Shalini Sapra Dodhia, a curator and founder of Enanai boutiques, shops which are strategically located in a slew of high-end hotels in Kenya, has found a niche in an area that few have ventured into.
She has found a business spot inside Fairmont the Norfolk, Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club-Nanyuki, Fairmont Mara Safari Club-Maasai Mara, JW Marriot Maasai Mara, Crowne Plaza JKIA, Four Points by Sheraton Airport and at the Wilson, Malindi and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
She shares her journey from studying Business Management to being the brains behind the gift shops that stock everything from gemstones to clothes.
How did you get into fashion?
I was born in Nairobi and spent most of my childhood life in the city. I then moved to Toronto, Canada for my university education. I did accounting. My interest in fashion started to grow after I moved back home. I then decided to leave Kenya again and pursue short fashion courses at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Italy and the London School of Fashion.
Upon completion of all my fashion studies, I decided to break into the niche luxury market. I launched a luxury handbag company. I designed and manufactured the leather canvas handbags and started stocking them in different locations within Nairobi.
How did you find artisans and a production company to work with?
I did my research online on where I could get the best grade-A leather. I found Alpharama Tannery in Athi River. I would source the leather from them directly, design and create the product looks. I found a factory called Ikwetta, which produced our bags and I then later worked with other factories also. I did aggressive marketing on social media for the products and then started getting enlisted in various shops with my bags.
How did you transition from a stockist to a curator?
Four Points By Sheraton at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was new at the time and was constructing a gift shop near its restaurant. They asked if I could curate the space, and stock my bags and other Kenyan designers and artisans which I did. From that first shop I was then able to sell the concept to other hotels and that is how the brand Enanai Boutique grew.
How were you able to convince other hotels to buy into your concept?
I approached various hotels with a proposal on how I could curate their shops for them. Many of the hotels had standard gift shops and because of my work with Four Points JKIA, I had elevated Kenyan designers and brought in gemstones, unique jewellery, art pieces, and artefacts. It was easier to start a conversation. Every proposal I worked on was targeted. The focus was on more luxury hotels and travel spaces. I did not target any malls though during Covid-19 I briefly had a pop-up at Village Market in Nairobi for my bags.
How does the partnership work with the designers who stock at your stores?
I either buy the pieces wholesale or I take consignments and I add my mark-up. I have not started renting shelf space because I do not think it's fair to the designers and artisans. I like changing the displays of the products to keep it interesting in all the stores. I also like to work with exclusive or special pieces. They tend to be bestsellers because they are unique items.
What criteria do you use when selecting the brands that you stock at your stores?
Many brand owners approach me. I am also constantly on the lookout for designers who have quality products, adhere to sustainable practices and give back to the community, for instance, conservation projects. I work with the brand Nashipai Kenya Leather which works with the deaf.
How many employees do you have?
I have 14 employees. Some stores are open 24 hours like the stores at the airport.
How do you keep track of your inventory?
I use the Retailman Point of Sale System (POS) that updates me with all my sales, inventory and quantities. I also have CCTV cameras so I can monitor all stores even when I travel.
Is sustainability an important factor to consider when selecting brands that you stock?
Yes, definitely. I am working with a lot of sustainable designers. For example, I work with the brand “Katush Nairobi’ which uses locally sourced organic cotton. I am also keen to have a traceability pattern from origin to final product of all the designers and brands that I work with.
What are some of the best-selling items across the stores?
A lot of the jewellery and gemstones, Tanzanites, Tsavorites, and also the African artefacts and paintings carvings and sculptures. Cotton linen dresses with creative prints are also selling since most of our clients are shifting from very bold Ankara, kitenge and Kikoi prints.
We have recently started working with Ocean Sole which creates recycled rubber products that are selling very well.
Which is your favourite store location and why?
I love all the locations but Mount Kenya Kenya Safari Club Nanyuki is my favourite. It is such a huge location and there are so many different guests and visitors coming in.