Furniture order for Jack Ma visit puts start-up on global map

Jackie's Jewels founder Jacky Chirchir at her Ngong Road workshop (left) and seats at NaiLab made by Jackie’s Jewels (right). Visiting billionaire Jack Ma sat on one of these. PHOTOS | DIANA NGILA / COURTESY
Jackie's Jewels founder Jacky Chirchir at her Ngong Road workshop (left) and seats at NaiLab made by Jackie’s Jewels (right). Visiting billionaire Jack Ma sat on one of these. PHOTOS | DIANA NGILA / COURTESY 

If you have a keen eye for fashion, the one thing that must have stood out when Chinese tycoon Jack Ma visited business incubator Nailab recently was that he sat on an African-themed round armchair.

Right next to him, comfortable in a similar seat, was United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi. The two dignitaries also used matching ottomans.

Unknown to many, this furniture is the handiwork of Jackie Chirchir, external relations principal marketing and communications co-ordinator at the United States International University Africa (USIU-Africa).

Her enterprise, Jackie’s Jewels, markets itself as an outfit that is out to make personalised furniture and jewellery, with the latter being primarily from recycled materials like buttons, buckles and plastics.

“Nailab ordered two seats and I had no clue it was for the two high profile guests. It only hit me after I saw photos on Twitter,” the 27-year-old said, adding that it was a great pleasure to have been picked.

Further, her business has seen a marked improvement in the number of orders ever since Mr Ma’s visit in July, placing her enterprise on the global map.

Ms Chirchir started Jackie’s Jewels as a hobby in 2010 when she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in communications at Daystar University.

The communications expert, who describes herself as eccentric, started off by making earrings from buttons, appealing to exploratory clients who were looking for something different.

“The orders started coming in and this is when I started making jewelry using beads and plastics before introducing metals and wires as raw materials,” she said.

Aside from earning her quick pocket money, this hobby made her a favourite among her peers.

This motivated her to expand her creativity to the furniture niche and today, her workshop on Ngong Road makes and sells at least 10 dining seats, four round seats and three ottomans in a month.

A dining seat goes for Sh5,000 while an ottoman, which mostly serves as a table goes for Sh13,000 to earn the startup a net income of at least Sh80,000 monthly.

Ms Chirchir said her starting capital for the business was less than Sh5,000 most of which she used to purchase the raw materials (brass, beads and plastics) and tools such as pliers and texturing hammers.

Jackie Jewels mostly buys raw materals from Toi, Gikomba and Kariokor markets.

Her three employees collect high density cushions from second-hand clothes dealers at Gikomba that come in handy in making seats, throw pillows and ottomans.

The plan is to start making own-prints for the themed material on furniture to minimise imitations which she says are a major challenge for the business.

Wires and beads are picked at Kariakor, Toi market and River Road to be used in making jewelry.

For instance, a shoe or belt buckle is dismantled, cut to desirable shapes, hammered and are filed to make a pendant or necklace. The same process is used to make rings, earrings and bracelets which are unique and cannot be found in ordinary jewelry shops.

Marketing for Jackie’s Jewels is mostly via social media where items are ordered almost as soon as they are uploaded. Referrals have also grown the business.

“We are hoping to be the boutique version of Ikea,” said Ms Chirchir, who also holds an MBA in strategic management from Daystar University.