaction I dreamt about” an artist says while giving KNA a tour of her workshop in Kanunga location of Kiambu county.

But now I have something to smile while earning a living from doing something I cherish unlike others who are tormented at their workplace especially now that the coronavirus pandemic had rendered thousands jobless. Men and women both young and senior have in the past four months suffered in the wake of the pandemic after being laid off from the only places they derived their livelihoods to fend for their families.

Majority literally weep because they have been laid off owing to the company’s inability to pay them for lack of market for their goods and services and not because they do not like their jobs.

Susan Gathoni (40) says she just loves art and can spend the better part of her life in the forest looking for raw materials which she harvests in their natural state and transform them into beautiful wooden items that she sells to earn an income.

She contends that after coming across something, she looks at it keenly and sees money on it after just some little innovation. She says beautiful items can be made from items like old rugs and towels, wooden stumps or items which could be improved after some treatment so that they can last longer than anticipated

Located 4 Km from Kiambu town along Boma road which connects Kiambu to Limuru sub-counties, the workshop has attracted scores of people who have been trooping into the facility to have a glimpse of what is offered.

On display, you will spot pillows in African attire materials placed on shelves or beds, Kikuyu traditional stools, chairs of different designs, tables and hangers made from tree stems among the items which are up for grabs.

You will also admire flower vessels, portrait frames, lamp shades, gourds, desk organizers, book shelves, door frames, and stools made from stumps and shoe racks of various designs which clients have bought while others placed their orders to have similar ones.

The trees within the almost half an acre plot are painted in white  and black colors which attract the attention of passersby to divert and have a look at the facility which has been open to the public for the past one year.

In the middle of the right side of the entrance a visitor is able to see some brownish seedlings which appear like husks.

Susan quickly explains that it is food for the birds. I ensure that I stock this portion of land with cereals since I really enjoy seeing birds and the nature that accompanies the various species that overfly here.

She says that birds” amuse me that is why I want them to frequent this place in search of food and so I feed them so that they keep me company when I am alone here or when visitors pay me a visit, they too will wallow to see nature just to prove how natural we are” she says.

Susan while welcoming KNA at her business enterprise which she also uses as a training venue for young people in the community, she confesses that people as young as 10 have big ideas which parents should help to tap to the fullest.

She says as she was growing up, she loved nature and art and that unfortunately, when she completed form 4, her parents made her undertake a course in Supplies management. “I ended up securing a job at one of the five star hotels after having worked at Trattoria restaurant in Nairobi County.

“I did this job from 2001 to 2007 but one day I made up my mind that this was not the job that I enjoyed doing and I resigned not knowing where I would start. She confesses that her parents could not understand her but that they spared her the agony of serious interrogation concerning her lifetime decisions.

She says after a break of 2 months, she started going out into the forest to look for raw materials which she could use to make various items depending on the size of the material. It is fitted some leg for a table, then I kept it aside and continued looking for the second and the third, and the fourth. But if it was stable enough, I would curve a table right away so long as it was able to support some items and serve the customer for a while” she says.

“I use glass to beautify the tables after arranging some light items under so that one’s eye can be attracted to admire it more. She says while pointing to a table in her office which is used by her visitors.

Susan has also gone out of her way and decorated cups which she says are souvenirs for people who visit her workshop. “Each cup goes for only 200 shillings and any visitor to the place should be able to buy it and therefore promote her work by just using it to take tea or coffee” she reminiscences.

The front of her workshop shows off the colour green. She says she also leases the garden to people who intend to have some ceremonies like birthdays or weddings with some background of artistic touch. She recalls that it had started picking up early in the year after she opened shop in October last year but was disrupted abit by the corona pandemic that hit the country in March.

The young entrepreneur who is a mother of 3 says she cannot regret having stopped working in the hotel industry some years back. “I get maximum job satisfaction. I work without straining and I enjoy the products that come out of my innovations which I sell at prices that are worth the energy and material cost that I have invested in”

Among Susan’s clients has been Kiambu Member of Parliament Mr. Jude Njomo and President Uhuru Kenyatta. She says the MP was impressed that someone in his constituency could engage in a business which was related to alcohol and even placed an order to a portrait frame. She also made a table for President Uhuru Kenyatta after he admired her work through her friends” she says.

On the pricing, she says “I am very fair and I do not like exploiting my customers just because they cannot get a similar item from the market for comparison like the way some people will do” This has also encouraged people who come admiring her work so that they could either promote her business or buy something for friends or relatives’ present for an occasion.

For a flower pot, she says it only goes for 2,000 shillings while small ones go for 1200 shillings but that owing to the material she uses in crafting them and time spent making it, it is worth the money.

She encourages young parents to allow their children to venture into what they like doing and not to force them on white collar jobs which are no longer within reach. These days there are no jobs but people can be innovative to come up with unique items that interest the community.

Those who can afford can also spare some money to buy items that can beautify their homes and offices. She contends that they can do so by boosting other people’s ideas towards a beautiful and advancing society where we will not be importing some items from out of the country but will promote local entrepreneurs to advance on. Just buy Kenya to promote upcoming Kenyans who are eager to work and make living from waste and nature, she says.

By Lydia Shiloya

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