If kiondo, the handwoven basket looks like a luxurious interior decor item now more than ever, that is probably because it has become one.
The traditional basket, once relegated to grass-thatched kitchens, has found space in luxurious hotels and homes as part of wall decor or for putting potted plants or throws, the light covers for furniture.
In some homes, Kenyans have gathered the handcrafted homewares from every corner of the African continent.
And as demand grows, it has created a new stream for entrepreneurs selling them and others using them as design items.
Kendi Mwenda, the co-founder and creative director at Poiema Interiors says kiondos have become part of the interior because they bring the outside into the house, which is the new trend. There is also the shift to natural products.
“People are environmentally-aware so they are intentionally incorporating organic materials in their home. They are also conscious about bringing the outside inside. Kiondos are versatile: both functional and beautiful. They make useful and attractive storage solutions, and they can be used as decorative pieces and designers gravitate toward multifunctional decor items,” Kendi says.
If you are looking to elegantly add the baskets to your modern home, Kendi shares tips.
“Use them to store toys, extra pillows, and throw blankets. Use them as planters. Get cheap pots and dress the plant in beautiful a basket, use as wicker baskets in the pantry or bathroom for storage and organising, Place them under your entryway console tables to store shoes, slippers,” she adds.
“Incorporate them on your display shelves as decorative pieces and to hide the ‘hideables’ like remote controls, Hang them as wall treatment in your dining room, entryway or hallways. Use basket pendants as light fixtures, “ she said.
Besides the traditional baskets, what our grandmothers used for winnowing, are now commonly used as wall pieces.
But as an interior designer, she has come up with a strategy of ensuring different customers get what they want with fulfillment.
“We have a consultation session with my clients and they fill out a questionnaire for me to understand what they want in their home. Their style and preferences determine what I’m going to furnish and decorate the house with. When I meet clients who like the handwoven baskets, I incorporate them minimally, without overdoing it," she says.
As a designer, what mistakes has she seen homeowners making when using the baskets?
“Some people overdo it, such that they become a distraction instead of an aesthetic item. Find a balance. For instance, you don’t have to hang the baskets on all walls. If you have a small bathroom/powder room, do not fill the space with baskets. One or two styled beautifully make a huge difference,” Kendi says.
Sellers are also making good money and giving opportunities to women weaving them in rural areas.
Deborah Riro, the co-founder of Baskets Kenya, and Jacintah Kineu, a founder of Kiondooeveryday are some of the sellers.
The two entrepreneurs started their business on campus, seeking money to survive university life. In 2018, as a financial engineering student, Deborah started selling to fellow students.
Her business has now grown, targeting foreigners, seeking a piece of African culture as a souvenir and who can buy them affordably in Kenya compared to fashion stores in Europe. Sales have also grown because of their online presence.
With an Instagram following of over 9,000 followers, the two entrepreneurs can now sell globally.
“People nowadays prefer baskets made from natural materials compared to plastics, which is good for my business,” says Deborah.
The handmade kiondos made from sisal, banana fibre, makuti, papyrus reads, palm leaves, rapier grass, or milulu grass, come in different sizes. However, some clients customise them.
“Our bags retail between Sh800 to Sh2,500, depending on the size of the bag,” Jacintah says.
However, just like any business, there is the challenge of getting stock throughout.
“Production of the baskets is low during the rainy seasons since most of our weavers are busy planting,” Jacintah says.
Some of their bags are sourced from weavers in Kitui County.