Jack Nyawanga was 18 when he thought of being the leading handmade crafts producer of the highest quality using recyclable materials from the environment.
Having lived on the streets near Kibera urban slums in Nairobi, Kenya, Nyawanga realized that people around the slum would throw away animal bones after preparing meals from cow or goat meat. Children in the community who played on these streets and rubbish heaps would end up getting hurt.
In an interview with Face2Face Africa, Nyawanga said he subsequently “thought of how to remove bad smelling bones from the streets of Kibera slums and instead clean them and put them into good use by making something people can use.”
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This gave birth to Victorious Craft Group, a registered business under Kenya’s Ministry of Gender and Social Services, which turns animal bones into beautiful jewellery.
“To attempt to address the issues of environmental pollution, the group saw an opportunity to use waste bones/horns/metals sourced from butcheries/ slaughterhouses and scrap metal shops, to make products such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, hair clips, bowls, salad spoons, teaspoons and others.”
Collecting the bones, cleaning them and drying them ready to be used, cutting and shaping them, sandpapering using grinding machines, drilling the holes, painting using melt candle wax, colouring, removing wax and polishing and assembling to be ready for the market.
Since 2006 that the company was founded, it has trained over 89 people – largely from the Kibera slum – who now manage their own shops where they do similar businesses.
But this has not come easily. With violence and chaos in the slum almost ruining the objectives of the group when it started, Nyawanga persevered, and with a few of his friends, they formed the Victorious Youth Group, which would eventually become Victorious Craft Group
With a current workforce of 20, Victorious Craft now boasts of improved machines and tools, as well as, products that meet local and international demand.
With the desire to inspire others to protect the environment and earn a better living, the group, as a way of giving back to the society, allows about 10 people from the Kibera slum and adjoining communities to come in for training every year for free.
“The workforce is inclusive of young men and women from Kibera villages, therefore enabling the group to make awareness on the importance of responsible waste management and to address issues of sustainable environmental management. Our products have a wide market that includes the local community, wholesalers buying to sell to various markets in the country, apparently, some who buy to sell to international markets,” Nyawanga told Face2face Africa.
At the moment, 60% of the group’s marketing strategies are based online, a platform where it also meets most of its clients from different territories, including tourists who sometimes visit the group’s shop, Nyawanga said.
Though the group’s handmade styles fit in the world of fashion from jewellery to interior design, it has had to face stiff competition from large companies in the same field of business.
“Our biggest competitors are big companies who have borrowed the idea of bone recycling and doing mass machine bone or plastic beads and jewellery in a day and sells cheap around the globe including my home, Kenya, like in Asia for example. But our strength over them is that we sell the originality – 80% handmade and clients choose us because of this and the story behind our products,” said Nyawanga.
In the next five years, Victorious Craft sees itself as a “centre of its kind in Nairobi where all kind of arts and crafts are displayed…among biggest handicraft exporters and among known fashion designers…with an increased number of employees and sales.”
For startups or people who have dreams in entrepreneurship, Nyawanga shared a piece of advice: “JUST DO IT. Don’t wait for someone or institution to loan or grant you money, but start it first.”