How love for African interior décor birthed lucrative business

Angela Mutethya, Founder & Team lead of Kapulangu at her shop in Lavington, Nairobi in this photo taken on July 31, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Angela Mutethya describes herself as an African aesthete with a good eye for design. She has a deep and keen appreciation of aesthetics especially those of African origin.

You will pick up this vibe in her dressing, hear it when she talks about the African culture and its unique character, and interact with it on the walls, corners, and rooms of her house which is intentionally styled to tell an African story.

It is this love for beautiful, handmade African crafts that led her to open Kapulangu in 2017. A home décor and interior design studio that thrills in curating spaces with unexpected and exciting handcrafted objects exuding African goodness, presented in striking beaded, woven and woodworks.

Her business was a fluke, the entrepreneur says. Before Kapulangu, Ms Mutethya owned a fashion house that did not work out. Dejected, she closed the business cold turkey.

“With more time on my hands, I began travelling with my husband to different countries.  I would go to open-air markets, buy items which I’d bring back home to style my house,” she says. Visitors noticed, and showered her with compliments which then turned into cash.

“With inspiration from the internet, I started creating this aesthetic in my house and lo, and behold, people started shopping off my walls,” she says.

That her sense of style would generate interest is not surprising since she grew up among creatives. She remembers her grandmother weaving mats and baskets and making clothes out of newspaper patterns.

However, these friendly sales piqued her curiosity about the creative space. She would be in markets across Kenya conversing with artisans about their work. The entrepreneur in her saw the gap which she seeks to satisfy through Kapulangu.

The need was crystal clear. On one hand, people both locally and globally were looking for a unique and authentic style that would allow their homes to tell a story and on the other, the superbly talented artisans hadn’t found finesse in their work that would attract a viable market.

“I’d pass by Yala {Nyanza} and find artisans who could make wonderful crafts. I realised I can add a bit of value by showing them a design, and make it functional so that as opposed to using a woven piece as a chicken coop, I’d use it as a lampshade” the designer says.

She also began reaching out to people in other African countries, creating a pool of artisans to work with her.

Four years later, Kapulangu works with over 16 artisans from different African countries who use traditional skills and crafts to create an array of handcrafted unique, modern, functional, and sustainable luxury artisan objects for different surfaces and spaces in our homes.

For example, the Yoruba Kings Crown, from Nigeria is made from glass beads woven on cloth into patterns like birds and comes with a metal stand. If you are looking for a showpiece in your study room, entryway, or console table, this would be the piece to buy.

There are also the Namji dolls from Cameroon - which come in pairs, male and female. Made from cowrie shells, they will add a decorative touch to your shelves and bathroom. There are also human statues from Ivory Coast.

Their signature look is men with exaggerated stomachs and women with exaggerated hips. For such striking features, they would be a perfect piece of décor for a hotel's entryway or on a console table.

Their fastest-moving products include beaded measuring cups, Tonga lampshades, and mirrors that turn walls into conversation starters.

Tonga baskets are woven by Tonga women in the southern provinces of Zambia, the Bolga baskets are made in Ghana and the signature light baskets are made in Yala, Siaya county.

These are certain to add a dose of elegance to hand luggage, turn supermarket aisles into runways during shopping trips, and when not in use, they will accentuate dull corners of your house by having them as flower vases.

Kapulangu products add zest to household and everyday items like door knobs, napkin rings, cocktail glasses, and notebooks.

Overall, they have products from over 18 countries in store, made from over 40 different types of materials which include grass, brass, shell, metal, palm, bone, and recycled glass among others.

“It’s traditional styles and methods finding their way into modern design. Products that will last a lifetime,” the mother of two says.

The uptake has been incredible. From making sales of Sh30,000 per month, she now averages over Sh500,000. The business employs six people.

Their main clients are the hospitality industry and homeowners, specifically the women because they have the final say on the aesthetic of their homes.

“There has been a shift in the cultural and creative industry in music, language and art which has led to African people being more accepting of their own. They are now proudly saying that our culture, style and aesthetics is beautiful, and the world is noticing and wants in,” Ms Mutethya explains. “The marker of authenticity makes it more lucrative.”

This has led to a greater appreciation of products by other countries. Kapulangu supplies to boutiques in the US and UK.  Ms Mutethya's biggest expense is in ensuring the highest quality possible to ensure international standards on their products are met.

The chief designer continues: “As this perception changes, it becomes cool to buy and style African leading to familiarity with the product that increases sales.”

The result of the increase in demand has been increased employability and better returns for local artisans. There are now salary rates for the weavers Kapulangu works with.

This means that the traditional crafts will not disappear with the evolution of modernity as the artisans have a reason to preserve the craft, she explains.

“When people buy these products, they are buying African stories. The win is the pride associated with being part of the story,” the business owner adds.

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