Katy Fentress

Observing, Understanding, Exploring, Eating, Drinking

Made in Nairobi


d͡ʒuː æ khwæ lɪ tɪj 

proper noun

A superbly crafted artisanal product

synonyms: artisanal, handcrafted, skilled, non-industrial, unique, boutique

antonyms: industrial, production line, conveyer belt, photocopy, plagiarised

Example: “He makes amazing juakwality furniture”

“Her juakwality earring line is quite frankly inimitable”

Juakali is a Swahili term which translates as Hot Sun. When we refer to something as Juakali we mean that it was made “in the hot sun” i.e. that it was made by a artisan who operates on the roadside. Juakali has long been used as a pejorative form in Kenya with things coming from abroad elevated to a superior status. For the March 2015 UP Magazine issue we decided to expand the definition to include all of the artisans who are struggling to make good quality artisanal stuff that can be appreciated at home and abroad. The issue covered arts collectives, furniture makers that upcycle bikes, tires and even airplanes and even an obscure perfume maker that produces exquisite perfumes in the Somali neighbourhood Eastleigh. The following is the introduction I wrote to the issue.


Osotua Collective: taking set design to new levels

Celebrating Nairobi’s industrious artisans has been a real pleasure this month. We have had the opportunity to visit the workshops of some truly talented crafts people, whose work hardly needs us to sing its praise as its quality speaks for itself. The fact that people are still visiting factory line showrooms to invest in hugely overpriced Made in China furniture, never ceases to amaze us.

A new generation of Nairobi artisans who do it first and foremost for the love is on the rise and we hope their ingenuity and original creativity begins to catch on soon. Seriously, who wants to lay their backside on a store-bought sofa, when dozens of other people are sitting on that exact model and colour across the city? Isn’t style all about standing out and being unique? So if we are to stand out, surely we want to invest in things that nobody else has, right?

The accessories and clothes you wear, the furniture you invest in and the art you choose to hang on your walls, speaks volumes about who you are and if everything about you comes off a factory line, well what does that say about you?

JuaKali guy

Keeping it Juakali

For too long “Made in Kenya” has been sneered at; noses turned up at the very thought. If it’s from Ulaya it must be better, no? No. No. No, again. We will happily repeat this until we are blue in the face. Made in Kenya is what we want. Made in Kenya is where we should be heading and the sooner people wake up and smell our own home-ground and roasted coffee, the better.

Over the course of our juakwality voyage we have checked in with the original Jua Kali Kibanda (shack) traders to see if they are doing better since they formalised. We then had some UP Town Juakwality moments, which included a brief workshop on the importance of hand made perfume in Somali culture and a peek into a very new conception of theatre. In our Juakwality special section we had the opportunity to interview Osotua, a fabulous collective of artists and artisans that are redefining what set and event design means in our city. Further on we got to meet Walied Osman, who won Designer of the Year 2014 at our recent DXD Awards 2015 launch and who’s amazing sculptures and furniture made out of airplanes has got tongues wagging across the city. And that was not all, more furniture delights awaited us in the form of bicycle coffee tables, sofas made of repurposed dhow wood and some interesting armchairs made out of used tires. The issue would not have been complete without the Maasai Mbili Arts Collective who have recently launched their very Juakwality “Chokora Wear” line. Finally, comme d’habitude, Wanuri Kahiu throws her two bob into the debate by arguing that everybody should take what she terms a Juakalian approach to the little problems we face in life.

masaai mbili 4

Masaai Mbili – Kibera Arts Collective

Picture credit: Ras Makonnen


Categories: Opinion

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