Lady Luck knocked at the door of Washington Odhiambo, a roadside carpenter on Ngong Road, Nairobi one afternoon when Mr Lee Karuri, chairman of the Longonot Gate Limited, an upcoming gated community at the foothills of Mt Longonot in Naivasha drove past his work spot and offered him a lifetime deal that has seen him make high-end furniture for the mega project.
“He drove past my work station and after a while, I saw him again driving down. It was then that I walked towards him, greeted him and introduced myself,” says Washington, gesturing at the place the two stood that afternoon.
“He then looked around and asked me for a quotation for some of the furniture I had displayed which I gave him. I never imagined I would see him again. We are used to clients who come and ask for quotations promising to contract us only to later vanish,” narrates Washington of his first encounter with the investor.
The two parted ways with the assurance that Mr Karuri would send his staff over for further engagement.
“He said I should do a sample for some furniture they needed for their project. He promised that if I proved myself, he would contract me for more projects,” recalls Washington.
“And prove myself I did, because two weeks later, I was contracted by the company,” he adds.
But Washington would not be the only carpenter to benefit from Longonot Gate’s lucrative contract, as Mr Karuri asked him to recommend one other person.
“He requested that I recommend someone else,” says Washington. Mourice Ngereso Musotsi of Interior Furniture located on the same road, right opposite Jampark apartments was the person Washington picked for the job.
After two weeks of training at well-known high-end furniture makers, Odds & Ends - a training sponsored by Longonot Gate, the two furniture makers were ready to put their skills to work. The outcome was more than what Longonot Gate had anticipated.
According to the two traders, this was the biggest deal they ever landed in their profession. Even more amazing was the fact that they got their payment on time, a rare occurrence for jua kali traders.
Mourice and Washington have worked in the cottage industry for over 15 years. However, during this time, they had never received a huge order, let alone one for a luxury development. Longonot Gate, they say was the first client to offer them the opportunity.
Washington and Mourice are part of numerous traders in the cottage industry that Longonot Gate plans to identify and help enhance their work skill; before contracting them for its Naivasha project. Others are painters.
But why has Longonot Gate hand-picked local artisans instead of buying expensive imported products from China and Europe?
According to Consolata Gituto, Managing Director Longonot Gate, the project sought to tap virgin talent from small traders.
“The cottage industry is fairly new and a lot of talent is hidden away in this industry. Longonot Gate has seen an opportunity to improve the lives of people in this industry while at the same time offering them the opportunity to showcase their products in one of the newest real estate projects in the country,” Ms Gituto adds.
Longonot Gate started the programme early this year as a way improving the livelihoods of roadside traders. The programme offers them the opportunity to showcase their talents in this mega project and through this, market them far and wide - to both local and international holidaymakers.
Washington and Mourice say the Longonot Gate project has opened countless windows of opportunity for them.
“We are now very busy,” says Washington. He adds that more corporate entities are giving them orders on huge contracts. “The money we earn from projects like Longonot Gate and others who are now coming in is enough for us to live a comfortable life.” says Mourice.
Longonot Gate plans to engage more artisans. “Our future plan is to offer more business to these small traders. They will be part of the team which will provide furniture for the hotels and club houses once the project is complete,” clarifies Consolata.
Mourice and Washington, are the ones who made the furniture currently in use at the Longonot Gate staff quarters.
I ask them what they thought of the training at Odds & Ends and Mourice says he learnt two things - how to do fine finishing on furniture and making good use of materials.
“I realised we waste a lot from material from the way we cut cloth for sofa sets. Thanks to the exposure I got during the training, I now know how to cut cloth with minimum wastage,” says Mourice.
Although, most small traders are skilled at what they do, commercial clients have been reluctant to contract them fearing that they may not meet the standards or deliver quality stuff.
However, Longonot Gate’s approach, has shown that given a chance, this creative industry that work from roadsides can deliver impressive work.