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Cashing in on my passion for interiors

By Harriet James
Friday, October 16th, 2020
Joseph Onyango at work.
In summary

An Actuarial Science graduate, Joseph Onyango Olero, founder of African Eye Crafts has cut out a niche in interior design, turning his childhood passion into a career.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

What inspired you to start your business?

I have always been an artist since I was a child. I used to make my own toys.

When I completed my degree in Actuarial Science at the Jomo Kenyatta University Of Agriculture and Technology in 2010, I had to have some sort of income.

I got a job, but it was paying poorly so I started doing artworks as a side hustle. It was more interesting than the job.

Soon I gained my footing and quit the job. I started the business in 2012. With French interior décor, I can let my imagination run wild. I am enjoying myself while making money.

What value do décor pieces add in a room’s interior?

Having décor in your house makes your living space interesting. On top of that, it stimulates the senses and you get to communicate to your visitors your persona, your likes dreams and aspirations.

These pieces also communicate your status in life, for example, if you are married or single.

Décor also acts as a talking point when hosting. They act as conversation starters. They can also be used to create certain moods.

What are some of the factors to consider while choosing decorative items for your home? What do most people ignore?

First and foremost consider letting your preference speak first, whether you like it or not.

There is no point having something on your wall or in your house that irritates you. It will affect your mood. 

Another factor is colour. It has the power to evoke memories and emotions, which in turn stimulates physical and psychological response in people’s bodies.

I’ve worked with interior designers who will often add lighter or brighter colours in smaller spaces just to give the illusion of more space in a room.

The use of darker colours is to give the room a dimension to a larger space.

You should also check the size of the objects. It should fit where you want to put it. It should also not be too big for the space.

In addition, check on its functionality, try as much as possible to have things that you can use and are comfortable to use. People tend to ignore the above because they like the décor.

I cannot blame them. Sometimes you may choose something because it’s the in thing and not because you like it. The best thing is when your likes match the trends.

How different are African objects used in design from other cultures? What makes our own unique?

What I love about African objects is that they are rustic in nature because they are hand made.

They also have a natural feel because they are mostly made from natural materials.

Our work is unique because of the materials and techniques that we use. For example, we use stone or Kitenge to make mirrors. No one else does that.

What are the top three most sold design objects and why do people opt for them?

Mirrors are the most bought. This is because every woman needs a mirror. Wall hangings too are bought in large numbers because people don’t like bare walls. Stickers, are very affordable, and most clients buy them on impulse.

Has the pandemic affected your business and how have you adapted your business to it?

The pandemic has lowered people’s income and this has in turn affected their purchasing power.

This has led to low sales. Because of the pandemic, we also minimised our visits to clients’ houses, we now do most of our deliveries via Uber riders.

We also had to modify some of our products so that the client can easily install for themselves.

What are the challenges of doing your kind of business?

The first is changes in consumer behaviour, which may be hard to predict. Mostly you realise that when it’s too late and you start playing catch up. Sometimes it’s just access to the market.

Social media has really helped with this because since our products are unique, but on the flipside, it’s also hard to sell, people like familiarity.

Mostly we take what is trending and do it in our own way and hope it will sells. Secondly, to get reliable fundis to work on furniture and objects is quite a task. 

Future plans?

 Though competition is stiff, we hope to enter the furniture business.