Former hawker builds thriving business out of neem tree
It was out of curiosity that Shadrack Nyaga, a former hawker, learnt the art of carpentry.
“I used to be just a simple hawker selling different items here and there in Meru, but after sometime I decided to learn carpentry at a friend’s shop and that is where I mastered my skills,” he said.
After a few months of training he left Meru for Mombasa where he set his shop to start making furniture and other house accessories out of the Neem tree, readily available at the Coast.
He soon sold his first dining table and four chairs for Sh8,000.
More than 10 years later, his shop, Blue Line Jua Kali located along the Mombasa-Malindi highway, prides itself in having furnished many homes and five-star hotels at the Coast.
His products are unique in that they consist poles nailed together to create the desired object, with no added decoration or material.
The neem tree is from the same family as mahogany, and features interlocking, coarse and rough grain that aid in the durability and charm of the wood. It is not easily split apart.
Its wood is becoming a popular option for furniture makers for its strength, making furniture durable.
Also, due to the pest repelling aromatic properties of the wood, the furniture is termite free.
The tree is chopped into thin long sticks that are first burned to make the green colouring of the trunks turn into white. They are then either bent or left straight then dried in the sun for a day. After this the actual work of putting the object into form begins.
In a day Mr Nyaga can make up to three items, most often tables, chairs, shoe racks, stools, handbag stands or sun beds among others.
“It may seem like a lot of work but it is really very easy when you get used to it. The good thing is that these days people are adopting to be natural and my furniture gives any place a natural feeling since it remains and looks as if you are sitting on a tree,” he said.
His clientele includes local bars and pubs, hotels and restaurants like Jamboree and Severin Sea Lodge and the many residents of Mombasa who buy the tables and chairs to be put in their gardens and verandas.
His products, he says, are best for gardens or for those who like to give the inside of their home a different twist.
The business has been able to sustain him and his family and he says that in a bad month the least he gets is Sh30,000.
“A business that I started with only Sh5,000 is now giving me profits that I never imagined possible, and this is so because the furniture lasts longer and is a better option to the other home furniture in the market. For these reason they are becoming a must-have for many home owners,” said Mr Nyaga.