Ep.45 'I Thought You Were Wasting Time' | Rina Waligo

Chasing your dreams and staying true to your values can lead to amazing things


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Rina Waligo [EP 45]

[00:00:00] Rina Waligo: You know, I had an aunt apologize to me, guys, I don't know if you're African and you know elders never apologize for things or it's very rare, but it was such a beautiful moment we had and she came to my office and she saw, like, I pin up the number of clients I work with. They're always pinned up and she was just shocked.

[00:00:18] She's like, I thought you were just wasting time. I thought you never knew what you wanted. It was such a beautiful moment and she was like, I'm sorry for the role I played in taking you away from design.


[00:00:33] Adrian Jankowiak: Really great to have you here. It's a special episode. I feel like we're coming full circle almost, and I hope we'll go in many more circles again. You were the first person that I hired to help and support with Nairobi Design Week way back and I remember you told me that you wanted to be a creative and that you wanted to show that you don't have to be a doctor or a lawyer to be successful in life. And it's something that stuck with me and I, I've heard it from many other people as well. So you as someone going into the creative industries with another type of background, how did that happen for you?

[00:01:16] In which parts in life were you guided towards the creative industries and how did you get to Nairobi Design Week and then onwards?

[00:01:25] Rina Waligo: Yeah. Okay. Thanks for having me. So I'm Rina like Adrian said. I would say that my journey with design has... it's been a long one and I think I'm still on it but I would say that I first kind of learned about design as a whole when I was around six years old. My mom used to travel a lot cause she had like a boutique somewhere in town here in in Uganda, Kampala.

[00:01:49] So she had a boutique and she used to travel a lot to get like stuff to put in her store. So she used to always come with IKEA magazines. And so as a child I used to kind of read these like every edition and, and everything. And I didn't really have the understanding of what interior design is, but I was like, whatever this thing is, I really like it.

[00:02:08] So I used to go over the magazines, look at their furniture, feel like, oh, I would've put this there, you know, I would've changed this. And it... it kind of started to open my eyes. Cause even when I would go to different spaces, I just, I just used to notice how the interior design was always different, even in my friends' homes or family's homes.

[00:02:25] So I always had that awareness. And even at home with doing chores and things and cleaning up the house, I used to always want to reorganize things. Change the frames, change, like, change the positioning of things. Even in my room, you know, every holiday, like change something. So that was, I think, in my mind, the understanding that I had.

[00:02:43] However, I had one of those families that I love so much, but I think they didn't really understand. We didn't have the creative industry as a whole and the arts and everything. I don't think they had the widest understanding of what it is. And so it was much as that's what I wanted to do. It wasn't what I ended up really studying, you know?

[00:03:04] So it wasn't until I went to Nairobi. I went to Nairobi for uni and I was studying international relations. And I remember the last year right before graduation, I ran into a friend of mine that I had gone to high school with, Patrick. I ran into him and he was like, oh, I didn't know you lived in Kenya.

[00:03:22] What are you doing here? I'm like, oh, I came for uni and. So he's like, oh, I remember you used to love design. Like this is someone from so many years in high school, but they're like, I remember you obsessed with design for some reason. And so he was I think you two were roommates at the time. And so he was like, oh, you should come meet my roommate Adrian, and he's starting this design festival and he, you know, he wants to do all these big things.

[00:03:45] And so that's when you and I met, I think that was 2014. And so for me, just meeting you and the idea that you had for N D W and what it could grow to be. I think for me was my first introduction properly into the world of design and meeting an actual designer who had this vision and you had this thing of bringing people together.

[00:04:07] So it was through that N D W community and you giving me a shot. That I started to meet amazing designers, amazing creatives. I started to understand what design is and what it could be, and I think I never really looked back after that. And then I think practically is when you gave me a shot to design the orange space.

[00:04:28] That was our first office space as N D W. And you guys were kind of like, yeah, you wanna do interior design, do it. You know? And so it was, I think that's how I started making furniture and you know, and just overall being in the creative space with that. That's how I got started.

[00:04:45] Adrian Jankowiak: And also importantly, a lot of the things you brought to us were not just the creative, it's actually, you're a really good example of someone who got other skills and is applying those skills into the creative industries, which is great because that's what we need. So then you went on to study in China.

[00:05:08] So what was your experience there and what did you learn there in all those years that you were there?

[00:05:14] Rina Waligo: Yeah, so I think after Nairobi, I was honestly... my plan originally was to move home and set up my... it was called Funky Industries. And listen, we're gonna make a comeback. I believe that. But anyway, so during my time at N D W, like I said, getting into furniture and whatever, I started doing funky industries.

[00:05:34] And so, the plan was to come back to Uganda and set it up and incorporate and all these things, but again, my family was like, Nope, you gotta go study. You have to go do your master's now. And so that's how China sort of came up. So, funny enough, I was learning Chinese at uni. It was my minor. But I didn't really think I would go to Chi... like it was just, it was kind of like, yeah, I can learn the language or whatever. I was start learning the language, but I didn't think I would actually go. And so this was now 2016, beginning of 2016. I found out that I'd been accepted to a university there, and so I had to move in about May. And so I had mixed feelings when I went, I think because I, I thought, you know, how am I gonna get into design?

[00:06:17] Like, what's gonna happen with that? But funny enough, during the end of my time with you guys, well, I don't know if it ever really ended, but anyway, during my leaving Nairobi, I'd kind of started to get a lot into graphics. I'd kind of now gotten into graphic design a bit. So when I went to China, I kept thinking, I mean, they're manufacturing central.

[00:06:35] I don't know how much of my furniture making experience is gonna work out. And so I kind of ventured more towards the graphics. So when I moved to China, I joined a fellowship there and I remember watching the announcements, like they had these announcements of what's going on and, you know, whatever, whatever.

[00:06:55] And listen, Adrian, it was, it was stretched logos and stretched pictures and I was just like, this just won't do. And you know, it's so funny because like you would think I was this huge graphic designer and I wasn't. But what I had learned from N D W was the branding. Like, you know, so you had told me all these things and brand guides and anyway, I just, I knew all of that.

[00:07:18] And so I remember it was like my first day in church and I was like, listen. I may never come back if these announcements don't change. So I remember after I went and looked for, I asked a friend of mine who had invited me. Another Ugandan and I asked him, oh, who's in charge of the announcements? You know, I'm just, I'm just asking.

[00:07:35] I'm just curious. And so he introduced me to this guy who was from Ghana, actually. He's called Joe. Really a great designer. So we met and you know, we just started chatting and I was like, oh, how do you do the announcements? And he's like, yeah, we, I mean, it's the list of our concerns, you know? And I'm like, listen.

[00:07:50] So anyway, we just started bonding over that. And I think I knew like some design software at the time. I think I was using Canva. I'd started with in design and something like that, like just a few things at that point. And so he's just like so overwhelmed cause he was the only like visual graphics person, you know?

[00:08:09] And so he was just like, yeah, it doesn't really matter. I was like, no, it does. So anyway, what resulted from that was I was like, you know what, just give me the announcements. I'll just start making them. Like, I'll just make it one time. So when I started to do that, I mean now I wanted to change them every month.

[00:08:23] Cause I was like, well, you know, so I kind of started to design with that and I think people started to notice cause they were like, oh, the announcements look a bit different this week. You know? So it was, that's kind of how I got started. And then people started to know who I was and I joined some of like the women's groups and they used to have like, maybe branches and all of this, but they used to always write texts and I was like, you know, I can put that in a poster.

[00:08:47] And they're like, what do you mean? And I was like, you know what? It's okay. I'm just gonna do it real quick. And, you know, so that's literally how I started to, you know, to design. And eventually, like after a few months, it was. Oh, that's the girl who designs, that's the girl who designs. And so I started kind of designing for the community there.

[00:09:04] Sometimes birthdays, sometimes companies like it just kind of started from that. And because I wasn't so much in the whole furniture interior design space as much, I kind of veered more into graphics and into stationary and into that sort of brand design and that path. So that's originally how I got started.

[00:09:25] And then, So throughout school, like during my masters, I used to do that on the side kind of. And then when I, so I was doing an MBA, and so during my MBA as well. I made it clear that I wanted to be a designer. Like, yes, I'm in this business class and all these things, but my goal is to start my own design studio that like I was always clear about that.

[00:09:49] And so it helped me even with the teachers, you know, we used to do, funny enough, we did some case studies on IKEA and you know, like we did a lot. Like I used to use IKEA all of the time cause it was going back to my six year old self. Like, this is the company that you know, and now I've, I've moved to a country that actually has Ikea and I used to go there all the time and like I enjoyed all of that.

[00:10:10] So it helped me to do my M B A still incorporating design. And when it came to my thesis, I remember asking you, this was in my final year, and I was like, Hey, I wanna do my thesis on Africa Design and the N D W Festival. So for me, this was, I mean, this is now 2019, and I first joined in what, 2014. But it was like, I still remember where I came from and I remember doing my thesis on visual brand identity, which had never been done, but I was like, This is what we're gonna do and you know, and so that was good to work with you and some of the members of the team, you know, and like do my whole thesis on Africa design and how visual brand identity helps and the case study of Nairobi Design Week.

[00:10:57] So all of that really, really pushed me into design. And before of course I spoke to my family, like, what are you gonna do after graduation? Are you gonna move back? Are you gonna come back and work in corporate? And I met this lady, she's called Sandy and her husband Ryan. They have a factory in China.

[00:11:15] It's called XQ Manufacturing. They've lived in China like over two decades, you know, and so she was a friend of mine and she was like, oh, you're about to graduate. What are your plans? You should come talk to my husband. He loves to mentor young professionals and things like that.

[00:11:30] And so during our interview, I didn't actually know it was a job interview. I thought I was just talking to somebody, you know, about the future. And so we talked about design and he saw all of my work. At this point I now had like a portfolio cuz I mean, remember all that N D W work and then all these years of, you know, designing for friends and things like that.

[00:11:50] So I kind of got into this meeting casually thinking it was a chat, but I think they actually needed a graphics designer cause they only had one and she didn't speak English and so she couldn't coordinate with like foreigners and things like that. And yet I was able to speak a bit of the language as well as English.

[00:12:09] And so that was actually my job interview. And just after that he kind of gave me a chance and so came back to Uganda, did my work visa and everything. And then moved back to China to work as a graphic designer, product design. Honestly, I was all the design things at this point. But product design, graphic design, product photography and videography.

[00:12:31] And then later on after about a year in the company, I started managing the Amazon store for the company. So the Amazon US store, I used to manage that as well. It was just that experience, I think with China, with working in a manufacturing space and seeing how the whole design process works from the idea to when it actually reaches the end user.

[00:12:54] And so all of these skills and things that I learned from N D W and throughout my time, I think was so crucial in getting hired in the first place. And so, yeah, that's the design journey.

[00:13:07] Adrian Jankowiak: Yeah, it's really good to build up skills and, and appreciate those skills afterwards because it's not always that your career path moves in a straight direction. So, yeah. And, and so then you got into graphic design, you went back to China to do graphic design and more. And, and then you've come back to East Africa, you've come back to Uganda and you've started your own greetings cards business, and that seems to be going really well.

[00:13:35] You've shown me some of the samples that you had when you were in Nairobi. So what then? How has that been for you, that process of coming back and then starting a business and getting into a particular industry, a niche.

[00:13:49] Rina Waligo: Yes, that's a really great question. After about a year at the company in China at this point, I went to my boss. Guys shout out to creative leaders and like good leaders. Anyway, so I went to my boss and I was like, listen I think actually before I accepted the job he had asked me, obviously about my future plans and everything.

[00:14:09] And again, I told him the goal is to start my own design studio one day, but I'm here to learn. I'm here to learn from you guys. So after about a year in the company, I decided to start officially Ibuno design, which was the cards business and the stationary business. So I went to my boss and I told him, listen, I have this idea.

[00:14:30] I would really love you to be my business mentor. Now he was really supportive, you know, and it didn't interfere with my main work, and that was always the goal. But he kind of knew that I... I think I had told him in the beginning that I'm gonna be here about three years first, and then I'll reevaluate. Right?

[00:14:48] And so it might be a risky thing to say, but I was clear on what I wanted. And so I approached him and, and he supported me in starting my side business. So I did it kind of like my company was the current company, but I did want to, I'm not very... I like to analyze things and try things. I may not just go from zero to 60, you know?

[00:15:10] So I was like, you know what? If I can get two years of mentorship under my side hustle, like under my main company, by the time I'm ready to do my own, I'll have some more experience I guess. So I started doing that from China under my main company. So fast forward to 2021 now. This was now my final year... well, what was going to be my final year.

[00:15:31] So I went back to my boss and I was like, you know what? I feel like it's time for me to move back to Uganda, right? Like, I always knew at some point I would much as, at this point, it's been 10 years of living away between Kenya and China, but even still, I was like, my goal has always been to start my own design studio in my home country, you know?

[00:15:53] And so when I moved back, I moved back the end of 2021. So I think I spent the whole of 2021 preparing like, what does this look like? If I'm to move home, where am I gonna specialize? You know? And so I felt like with graphic design and branding, there were, I mean, there were a lot of people doing it, like even in Ken... like there were people doing that.

[00:16:12] But listen, the field I loved was wedding stationary. I got into it a bit in 2019. I think everyone that year decided to get married. I don't know why, but I had about like five weddings in China, like for different friends. And they were like, you're the only designer we know, you can do some cards. And I was like, you know what?

[00:16:30] I can do some cards. I already did greeting cards anyway, so I was like, I'm sure wedding stationaries, similarish. So 2019 that's when I got into... I did like about four weddings, you know, and all the stationary and the menus and the invitations and the, you know, so it just, it opened up a different side of design for me.

[00:16:51] Like, it's never what I expected, but I just, I fell in love with it. And so when I moved home, I was like, you know what, that's what I'm gonna do. Cause I felt like I didn't really see as many companies. Specializing in wedding stationary. It was always like an afterthought, a by the way. I didn't understand how people had these extravagant weddings, but the stationary was just, it just didn't live up, you know.

[00:17:13] In 2022, that was February last year is when I officially incorporated Mpenzi Paper Studio. Which is pretty much an exclusively wedding stationary company dealing in everything from save the dates to the thank you cards and everything in between. That's what I moved back to do and that's what I've been doing full-time for this one year that I've been at home.

[00:17:38] And so it's been amazing, like just. Again, like it's all design and I think design all plays together. Like everything is connected. And so that's where I specialize now with a full service studio. But in my free time when I kind of have time to freelance, I still do a lot of graphic design or furniture design.

[00:17:57] Did two books last year for female authors. One book in 20 20, yes, for a Jamaican friend as well. I've just been kind of, cause I'm still curious and I love different fields of design, so I would say I specialize as a wedding stationary designer but if I have time I kind of dabble in the different ones.

[00:18:14] So that's where we are now. Mpenzi is officially one year and a few months, and so I would say it's been an amazing experience. I think even like a year or two before I moved back, I started to really look into East Africa's design scene. Of course, Kenya, you guys have always, like Nairobi was always ahead of the game, like even from 2015 and 2014, but I felt like, especially even after Covid, I think even with our family's perceptions, they became a bit more open to creatives as a whole.

[00:18:49] I mean, nine to five, the corporate world was kind of shut down and people know Uganda had a really, really long lockdown compared to a lot of other places. And so you found that it's creatives who are thriving. They were the ones who are able to work. They were the ones who were able to, you know, sort of create a lot of things.

[00:19:06] And I think it started to change and shift the perception that we have towards creatives and all the amazing Ugandans and people who live here that have... have been holding it down for all these years. And so I felt like it was a good time to come. Of course I do have that difference of being trained, very maybe western different approach, maybe some of influence of Asian culture.

[00:19:28] But still, I am Uganda and I'm African at heart. And so it's still one of those things that I'm trying to like have the two sides kind of come together in this business and still have those human-centered design principles, even in wedding stationary design and you know, and just, yeah.

[00:19:48] Adrian Jankowiak: How has your design style developed with all the influences you're mentioning, and how does that come across in the work that you're doing?

[00:19:56] Rina Waligo: Ooh. So this one is interesting because I feel my design style is, I dunno how to describe it, but I think with all these influences, it's somehow influenced me to be very minimal to some extent, sometimes, however, I feel like. You also have to take into account the people that you're designing for.

[00:20:20] So I feel like here it's not a very minimal approach, especially in the wedding industry. It's like more is more, is more, is more but I think something that I never expected was I gravitated a lot towards watercolor painting. I kind of like that. Kind of bringing in color in that direction, and so that I can be free to leave the rest very muted and minimal.

[00:20:42] And so that's even where my industry actually specializes in watercolor illustrations. So we do a lot of venue illustrations, sketch illustrations, that type of thing. I think color and vibrance, and the richness of my own culture, the richness of Asian culture, like the festivals and everything means something and everything. You know, like just the beauty of that, the rich history, you know, being able to visit all these places in China or in Asia that have rich history and you see how emperors and all these guys, like they had fashion design, you know, like just honestly, it's always been there.

[00:21:18] I think for me it was design has always been there and I think it's just not having that awareness. I even told my mom, like, even with your boutique, you are doing fashion design. You know what I mean? Like, you are doing fashion design or you had to do space design with figuring out where to put the kids' clothes and where to put this.

[00:21:35] And so I think it's... is there that book that says like, design is all around us, design of everyday things? I think it is. And you know, I think for me, I would say just now the awareness of seeing design all around me. I remember in N D W we did the Artisans of Kibera series. And I remember that one was so beautiful to know that even in a lot of these maybe remote areas or whatever, that there is still design.

[00:22:02] It's like, ah. Anyway. But yeah, so I, I, I think it's influenced me in a sense of getting that understanding of people before I design. Getting understanding of the person I'm designing for, or the company I'm designing for. Where they've come from and where they see themselves, and trying to bring that out visually to accurately represent where they are now and where they hope to be.

[00:22:28] Adrian Jankowiak: You wouldn't believe how many people I've, uh, I've lost count of the people I've recommended the design of everyday things to by Dr. Don Norman. Yeah, he's actually got a course out on the Interaction Design Foundation as well. Just dropped this year or last year. Yeah. Yeah. On, on the future of design.

[00:22:47] Mm-hmm. When we hear about a particular industry, sometimes it doesn't seem that difficult. It's just you have to make some cards. So what are some of those difficulties and unexpected challenges when going into wedding stationary and greetings cards that you couldn't have seen coming?

[00:23:05] Rina Waligo: Yeah, I think people just don't get why it matters so much. Like it's just, it's just paper and like, it's not just paper. But anyway, what I love about stationary and wedding stationary design is it's given me an opportunity, like outside of all the design and everything that's going on, it's given me an opportunity to go back to some of my values of preserving the environment, ironically. So I remember like when I was in about, in my junior year, I had this class, like environmental studies or something or the other. And so I realized, and even with Funky Industries, what I used to specialize in was making furniture out of recycled materials, right?

[00:23:48] And so, whether you're getting plastics, you know, old bottles, waste recycling paper. Like I've always had this thing of being very cautious about the environment and stuff. And I remember even while I was in China, I used to use a lot of recycled paper as much as I can still recycle paper to this day.

[00:24:06] And so for me, what I do appreciate is it's very easy to think that, oh, someone is just, they just create cards. They just do these designs. However, for me, design has helped me express even a lot of my values with the way that I see things and building my company in a environmentally conscious way.

[00:24:25] Cause it's paper, you know, but it's like where you're cutting down trees, plant some trees, where you can recycle, recycle them, where you can make your own paper, make it. So I think all of these principles are still there. And I think there's something you said at the start of this when you were like, I brought...

[00:24:40] I appreciate that you said that. I brought a certain skillset, I think with the international relations course there was a lot of analyzing countries and analyzing diplomacy and analyzing foreign policy. I did a lot of work with the UN. You know, model African Union, like that's the side I was, and it was so easy to tell me how can you be here and want to be a designer?

[00:25:03] Like, I don't get how you are like doing a UN mockup something and you're gonna go to the field of design. However, like I said, design is all around us and when you're thinking about the solutions to these problems and whatever, and so I respect that there are those at the helm as the leaders who make all these policies.

[00:25:22] But there are still designers and creatives that come up with perfect solutions, or not perfect, but they come up with solutions and work with communities to attain these goals that even the international relations field is trying. So going back to me as well in being at home, I think having those two sides allow me to call them two sides, but having those two sides helps me even to do design in a way that is still respectable.

[00:25:50] In a way that you can still relate with the person who comes from these international organizations much as you are creative. And so with me, I think some of the challenges yes have been just the overall perception. Like it's changing, but it's not fully there yet, you know?

[00:26:06] I like to look at that as an opportunity for people to see that no matter how small something is, let it have value, let it have a solution to someone's problem. So because I do that, I feel like yeah, they're kind of working out. Maybe another challenge I would've faced is maybe just the whole business etiquette, just the way of doing business. I would say as a whole because I find a lot of the time, a lot of creatives are self-taught. We're kind of starting these things out. I don't believe that everyone needs the formal training.

[00:26:37] It's great if you have it. I believe it can be beautiful and great, but not everyone has the opportunity to go that formal education route. So you kind of have to be creative about learning some of these business skills, how to negotiate with people, how to deal with people of different cultures. We had a class called Intercultural Communication and knowing how to respect someone from different countries by your actions, you know, so I think for me, just with that whole business etiquette, it's been a lot of learning.

[00:27:06] How to interact in a system I was not a part of professionally. So that has brought some of these challenges. African time. Everyone who knows me knows. I'm just like, why? But anyway, so they're just those cultural nuances. Sometimes that present a few challenges, but I think overall having a respect of the culture, respect of the people that came before me and learning from them, but while sticking to your values and sticking to the way that you want to do things and bring those together.

[00:27:36] But other than that, I think also finding suppliers to work with. You know, like I said, I mean the existing of it's just paper, you know, it's not that big of a deal. I remember coming back, I actually have it here, I'm just gonna grab, but like, I remember coming back with like this thing. This is like thousands of paper options and like of course after China, like there is nothing China didn't have.

[00:28:00] And so just coming back from all that variety of, if I want, I don't know, metallic, like something in blue, pink, iridescent something, I'm sure I would find it. You know? So just being able to source things. Oh my goodness. That was such a challenge. Like getting back and you're just like, I need to look in the whole city for this one thing.

[00:28:24] And yet in China, I could just open my phone and two clicks and it's at my door. So there've been those challenges, but again, I think it's always been cautious of where I have come from. I mean, I lived here for, what, 18 years before I left, and yes, much has coming back 10 years later, you still have that respect of your home and your foundation and there is so much potential where you are at, even if it may not have been realized yet. So I think for me, I like to look at all those challenges as opportunities. And it's also created a lot of opportunity to innovate with the locals, innovate with my printer, innovate with a lot of things, being creative about the materials I use.

[00:29:06] So honestly, me, I'm having fun with it. It's one of those things that it, it's put me in a very interesting position to kind of have my own style and craft, you know, my own direction for what I want this to be. And what I love, just like you said in the start with coming full circle. It was a challenge for me with feeling like, ha, have I messed up in design?

[00:29:28] And, you know, especially with funky industries like that broke my heart, like the way I was geared to go after Nairobi and just having to almost put a pause on it for a lot of years. But now that I'm living back home, like all my tools are still here and things like that. And so this last year I've kind of been getting back into furniture design and doing a lot of more projects this year as well. And so for me it was like, you know what, where this all started for me? Yes. You know, maybe a decade has passed or whatever it may be. But now I'm going back to even the roots of the whole furniture design and how I fell in love with design and even having this new whole like visual design space as a whole.

[00:30:10] It creates so many opportunities and I think the creatives here are just amazing at what they're doing and just being able to learn from them, being able to work together on like some really cool projects. I'm just so thankful. I'm so thankful. So, yeah. Yeah, I'm excited.

[00:30:26] Adrian Jankowiak: Nice. It's good to have those side projects. This year I've been making a few lamps and getting into hammocks. Um, I think it's, yeah, I think, no. Well just making, just, you can make a...

[00:30:38] Rina Waligo: yeah,

[00:30:38] Adrian Jankowiak: with a piece of cloth and a couple of pieces of rope, so it's...

[00:30:43] Rina Waligo: but do you remember that lamp that took like nine hours? Do you remember that lamp in the orange space? The first lamp I ever made that deflated, that took me like nine to 11 hours to...

[00:30:54] Adrian Jankowiak: oh, the huge, the, like the huge papier mache...

[00:30:57] Rina Waligo: yes.

[00:30:57] Adrian Jankowiak: thing. Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was...

[00:31:01] Rina Waligo: that's so wild.

[00:31:02] Adrian Jankowiak: That was, that was very cool. Now that you've made progress with family in terms of them respecting your creative pursuit, perhaps because it's turned into a business and it's showing success as they understand it.

[00:31:15] What surprised you beyond your business acumen? What else are they enjoying from the fact that you're in the creative industry?

[00:31:23] Rina Waligo: Yeah, I would just like to say this for like anyone listening who's like struggling with family and acceptance of them as a creative. Guys, the time will come. Imagine. Like, I feel like, I mean, what I sit down and be a designer since I was six, but it's probably not till I was about 23 that I even got my foot in the door, you know?

[00:31:43] And so obviously we're hoping as creatives in this space, that's why we share, that's why we are open, that we hope it doesn't take somebody, what, 17 years or whatever to get into this. However, I just want to encourage someone that... you know what keep doing you? Because what I'm learning is sometimes you have a vision and it's like it's only in your head, you know?

[00:32:05] And maybe no one else can see it. No one else can understand the passion you have for it. No one can understand where did this thing even come from. But if you feel it like in your heart, in your soul, that this is what you were created to do, just keep doing it no matter what that looks like. So I think for me, with family, I would say right now, they didn't really have a choice.

[00:32:25] Cause I was like, listen, my entire life there's been a reason, like, I don't know school or it's not the time. After that master's, Adrian, I handed it over. I said, alright, now, now it's my time. So I feel like all the experience, the people that I met, the community, oh my goodness.

[00:32:43] The community of people around me in Kenya and in China. I mean, they knew me as a creative, always. Like it was never a doubt. When I was here it was like, I don't know, she's kind of like picking out Christians. I dunno. She does these cards. Like it was never that understanding. But I think for me right now with the strides that we've made with the families, cause they'll always love you at the end of the day, they just want the best for you.

[00:33:06] And we have to understand maybe when they grew up, these were not very, like, you didn't just find a game designer as easily, you know what I mean? And so I think also for me it was helpful to have that understanding that, you know what? My family loves me. And they have always been showing me love in the way they knew how to.

[00:33:27] Right. Whether those decisions were right or not, they came from a good place. And so I think that helped me a lot to deal with, like, things like resentment. I was very resentful for a very long time. Like imagine if, like, listen, I don't know when, like, I opened my studio at 29, I guess last year or turning 30, so that's like what, 24 years.

[00:33:49] You know, and you can carry resentment to be like, guys, what is the issue with this design thing? Like, why don't you just let me be? But I think going back to understanding where they were coming from, it helped me to come to a place of healing, of having that love and respect and knowing that, you know what, it's fine.

[00:34:06] So now they are like my biggest cheerleaders. I can't even explain to you, like my mom, like when people... cause my studio is at home. I left it at my parents' house. When someone comes like, you know, come see my daughter's office. Like she's doing all these cards.

[00:34:21] And like, she's understanding. And I remember when I just moved back and like having to take like cabs or going to source materials... sometimes she would pick me up and she's like, she's carrying all the papers and like, I think of how far we've come, even if they might not fully understand, I think I didn't give them a choice when I came back because of all these years of preparation, I was ready and in position to start this company on my own.

[00:34:47] And I think when I first tried to, in 2016, I didn't have that. I don't know that independence, that understanding, it was still okay. I'm still gonna do what my family wants and da da da. But now, like being done with school, cause I lived my end of the bargain and now it's like, now it's my time to do this.

[00:35:04] And I think they're seeing that all my experiences from the MBA, from international relations, from time with Nairobi, time in China. All these things are coming into my companies now. Even now, like with Funky Industries, revamping furniture at home, that's the furniture I've been doing.

[00:35:22] So when my mom is able to see like this old cabinet that has sat there for two decades in the same state, and I come and I'm like, no, you know what? We can change this and change this and change that, and now it becomes this beautiful piece. I feel like it's honoring my family and some of them are like my dad's old furniture from more than three decades ago.

[00:35:42] I think for me it's just bringing us together in that way. And I think also I have hired two of my family members in my team, so I know it can be a debate with working with family. It can have its challenges, but for me when I was starting out, I may not have been able to hire like this entire staff of people or whatever.

[00:36:04] However, there are people in my family who are maybe like retirement age now or maybe they have free time or something like that. And so one of my aunts as well, she came from the whole bookkeeping accounting side of things. And I was like, listen, you know, so I asked her to be my bookkeeper, and now she is, you know?

[00:36:21] And my design intern is one of my nieces. She's 10 years younger. She's like a second year, like a sophomore in university. But she also loves design. And I remember some years ago she wanted to get into design and some people were telling her the same things they told me and I was like, oh, no, no, no, no, no.

[00:36:39] But now I have a company that she can intern at coz I don't want her to walk the same journey I did. And so I'm like, you know what? You can stay in school and do all the things you're doing in school, but you can intern at my company. And so that's how family has also come into it.

[00:36:53] I have a niece, she's about 10 or so, and she really loves painting. She's so good with paint and just having like, you know, Trina is the one that we can go paint with. So just for me, it's been this beautiful thing of now being able to relate with my niece and talk to her the way I would've wanted someone to talk to me as a young creative growing up, I think we've had these opportunities in my family and so the perception has... It keeps changing.

[00:37:24] You know, I had an aunt apologize to me, guys, I don't know if you're African and you know elders never apologize for things or it's very rare, but it was such a beautiful moment we had and she came to my office and she saw, like, I pin up the number of clients I work with, like every, like, they're always pinned up and she was just shocked.

[00:37:44] She's like, I thought you were just wasting time. I thought you never knew what you wanted. And I was like, I've known what I wanted my entire life. I dunno what, I dunno what happened, but she just like everything. It was such a beautiful moment and she was like, I'm sorry for the role I played in taking you away from design.

[00:38:02] I didn't have any resentment and all these things, but just us having that moment and seeing that she can even recognize that, you know what, I made a mistake. Like you were a creative child who knew what you wanted. There was just no space for you to fully be free in that. And now that she's seen what I'm trying to do and being able to do and how she saw that I never left design. It was just like, I kept it a secret for my family, but I never really left it until I was in a space that I was ready to bring them into it. And so, yeah, I'm excited.

[00:38:37] They're so amazing. They support me. My brother was my first official client as a business. He was getting married. He was like, we're gonna run this like a business, you know? And I did his stationary, beautiful wedding in Cape Town and they're just coming through and they're just advertising for me. And they're like, oh my gosh, you need to talk to Rina. And so it's just a beautiful thing now.

[00:38:57] And I'm just so thankful for everybody who's been a part of this journey. Cause I haven't done it alone. My goodness. There is no way. But I'm so thankful for everyone who has been a part of this for all the years until where we are now.

[00:39:11] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you too, I'm sure I definitely appreciate the support and I'm sure all the other people along your journey so far, wherever they may be, they also appreciate it and especially the younger ones. It's amazing to hear that you are also inspiring the next generation and also incredible to hear that your auntie came through and said that and meant it, and you got to bond over it.

[00:39:36] Rina Waligo: While we're on the thanking topic, listen, I have to thank you Adrian. I believe God works things out and he would've probably put me in the design space somehow, but I feel like meeting you and Patrick as well shout out to you.

[00:39:50] But just meeting you all those years ago in 2014, you don't even understand how you helped me. Like Adrian, you had this thing of connecting people and I was like, what? You had this way of just bringing people together. And I feel like I learned how to talk to people through you.

[00:40:09] I wasn't good at talking to strangers, like, walk up to someone and introduce myself. Why? But I remember when we would socialize and you would just, you just, you would just go on and, yay, I'm Adrian, I'm doing this, you know? And so I kept learning a lot of things from you. Even things I didn't say. I'm so, so, so thankful and even now with Uganda and every designer and creative I've met here, like we are doing amazing things and I respect what you guys have been able to build even the years when some of us were not here.

[00:40:38] You guys are laying the foundation and I'm just so excited to be a part of it, so I could not move on without thanking you guys. And yeah, so I'm excited for what Afrika Design is and all our parts in it. And for anyone out there who's struggling and feeling like, I don't think I can do this, imagine you can like, just figure it out.

[00:40:59] Like create your opportunities. Someone may not hand you something. But create your opportunities, skill and learn. Try all of the things. Do everything that you can, but always have your vision and direction. And whenever someone helps you, just know that you can do the same for somebody else.

[00:41:17] So, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Thank you.

[00:41:21] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you. Thank you so much. It's been amazing catching up. I'm sure we'll do it again and good luck with the next phase. Yeah.

[00:41:30] Rina Waligo: Thank you, Adrian. Thank you too.

[00:41:32] Adrian Jankowiak: for all your kind words. Thank you for all the thank yous

[00:41:36] Rina Waligo: Yeah.

[00:41:36] Adrian Jankowiak: uh, yeah.

Rina Waligo takes us on a captivating journey into the world of wedding stationery and greetings cards.

Back in 2015, Rina kick-started her creative journey at Nairobi Design, and ever since, she's been working to become the designer she always wanted to be.

With experience from Kenya, Uganda, and China, she's soaked up diverse influences like a sponge, leaving her creative mark everywhere she goes.

Being the visionary behind Mpenzi Paper Studio and Ibuno Design, her design passion intertwines perfectly with her love for the environment.

She defies the odds and keeps pushing forward, despite doubts from family, friends, and society.

Join us as we explore her inspiring story and the unexpected challenges that come with creating beautiful paper treasures.

Mpenzi Paper samples

Episode Credits

**Produced by **Nairobi Design

Host: Adrian Jankowiak

Producer: David King'ori

Shorts & Artwork: David King'ori

Music: Ngalah Oreyo (@ngalah_oreyo) and Mercy Barno (@merc.b_)