Artist paints her way to business success

Glory Mwilaria
Daglo Arts proprietor Glory Mwilaria displays some of her artworks at her shop in Meru town. PHOTO | GITONGA MARETE 

Daglo Arts was founded in such circumstances that the memories are still etched in Glory Mwilaria’s mind. In the initial stages of her business in 2015, Mwilaria displayed her jewellery and paintings on the walls of a timber retail shop where she worked.

Her love for art sprouted in high school when she would sketch portraits of renown personalities, and blossomed while in college where a friend not only taught her to draw but also introduced her to beadwork.

“I wanted to turn my talent into business so during the day I worked at the shop, attended classes in the evening and at night I spared some time to weave beads and paint.

“I sold them to colleagues and used the money to supplement my college fees,” she said in an interview at her shop in Meru town.

The journey to establish the business was the biggest risk of her life. After quitting her first job, Mwilaria secured another one with the National Construction Authority (NCA). “I was offered the job and placed on three months probation. It was good but then I started thinking: ‘I am going to be chained to this job for years. What about my dream of setting up a business? It’ll go up in smoke’. I was faced with a dilemma but at least I knew what I wanted,” she said.


Ms Mwilaria used her third month’s salary to rent a stall and quit the job to start her business. This was in early 2016 but this was not the first time she was taking a risk.

While still in college, she had operated a cyber café and computer training college, although she was not a certified trainer. “I had just begun my studies so I borrowed a computer, opened a cyber café and started training form four leavers and children during holidays.

“Then the government launched a crackdown on unregistered trainers forcing me to close it. By then I had five computers and was training hundreds of students each year. If you want to succeed in business you should be ready to take risks,” she said.

When Enterprise visited Ms Mwilaria at her shop last week, she was all smiles, evidence that her risk had paid off. “I could not be where I am today if I had taken up that job,” she said, adding that her husband, David Mwilaria, a motivational speaker and writer, is her main source of inspiration. However, her success in a business considered unpopular in the region demanded discipline, commitment and sacrifice. She also attended exhibitions to benchmark her work with other artists.

But after opening her first outlet, Ms Mwilaria discovered that the shop was nearly empty, and embarked on sourcing for stock.

“I thought I had accumulated a lot of paintings so I carried them to the shop only to realise that it was half empty,” she recalled with a hearty laugh.

After realising that it would take her too long to fully stock her shop, she engaged other artists from as far as Nairobi.

She saved diligently through table banking and borrowed Sh100,000 from the Youth Development Fund to set up her current shop last year. She stocks paintings, beads, African design garments, kiondos, sandals and jewellery.

“I love African art and designs of all types and I collect artifacts. My dream is to one day set up a business that will stock a collection of paintings, ornaments and garments from Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Burundi and the East Africa region. I want my clients to have a feel of the culture of these nations,” she said.

However, her main challenge is finding market and funds to fully stock her business.

While her business targets tourists it is out of the main circuit. However, Ms Mwilaria says that with commitment she has been able to get reliable customers.

Contrary to the believe that curios are bought only by tourists, she said, most of her clients are locals — especially those who travel abroad and need to buy gifts for friends.

“This business has potential but I have to be patient. I plan to set up a permanent exhibition in collaboration with other artists where people can buy paintings,” she says.

“What I believe is that so long as one is determined, one can set up any business anywhere.

“You also have to work with other people because it is more difficult to succeed alone. I have discovered that working with a pool of talented artists is a boost,” she said.