Nyandia Kamawe [EP.51]
[00:00:00] Nyandia Kamawe: When I talk about trust in the journey, it's even those things that seemed really unnecessary and unfair or uncomfortable at the time, they really have contributed to kind of lead you along the way. And obviously that doesn't mean that just being asleep along the way and assuming it's gonna take you somewhere. It's really being alive and aware of the experiences that you're having and recognizing that they are taking you somewhere.
[00:00:26] Adrian Jankowiak: Nyandia, thank you so much for joining us. welcome to the Africa Design Podcast.
[00:00:33] Nyandia Kamawe: Thanks for having me.
[00:00:36] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you. So, first of all, is there a meaning or a reason behind your name?
[00:00:42] Nyandia Kamawe: My personal name? So what I've heard is that the 'Nya' part of it is like of and the 'Ndia' is water...so, of water.
[00:00:50] Fun fact, I'm a Pisces. It's so on brand for that. So, It's a water thing because there's 'Nya' and 'Wandia'. So, there's Nyandia and Wandia, both kind of mean the same. And Ndia is a dam in Kikuyu... so, of the dam.
[00:01:03] Adrian Jankowiak: Do you feel connected to water?
[00:01:06] Nyandia Kamawe: Quite a bit. Yes. But I have a sister who loves water than me, so sometimes I question how much I do love water, so...
[00:01:13] Adrian Jankowiak: Okay. So you've got a really interesting story, which I want to learn more about personally as well, and I just know bits and pieces. I'd love for you to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself.
[00:01:26] Nyandia Kamawe: So my name is Nyandia. I think we've covered that. I am a graphic designer by a profession. I have a bachelor in fine arts degree with a graphic design specialty. I'm a Kenyan, living in Nairobi, running a business. I'm into a lot of creative things, but I think I've finally zoned into the one that's like my everyday creative activity.
[00:01:45] So it's an exciting place to be. I've lived in Kenya now for about 10 years. I moved back in 2011, so that's also been a journey.
[00:01:55] Adrian Jankowiak: Where has that journey taken you? Where did you move back to Kenya from?
[00:02:00] Nyandia Kamawe: I moved back from Atlanta. I lived in Atlanta and I went to school in Atlanta. I worked in Atlanta a little bit, so I was in the US for post high school into adulthood. Came back to Kenya in 2011. My entry back here because I didn't really have connections or... I didn't have a network of where to start.
[00:02:17] I didn't have an idea of where to start. I started as a volunteer, came into the space volunteering for an organization that worked with young women in tech. So I trained UI UX class. And slowly with time in the same company, ended up being communications, social media person, still teaching. So did that for about nine years before I started MokoMaya.
[00:02:39] Adrian Jankowiak: Okay. And then tell us about MokoMaya.
[00:02:42] Nyandia Kamawe: MokoMaya is a company, MokoMaya means handmade in Kikuyu. I'm a Kikuyu. So it's a play on the word and the arrangement of the identity also plays on the Japanese sense of design. I really am into Japanese design. I took two Kikuyu words, put 'em together. I wanted to call to that side of design in the Japanese space.
[00:03:02] MokoMaya means handmade. Like I said, what we do is we make things by hand and primarily our entry point into the market was glass. So we upcycled glass bottle waste and we convert that glass bottle waste into things you can use for your home. From drinking glasses to flower glasses to platter, to light fixtures, to garden art. Basically taking something that exists within the environment as a menace and converting into something that's beautiful and functional for your home.
[00:03:32] Adrian Jankowiak: And, you said you found MokoMaya on this journey of reintegrating, finding yourself in Kenya. A lot of people have that journey across the world where they leave their country. I'm the same, I just haven't gone back yet. Um, but how was that for you as an experience and what were some of the challenges and the different perspectives you took on board throughout that?
[00:03:56] Nyandia Kamawe: The experience was... a lot of friction. I think I left Kenya a very different country. And so you come back with the Kenya that you left in mind with the people that you left in mind. And those people have also evolved with time. The country has evolved with time, the politics, the social, the culture.
[00:04:14] And so for me, just to give you a bit of background before I left Kenya, I did go to art school here, so I went to the Creative Arts Center. I did a course in typography, and then after that I went to the Kenya Polytechnic, where I also started a graphic design diploma before I moved to the US. And so coming back, I'm not sure that I had a clear idea of what it is to be a creative in Kenya would be like I only knew what I was seeing on social media, which seemed very vibrant, very exciting.
[00:04:41] And compared to the time when I left, the creative space was not as appreciated as it looked online, from Atlanta. My coming back was not really focused on the career, it was focused on the personal. I was tired of being away and so coming back I really honestly did not think about much beyond just getting back home.
[00:04:59] So once I got here, Number one, it's a very cliquey city. So if you don't have a network, you're like a fish out of water. You're trying to make connections with people you knew many years ago. They've changed, they've grown, they've gotten married, divorced, they have kids, you know, so they've also been through their own journey and it... you have to really shed that idea of the people that you left being the same people when you come back.
[00:05:21] So it was a very quick lesson was that my old friends, my old relationships were not going to be where to start. And that's why volunteering was very easy, because volunteering allowed me to walk into a space where I knew nobody, they needed something that I had to offer. And then we started the journey that way rather than trying to reconnect with people you already knew.
[00:05:41] Nairobi is just different. I don't know how, I mean, I could... that's a whole podcast in terms of reintegrating into Nairobi because I feel sometimes I have moments even till today, 10 years later, where I'm like, whoa, that was a Kenyan moment. Because there's always these little nuances along the way that just remind you that... it's not Atlanta, but I've moved on.
[00:05:59] Like I'm not one of those people that is constantly referring back to my experience, but there are moments in Nairobi doing business existing, just living that really harshly remind you that you're in Kenya. A good example is like the last few weeks we've had like the interruptions with maandamano. So you have these great plans of what you're gonna do next week or tomorrow, and then it's like you don't even know what maandamano is even gonna look like.
[00:06:21] So you can't really plan around what that means. So you end up with a lot of wasted time. And I feel like that's one of the things that really drives me crazy till today is the issue of time. We're not good honoring time. You know, it's like you make commitments, especially when it's related to meeting and connect with people.
[00:06:38] Business agreements, work agreements, time is one of things that's really an adjustment with coming from the US into Kenya. But other than that, I think Kenya has been an amazing experience to reintegrate. It's been exciting, and I think it's also about like forgetting Atlanta and just opening your mind to this is where you are, make it work, and what do I need to make it work? And I'm learning every day what to do to make it work.
[00:06:59] Adrian Jankowiak: Hmm. Like you said, it could be a whole conversation. Well, we're here. In terms of mentioning previous experiences that hit me a few times that that's something I do. I went to Poland again, you see, I'm talking about it now. Right? On this podcast I talk about being in Poland, and then when I go Poland, I talk about being in Kenya or about being somewhere else.
[00:07:20] And I realized this was happening and I realized that a lot of my sentences are prefaced with, oh, in Kenya, or Oh, in somewhere, and in fact, the reason is because that's where my life is happening, right? So any story will just be to clarify, okay, this is where it happened, but actually it doesn't need to be, I could just say in my life this is what's happened.
[00:07:47] What, what are some of those other, right? Yeah. What about some of those experiences between Nairobi and Atlanta? How do they differ as cities, and what benefits have you seen of actually being in Atlanta and then being in Nairobi?
[00:08:04] Nyandia Kamawe: I think one of the things we struggle with a lot in Nairobi is sharing of information. There's a lot of really cool stuff happening all over the city, and most times you learn about a cool thing just by mistake. It's never because it's readily available information. We just kind of don't have like a clear sense of this is where you would get information on the latest indie films or art shows or, you know, there's all these little pockets and silos where that information is available. And sometimes you don't even know that those places exist, so you don't even know to go and look there. So that also makes the journey to finding things and connecting to people that are like-minded a bit harder.
[00:08:39] And obviously the more you connect with like-minded people, the more you are able to tap into the resources that benefit the line of life and creativity that you're in. If I look at like Atlanta, I know where I can go in a heartbeat to look and see what's going on in the art scene, what's going on in the museum scene, in the music scene, in the film scene, information is so available.
[00:08:59] And even when it comes to buying things. Like, for instance, for me now, I use a lot of paints, I use a lot of sandpaper. I use a lot of like, just random little things that don't sound like much, but it's really amazing that you could buy fake paint. You know, you never really think, you don't prepare yourself for the day when you buy fake paint. It just doesn't seem like something that you would find, but there's so much fake paint. I don't even know if it's fake paint or just expired paint or... so like those little things about Nairobi really drive me nuts because then you meet someone randomly that tells you, oh, I know this cool person that sells like really good paint from such and such at a discount.
[00:09:35] So then you find out you're paying like five times more than what it is. And it's just that idea of information. I really struggle with finding information here because I don't think it's because we don't have things. You have everything you need in Nairobi. You just need to know where to go. It's a really tough thing to figure out because you slowly, like for instance, like you go for a function or for an event and it says it's eight o'clock and you get there.
[00:10:00] Eight o'clock, nine o'clock, nobody's there. But then you meet that one person that kept time just like you. And from that experience, you're able to connect and find a tribe mate, if you will. I trust that the universe or... I want to say God also brings to you the people that align with who you are.
[00:10:16] So I feel that, that is the gift of Nairobi, is that it has to be organic. There's really no formal way to do life while I was on the other side, I know I can pick up a mailer, I can go on a website. I can go to like a specific part in Atlanta and just stand on the street and I'll be able to identify like 50 amazing things to do and look at as a creative person.
[00:10:35] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you. In terms of going from your art degree and your educational background and the practical experiences you gained in the US as well, how did you go about then finding something for yourself and starting MokoMaya?
[00:10:52] Nyandia Kamawe: Okay, so when I finished university there, I was lucky or unlucky in the sense that when you're going through art school, everybody dreams about getting a job with an ad agency or with a creative agency. And that's just like the goal. Like we're gonna be graphic designers. You need to find, you know, one of those places to be a part of and then grow into like a creative director.
[00:11:11] There's a trajectory that's very clear in terms of school. But what happened with me is that when we did our portfolio show, I got an opportunity before we graduated with a mega church. And so that presented me an opportunity to work as an independence consultant because it was a really big church. It had so many things going on at the same time.
[00:11:29] So the church aside, there was schools, there was festivals, so I did a lot of branding and communications, but not in the setting that I envisioned in college. But that also allowed me to think differently about the skills that I had in terms of who uses these skills and the things that I could actually do with the skill.
[00:11:46] So then when I came back home, like I said, I volunteered and I did that for a while. And then the same organization, because every time there was an opportunity to do something here and there, I was able to step in and say, Hey, I could design that for you. I could design this for you. So it went from like volunteering as a teacher to being a paid teacher, to being an employee.
[00:12:04] And that went on for nine years. So the first place I volunteered is a place that I was in all along until I started MokoMaya. That allowed me to have a comfortable place to understand Kenyans, if that makes sense. Because within the organization I was able to interact with students, clients, clients in the sense of partners 'cause we mostly worked with other organizations. So you tend to align with other organizations that work with women, that work with tech that were into like the African space for that purpose. So that created a little bit more confidence in what I had to offer.
[00:12:37] And then Corona came. So during Corona we switched from teaching physically to having to do it online, given the organization that I was teaching for catered to a specific group of women who came from very interesting circumstances. So it wasn't the kind of girls that we could say, okay, go home and then use your laptops to get to class. We had to take it to WhatsApp and that was like, if you can imagine teaching a design class on WhatsApp, it was chaos because you have WhatsApp group with so many people.
[00:13:06] You're not able to do the visual as well as you would if you were in a classroom. And then you have bundle issues. You have attendance issues. It really just woke up in me, the desire to move on because I think that the dream to just branch out and do my own thing had been there, but I've kind of been dilly dallying along the way because people were always like, oh, you should do this stuff and sell it.
[00:13:26] Because I was already cutting glass in the house. So my apartment was full of like cut bottles and stuff, but never for sale because it wasn't something in my mind 'cause in my mind, remember I still want to be a creative director one day. So as much as I've experienced this side of being a creative there, there's still a part of me that desired maybe to be formally employed, just gimme a nice paycheck, you know, nice situation, benefits and like... so anyway, during Corona, I think everybody kind of had an opportunity to evaluate or reevaluate life, and that's when I resigned from my job and started MokoMaya.
[00:14:00] When I look at my beginning, It actually seems hilarious because I'm not so sure what people were buying. I look at the stuff that I made two years ago and what I'm making now, I want to just scream and like recall everything that I made. But what happened in that time, I think the audacity mixed with like the attention that was there online allowed me to develop my craft.
[00:14:24] When it came to the bottles, because then MokoMaya is not really supposed to stop at bottles, but it's been something that's kind of taken off and so I've stuck with that, but we are slowly branching into making different things for the home. So Corona really was a gift for me because that's when I started my business.
[00:14:41] I did a few popups, they were successful and then realized quickly that there was an opportunity here to do something with upcycling, and also the fact that people really did appreciate what I had to offer from the aesthetic to the value for the environment. And so yeah, so that's how I got to MokoMaya. So it was literally the first place I volunteered when I came in is where I quit during Covid and then here I am with MokoMaya.
[00:15:05] So those are the two things I've done since I've been home. But I do some consulting stuff here and there on the side for branding and for web, but not really... and the more moko may grows, the less I'm focused on offering those services and just focusing on my own business.
[00:15:20] Adrian Jankowiak: Oh, okay. Well, we're definitely gonna come back to teaching design through WhatsApp. And when you talk of finding a community. You know, you mentioned that before, finding whether it's a cinema or comic book community in a place, the last time I spoke with Rina who went to China and found a design gig through her church.
[00:15:45] And so it seems like the church is really a great community if you are, you know, linked to the church and you are looking to get into design. I've got a very good friend in the UK as well, David, and he is done some beautiful work for different church related organizations. So that's a really place to go.
[00:16:04] And more broadly, when you are into a particular niche, go into that niche and get to know those people if you want to design album covers or if you want to design cinema posters or whatever those may be. So that's really great to hear that you found that alignment. And then, hopefully you can find that in Nairobi with your communities as well.
[00:16:24] In terms of being a creative director as well, MokoMaya allows you to express yourself creatively, right? There must be so many ways that you can touch on the glass and display it and showcase through different types of content. And by the way, talking cut glass but I have to say I've seen it up close and it's really beautifully done. The painting that you do, and it's very detailed and it is very high quality. Highly, highly recommend it for everyone to take a look. So coming back to teaching design through WhatsApp, how did that go? How does that happen? And you're probably not the first and only person to do it. I'd love to know how we can incorporate some of that into our WhatsApp routines.
[00:17:09] Nyandia Kamawe: So there was a lot of short videos, so I would record short videos, especially screen recordings because they don't have access to the laptop. They're doing everything online, and then we have to consider that each of these students was getting their bundles paid for by the organization. And so you have to keep the heavy data use to a minimum.
[00:17:27] But it worked with a lot of screen recordings. I remember having to walk through the processes that I was introducing using those screen recordings, which was very helpful. A lot of screenshots, a lot of voice notes, because voice notes allow me to express in a way that I'm not able to in typing and then, also a lot of moderating because like when you have 40 people plus in a group already, even if it's just social group, WhatsApp can be very... it can be a lot.
[00:17:55] And so having moderation and rules from the get go was very helpful. And then also just sharing, like that's a time when I really deep dived into YouTube in terms of finding videos that supported what it is that we were trying to teach. But it was obviously not as vibrant as the classroom experience because the classroom experience gives you the opportunity to do something that for the teacher and for the student is not really possible on WhatsApp.
[00:18:18] Adrian Jankowiak: That's really useful. I found that sending voice notes to people is both good for me because I can express what I want to say more clearly and not confuse people. Right. With writing, it's very difficult to pick up someone's tone, for example, and so I found that's really useful for sending people the odd video just to show your face screen recordings. It's all really useful to try and convey what we're doing. And of course, YouTube videos and resources that already exist are really useful. Yeah. So I've heard you were part of an ABSA thing as well.
[00:18:55] Can you tell us more about that?
[00:18:56] Nyandia Kamawe: So Absa has a program called She Stars, and they were looking for women entrepreneurs that were in businesses that were environmentally conscious or aware, and it was a partnership between Absa and Yunus. Yunus is an environmental hub. And so it was a business course where they took you through an extensive, I keep saying it's like a master's program online because we literally covered every base of business, from taxes to law, to bookkeeping, to sales, to marketing stakeholders, you know, everything that there is to cover within business.
[00:19:34] The way the program worked, every week you had class online. And it was facilitated by an expert in the field. So for instance, if we were doing taxes, we would have like an expert from KRA and from maybe a firm, a tax firm within Kenya that would kind of walk us through liabilities, responsibilities, all the things that were expected of you as a business, but also we had a lot of on our own work. They had a very nice online platform where we did a lot of assignments, and so that's what they used to grade you, whether you were going to actually pass and get a certificate or not.
[00:20:08] There was an attendance requirement, but there was a lot of work that if you were interested in growing your business, it was a really amazing opportunity because it literally gave you skills that were going to be useful along your journey. And it also gives you a safe space because it was women only and I think that women tend to share a bit more freely when it's just women. And so that was really a validating opportunity because you know, listening to people's stories makes you realize you're not doing too bad.
[00:20:36] It's encouraging because sometimes you're operating in your head and your head tells you like, oh my God, like, you should just shut this whole thing down now. But then listening and realizing that you are on the right path and getting encouragement and redirection where you needed redirection in that environment of women was very helpful.
[00:20:54] So yes, that's what Absa was about. We completed the program and then we graduated. And so we walked away with really valuable skills, very valuable connections. And the one thing that really made the program special is that you were assigned a mentor. So every person that got admitted into the program got a big sister. And the big sister was a person that's also in business that was able to hold you accountable to the process because it's very easy to attend class online and just move on. But this person was able to kind of get you thinking beyond the actual assignment in the classroom, in terms of where your business is, where business is going, and what your business is doing to get to where it is that you want to go.
[00:21:32] Adrian Jankowiak: That sounds really useful. Is that something that's still running for people that people can apply for. Do you know?
[00:21:39] Nyandia Kamawe: Our cohort, I think was the third, and then there was the fourth. And I may be wrong. Somebody can correct me, but from what I understand that the program had kind of halted because I think it requires a lot of funding and money to happen, but I don't think it's something that they're no longer going to do.
[00:21:53] I think it's just a break and there'll be a point where, It's reactivated, but you can always check the ABSA website, although that's not where I found it from. Somebody sent me a link on WhatsApp. Again, back to like getting information in Kenya, somebody randomly sent me a WhatsApp because they're a member of an alumni and it was shared in their group and then it was shared with me.
[00:22:13] So I'm not sure how they advertise it, but I know a link found me and I applied. But judging from the cohort after us, because our cohort accepted, I think about 800 and something ladies, and I think out of that number, about 400 graduated, and then the next cohort had a way higher number. It gained popularity with each cohort. But like I said, I don't think it's currently running.
[00:22:37] Adrian Jankowiak: Okay. Well that sounds really impressive and sounds like a very useful program that most of us could do with when we're starting businesses because when we're at school, I can speak for myself here, but I didn't have that kind of education at school in terms of business, et cetera, so very useful.
[00:22:55] Nyandia Kamawe: And I think also as a creative, we struggle with compliance because as a creative, for me, I just wanna create, I really don't wanna deal with KRA, I don't wanna deal with the paperwork stuff. I really just want to create. And so it was really a good opportunity to be honest about looking at your business and understanding where you really are and where you need to be.
[00:23:14] Because there's a lot of things that I don't know if I was just not interested or I just, it was always something that you're like, you know, one day when I get big enough, I'll do this. When I get big enough, I'll get an accountant. When I get big enough, I'll do this. But that really allowed you to have a moment where you looked at your business in a critical way if you intend to continue running it as a business or a hobby, because some of it was hobby behavior before I got into the program.
[00:23:37] Adrian Jankowiak: It's a really good point. As soon as you can get accounting and legal at least on your radar. And if you can, if you're starting a business where you can hire those people, at least to some extent, and that's really very useful. Before we jumped on, you were talking about late bloomers and your passion for late bloomers and what that means. Can you tell me more?
[00:24:00] Nyandia Kamawe: So for me, I think I'm really fascinated by where I've landed with MokoMaya. Yes, I went into it wanting it to be something good, but also just kind of doubting myself the whole way because I'm like, okay, I'm too old with starting a business. I'm late in my, you know, like my career doesn't seem to have a trajectory that's very clear because here I am, nine years into being with this organization like as a creative, you can't really get promoted within an organization that's not a creative organization. So the ceiling is so clear and you've hit it, but you're kind of in denial because I think there's also comfort in employment.
[00:24:38] And so my excitement for people who are finding themselves at an older age right now is at an all time high because I've realized now that there's so many experiences along the way that equipped me for what it is that I'm doing now. And had I not had that journey, I definitely would not be able to do a lot of the things that I do.
[00:24:56] They don't seem like skills that you are collecting, but there's literally something learned along the way for each of those experiences that has allowed me to be able to do this, because I think there's also an advantage to starting when you are older because the clarity of what it's that you want to do and your commitment to it.
[00:25:12] Because I'm really past the point where I can play around with an idea or be excited for just a little while. I literally have to push myself even when I don't feel like it because it's a do or die, but then it's also an advantage of being mature. It's clarity. Clarity for me is a big thing.
[00:25:27] So I think a lot of times we are discouraged with the fact that I'm too old and too this, too that, but there's really no better time, in my opinion, to start things than when you are older, because then it's a dead dream.
[00:25:41] There's a gift in starting things when you are older, because you're definitely a bit more settled and a bit more confident in your being. Because I think being young, there's so much self-doubt. But then when you get older, I mean, and there are people who have that actualization when they're young.
[00:25:56] It's not to say that everybody has to wait till they're older. But I do think there's a lot of us who are much older who have dreams that we are refusing to acknowledge and execute because it's like, it's too late. But it's never... I think that there's no better time than now to get started. So yeah.
[00:26:11] Adrian Jankowiak: Absolutely. It's a really good point, and I'm surprised you're calling yourself a late bloomer because you know, anyone at any stage in their life could be a bloomer, right? And actually you get people who are past retirement age and getting their degrees and things that they've always wanted to do.
[00:26:28] I agree as well. I always talk about the experiences that we have. We never know where they're going to connect and where that knowledge that we have is going to be useful to us. And it just keeps stacking up. And the more you know, the more useful it is to you. And you don't even sometimes realize that, oh, this is something that would be useful to me, for sure.
[00:26:49] Nyandia Kamawe: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
[00:26:51] Adrian Jankowiak: And I know you're passionate about sustainability as well. Of course, MokoMaya reuses glass. How again, did you get into that? I know you said you started cutting bottles kind of for yourself. Is that something friends encouraged you to do? Are there other materials as well that you've experimented with?
[00:27:10] Nyandia Kamawe: I've always been intrigued by objects, so objects that just like occur in nature. So it could be a rock on the ground, it could be a random can, it could be, you know how when you squish a can, depending on how far you squish it, the shape changes along the way. So like little things like those really intrigued me and so the bottles were something I had collected over the years because I was always like, oh, one day I'll do something with this. But then they were just sitting in gunias with no actual purpose. But then when Corona happened and I quit my job, I wasn't quitting it to start MokoMaya, I was quitting my job because I was tired of the job. And then it was like, okay, what do I do now?
[00:27:47] And to keep my mind busy, came into the workshop and started tinkering with the bottles because they'd been sitting here. It was the same room I'm in right now, is my workshop. And so these bottles I had collected over the years were just kind of sitting here, filthy. And it was an easy way to keep my mind off the fact that, you know, I was jobless.
[00:28:03] It was Corona. You're not gonna find a job during Corona. So I started doing that, just cutting the bottles and posting on Instagram. And so I don't think it was a conscious thought about sustainability, but when I look back, there's been a trend in my life to kind of reuse things. So I'm the kind of person that never throws tissue boxes.
[00:28:24] You'll find that there's nails in there or there's like something in the tissue box, it'll be a pizza box. And I'm like, okay, I could use this for something. It could be a toilet tissue roll. I'm like, one day I'm gonna do something with this. Like, you know, the card with thing that's in the middle of the tissue roll.
[00:28:39] And so, because I also on the side used to teach, once in a while I would do holiday classes for kids where we would make art.
[00:28:46] So I've made a really good go at it with trash. So I think that's been something that subconsciously it's just that you don't acknowledge it as being part of, you know, circular economy or circular activity. It was just something I've always done, which was, you know, try to use what is available in my environment. And I also, I think, grew up at a time where like we would make paint with like flowers and like we would use soil and rocks for collages. So I did go to school in Kenya at a time when there was arts and crafts as part of the curriculum. And so we really did a lot of stuff with like beans and we would make stuff with like dengu. So I think that thing is kind of in you without necessarily being like, you are a circular economy, blah, blah, blah.
[00:29:33] It was something that was innately in me.
[00:29:35] Adrian Jankowiak: That's really interesting and encouraging to hear. I kind of have the same experience growing up in Poland and I think about whether it's to do with my family or to do with the environment or to do with really both because at the same time when I was growing up that. If you wanted some colored paper, it would usually be from a box of chocolates or something that you'd saved and it would be right, you would make your own glitter and all those sorts of things where everything that was a beautiful piece of packaging basically would be saved because it might either have another use or it might be reused into something.
[00:30:18] Yeah, we also had that mentality of being brought up, saving and there's something to appreciate in that, that I guess is not hoarding right. I think people have called it, it's interesting we were clearing out the office and there are things that I've said, no, no, no, we need to keep this piece of cardboard.
[00:30:36] Right. But there is a a reason for it. Some people see it as hoarding, especially if you're not directly using those things. Right. I have a box of boxes because I'm always prototyping, right. Cutting things out and you need that to stimulate your mind. As long as it doesn't spread across our lives, I think it's good to have those resources to hand, right.
[00:30:59] Nyandia Kamawe: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:59] Adrian Jankowiak: In our workshops.
[00:31:01] Nyandia Kamawe: Right. I'm an expert at the collecting. I collect, man. I collect a lot of things, but I do also make things like, I have jewelry that I've made that I wear that's a collection of like a broken earring, a broken necklace, so like, just that whole... it really excites me and I feel like you get such unique things from reusing stuff than you would like if you go to a shop and get nicely finished, made things.
[00:31:23] Adrian Jankowiak: Yeah, and just to make people think. If we buy something that's not reusable, that's literally going in the ground or being burnt or something. Forever, that object is not gonna get used by anyone. And you have the opportunity to make more use of it and to make it count and to be grateful to nature for providing it to us.
[00:31:47] Nyandia Kamawe: I'm fascinated by the fact that, you know, like with a bottle to decompose, it's over 4,000 years and now you look at like the Nairobi we live in the amount of bottle waste we have. Everybody's shamba, okay, not everybody's shamba, but most shambas have bottles 'cause I get so many people who are like, will you take my bottles?
[00:32:03] And then you go to collect and it's like this whole pit in the backyard in a place that could grow something that has bottles. And then we are manufacturing new bottles every day and it's like the energy that it takes to actually make a bottle is more wasting. So we have it in the trash and then we also making more, and we are continuing to feed this beast rather than really consider what are the ways that we can use this thing that will not decompose. It will continue to be a menace in our society.
[00:32:29] It's a very exciting space though because it's a very readily available raw material and it's cheap. So for anyone who wants to experiment and play, you can't go wrong with bottle waste in Nairobi or even in Kenya in general 'cause I've been as far as Samburu and there was lots of like bottles just in land pits.
[00:32:48] Adrian Jankowiak: Mm-hmm. Yeah. It's not a time where we currently collect bottles. Again, growing up that was very common. So it's to encourage those sorts of services wherever they're possible. So, I had the words here, written down, trusted Journey. I think that's something that we've kind of covered already, but I wanted you to be able to touch on that as well.
[00:33:08] Nyandia Kamawe: Hmm. So trusting the journey is so much easier with hindsight and even as I trust the journey... as I said, trust the journey right now. I'm also not trusting this moment to be part of the journey because there's always that doubt in us about where we are and where we're going. And when I look back up to this point, in terms of like the immigrant experience in Atlanta, because I wasn't in Atlanta as an Atlanta native, I was there as an immigrant, and that came with experiences that just felt so out of alignment with who I was because I've worked so many odd jobs there. From nursing aid to, you know, front desk concierge in a hotel.
[00:33:47] I've bartended, I've done customer care, I've done, you know, all the things that you do to get through college. And then I look at even just the employment that I have had after college in creative spaces, all those experiences have come with something that's so valuable to me today. Whether it's learning how to deal with people, whether it's learning how to honor your time and your word, whether it's learning how to be committed because it's so easy to be committed when you're part of an organization that has a structure that requires that you be committed.
[00:34:16] So you'll be able to be on time for your job to do what's supposed to be done without, you know, necessarily having somebody hovering over you and making you do it. I think that's one of the best gifts of being an immigrant in the US in terms of working, because the discipline that came with that was a really great gift because, and I mean this in nicest possible way, people that I grew up with here that never left, you can tell because there's little nuances, there's little experiences that make you realize that people really need someone to hold them accountable to doing what they're supposed to do.
[00:34:49] So it's your job, but you're not gonna sit at your desk and do what needs to be done. You're gonna go take a shopping break or a coffee break or, but then the US really teaches you to be disciplined in that sense. So when I talk about trust in the journey, it's even those things that seemed really unnecessary and unfair or uncomfortable at the time, they really have contributed to how... you would say is someone's ethos.
[00:35:13] Now that I'm running a business, I'm able to identify a person that I cannot work with very quickly. I can identify a person that I'm really interested in working with because the opposite is true. Someone may not have those skills, but then there'll be those little things that you're able to identify that make you realize that their skills may not be where you need them to be, but who they're as a person in terms of how they operate and how they do things is very attractive to me whether it's commitment. Curiosity is one thing that I'm just blown away. We are not curious people as Kenyans, and so for me, I'd rather work with a curious person that doesn't have a degree than work with someone with a degree that has no curiosity. So those little things that you learn along the journey, I think nobody can teach you.
[00:35:51] And so I think trusting that journey to kind of lead you along the way. And obviously that doesn't mean that just being asleep along the way and assuming it's gonna take you somewhere. It's really being alive and aware of the experiences that you're having and recognizing that they are taking you somewhere.
[00:36:08] Adrian Jankowiak: That's brilliant to hear. I think all of what you said there in terms of people's commitment, and yes, it's definitely not a skillset that defines a person, is their curiosity, their proactivity, curiosity is an even better word than proactivity because it requires us to be naturally curious rather than pushing ourselves to be proactive with something. I wanted to just ask you as well, just before we wrap up about you, you've got plans for MokoMaya and for yourself. So what are those, what are some of those new product ideas you've been exploring? And where is it taking you?
[00:36:44] Nyandia Kamawe: So right now I'm experimenting a lot with how can I use bottles outside the house rather than inside, outside the office, outside in the garden. So looking at building, I've been tinkering a lot with privacy fences, garden art, wind chimes, bird feeders, those type of things.
[00:36:59] But I'm really trying to get it right before I put it out there because we are also living at a time where, If I do a mediocre bird feeder, you could do one for yourself. So the last thing I want you to think when you see my bird feeder or my privacy screen fence is that I could do that at home.
[00:37:15] And so those are some of the things that we are experimenting with, but also moving away from bottles, not doing away with it, but also starting to open our minds to how can we use things that are available in the environment in terms of trash to weave, to build things that are useful around the house. So, whether it's carpets, whether it's storage, whether, you know, just what are the things, like I said, I'm really good at collecting the trash and just observing and investigating these different objects that are occurring in our environment as nuisances and trying to understand how we can then convert them into things that we can use.
[00:37:47] But they're not just used, but then they need to be beautiful. So bringing the design experience and understanding into this journey because I think there's a gift in being able to understand color you know, understanding composition, understanding all the principles and the elements of design, and then combining them with what it is that you're experiencing in the environment and creating a product that's really attractive and beyond being functional, it needs to look good.
[00:38:11] So in terms of products, that's where I am. In terms of the company, we finally... we are just almost done with our website, which is going to be able to sell globally, so I'm really excited about that. So, mokomaya.com is launching soon, and so that has been one of the... it sounds so easy, like you want to build a website that's going to sell. That you could pay with M-Pesa and you could pay with the credit card. And then you know, people all over the world can be happy. But the moment you start to build is when you realize all the different hurdles you have to jump. So it was something that was supposed to launch in May, but it's taken a bit longer than I anticipated or desired.
[00:38:46] We are almost at the end and I could taste the end. So I'm really excited about that, being able to have a presence out of Kenya because I've also had the opportunity to interact with customers that are not in Kenya. And one of the difficult parts of it right now is having to send pictures.
[00:39:01] Every time someone says, oh, I want something from you, and they're like in some other country, you had sent all these pictures on WhatsApp. Then they say, okay, gimme this. I want this in this color, do this, do this. But then having a website is going to be a very exciting time for me in terms of being able to reach that market because also as you grow, you're not able to manage those one-on-one conversations with different people.
[00:39:21] You need to be able to use your time wisely and that this current model is not sustainable. Selling on Instagram has been great, but the web presence is going to be a game changer I think.
[00:39:31] Adrian Jankowiak: Brilliant. Well done. Really looking forward to seeing the website and all the other things you've got coming and you mentioned mediocre bird houses. How did you know I've made mediocre bird houses? Uh, I tend to just find a, a surface that you can place seeds on and then turn it into a birdhouse. Yeah. Definitely in need of a couple here, so we'll be on the lookout. Yeah.
[00:40:03] Nyandia Kamawe: On the way...
[00:40:05] Adrian Jankowiak: Till mokomaya.com comes out, where are people going to contact you?
[00:40:10] Nyandia Kamawe: So you can find me on Instagram. On Instagram I'm _mokomaya. On Facebook I'm MokoMaya Goods, and so either of those two platforms is probably your best bet in terms of connecting with our product, getting to understand what it is that we make, getting in touch with us, finding our contact information. All that stuff's available on either platform.
[00:40:28] Adrian Jankowiak: Wonderful. Thank you. And just to say, of course, you were an exhibitor this year at the Nairobi Design Week as well, so thank you very much for being a part of it, and that's how I got to check out your products in person. Yeah.
[00:40:41] Nyandia Kamawe: Thank you.
[00:40:42] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you.
In this episode, we have a chat with Nyandia Kamawe— a fine arts graduate with a specialty in graphic design, who's redefining recycling 🍾 and upcycling
She's also the founder of Mokomaya a Nairobi-based craft store focused on upcycling glassware into a variety of home décor pieces and handmade items.
The name ‘MokoMaya’ means ‘these hands’ in the Kikuyu language; an ode to the hands-on approach to everything produced.
Founded in the year 2020 MokoMaya has continuously worked with vendors and institutions, taking on their glass waste and turning it in to beautifully crafted home pieces.
She takes us through her journey from Kenya to Atlanta and back. She shares the different perspectives and challenges of being a designer in these places, how she has overcome her doubts, and how she learned to trust the journey.
This is the 21st episode under the ‘Shifting Narratives’ program supported by the British Council SSA Arts Eastafricaarts hosted by Adrian Jankowiak
Image Credits: Moko Maya