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Decorating chairs using Kitenge

A few months ago, Jackline Chirchir was thinking of closing her craft business – Jackie’s Jewels.

With the market being flooded with handmade jewellery and the low returns not correlating with time spent on making an item, Jackline knew that the business was not sustainable.

The next big idea came to her by accident. She wanted a new chair and to make it different, she used African fabric; kitenge and kanga. Proud of her accomplishment, she took a picture and posted it on her Facebook page.

“Someone saw the pictures and ordered a seat. Since then the orders kept coming. I guess I found my next big thing,” she said. She stopped making jewellery to concentrate on making seats and chairs.

Jackline Chirchir, who designs chairs from kitenge.
Jackline Chirchir, who designs chairs from kitenge.

Jackline has formed a partnership with a workshop in Gachie where her orders get priority.

“I live in Kinoo and so you can imagine going to Gachie to find someone I could relate with and who would get my ideas was not easy. He did some samples for me, and I liked them and it’s been good so far,” she said.

Different product

Apart from the new seats, she reupholsters old seats and cushions. Her affinity for colour has led her to patchwork.

“I match them up and then give a tailor who does the stitching before putting it on the seat.”

Her patchwork style is ‘impromptu’. She usually lays out the fabric in different combinations until she is satisfied. In the end, each product is different but yet similar.

Although Jackline gives her customers the leeway to choose their colour preferences, she also ensures that their choices are prominent.

“Half of the customers I have worked with are specific: ‘I want blue, green and yellow’. I send them samples to choose from,” she said.

One of the challenges she faced when she started was getting good fabric at a reasonable price. She had to search high and low to find a place with quality fabric.

“It took me time to find my supplier. I had to make three seats before I got him,” she said.

Aware that the kanga is not strong to be used as upholstery fabric, she uses it in areas that will have light use, like the arms.

Look good

There are clients who just want a seat that looks good at a corner so the kanga makes sense to use.

“I’ve not received any complaint about fabric tearing. There is this lady who has kids, and I was expecting her to call saying the fabric didn’t hold up. She hasn’t. It’s perfectly fine. Even the one in my house is fine. I think it also depends on how you treat the fabric.”

Now, people have started to copy her idea. She said she saw one on Facebook which was three times her price.

“The guy was selling a simple couch for Sh85,000. I sell a similar couch for Sh20,000.”

Like all other craft entrepreneurs, Jackline wishes she could copyright her ideas. She takes solace in knowing that no one seat will look the same because fabric designs come and go.