When did L’Equippee come to life? Ten years ago, but I wasn’t living in Kenya then. I started this in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I loved drawing and always wanted to make something out of it for homes, be it outdoor or interior accessories.
I came across good craftsmen with impressive products, so I approached them and we started working together to make handmade furniture and other accessories. I would do the designs while they did handmade creations for me. The only problem is I was moving around too much.
Were you just a traveller then and had no intention of setting shop?
Not really. My whole life has been about moving from one country to another. I grew up in West Africa. My family lived in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger and later, Djibouti. I went to France to study Law and started practising there.
After I got married, my husband and I relocated to Martinique (in the Caribbean). As a lawyer, I needed to stay in one place, but my heart was not entirely in this career.
Is that when you decided to get into home accessories design?
I loved drawing and when I was a child, my father would teach me how to capture my surroundings for posterity since we barely stayed in one country for long. So, when I gave up practising law, I thought it was about time I embraced my love for art and craft.
So, when did you set up shop here?
Four years ago. We love Kenya and would like to stay. Plus I have a great relationship with the people I work with; they are competent and understand my needs in a business sense.
What captivated you about handmade designs?
It is amazing to outline my own designs and get them handmade. It allows me to explore and play around with originality. In Europe, things are more complicated because they use advanced machines for almost every process, which limits my creative process.
It takes away from the artistic nature of the final product.
Each piece I create has a story that I intend to tell. Working with craftsmen who understand my vision has been incredible.
They teach me a lot and I can stick to my culture in the production of modern furniture and other interior accessories.
I try to make sure that everything I make is portable since we move a lot.
Since each product you create has a story, pick one and tell us about it.
These miniature armchairs, for instance, were an inspiration from my great grandmother who was Japanese. I would watch her sit on such a chair and brush her hair.
It was a beautiful one and that moment solidified in my memory. So, the armchair has a Japanese origin with a rare Khanga from Kenya.
It has mute colours that can blend anywhere nbut it is also small, light and portable. For me, it is telling the story of my great grandmother, the Kenyan story via the khanga and that of the craftsmen I partner with.
What makes your products unique?
The fact that I’m not focusing on mass production ensures that my designs are unique. It’s a mix of everything. I’m not following any strict techniques, which leaves me with an open field for experimenting. I don’t want to make items found in almost every household; I like to surprise my clients.
Where do you get your materials?
Our tapestry fabrics are bought at the Toi market in Kibera, Nairobi; cypress wood from Tugen Hills, mahogany and mvuli from Kakamega. We buy glass from Kitengela Glass.
What is your target market?
Anyone from Kenya or anywhere else who can afford our furniture is welcome to buy. I am trying to deliver quality products with decent prices that range between Sh500 and Sh100,000.
These prices have to cater for the return of the money invested in acquiring raw materials— which are costly —pay my partners as well as myself.
How is the market response?
It is picking up now that I have been here for a while. I became more serious with it and I think it is good to approach companies to see if I can add them on my client list.
I am also looking forward to expanding my market to Europe. I did an exhibition in France a few months ago and the response I got was heart warming. My daughter, Gustine, is working on marketing the company in France.