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Enterprise

How allure of jewel enterprise keeps lawyer from court

Lucille Atiamuga
Lucille Atiamuga, the founder of Lukagwa African Art and Jewellers. PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI | NMG 

She briskly steps into the makeshift workshop to start her day.

Lucille Atiamuga is carrying a bag, not for keeping beauty accessories, but her tools of trade that include pliers, chisels, light hammer, and screw drivers.

Set behind a residential building, the workshop could easily pass for an extended store outside the main house. However, when she opens the metal door, you instantly fall in love with what you see; beautiful pieces of handmade jewellery hang on the wall.

“We specialise in both men and women jewellery and each piece is chosen with care and attention. We love being part of our clients’ special moments and helping them choose the perfect gift is at the heart of what we do in this workshop,” says Ms Atiamuga, 34.

She makes “high-end” jewellery for local and American markets and is looking to expand into European, Asian and African countries.

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Interestingly, Ms Atiamuga, who is the founder of Lukagwa African Art and Jewellers, is a trained lawyer from the University of Nairobi and holds a bachelor’s degree in law.

However, she has put law practice on the back burner as she seeks to quench her thirst for creative art.

“I am an advocate of the High Court but I have never practiced since I was admitted to bar in 2012. My last court appearance was during my pupilage,” she notes.

She is a self-taught creative artist, with the idea taking root in 2007 when she was a second year student at the university.

“I had a passion for art as my parents were buying artefacts at Maasai market and selling them overseas,” she says.

She would also buy artefacts at Maasai market, Nairobi, and many students would ask her where she got them.

“I realised there was a lot of demand for artefacts amongst the students and I saw this as a ready-made market,” she says.

“This is what led to the birth of African Art and Jewellers ,” says Ms Atiamuga.

“It’s now more than a decade since the idea was born and the sky is the limit.”

She has no regrets about ditching law, she says. “Many people are shocked when they see me in a workshop, wonder ing why I am wasting my legal brains instead of arguing cases in courtroom. When I tell them I am happy doing this kind of work they still don’t believe it,” Ms Atiamuga explains.

“In creative art I’m building a meaningful life and fulfilling career I love most. Art has always been part of my life. It could have been my first choice career in an ideal world.”

She says she finds law boring and not challenging, adding that in art “There is so much to learn and always something interesting coming up in creative world.”

She says she takes her creative work “every bit as seriously as a lawyer in a courtroom”.

Her workshop off the noisy and busy Likoni Road in Nairobi’s Industrial Area has everything you could want from brooches, rings, anklets, lockets, bangles, wedding rings, earrings, bracelets, neckties, cufflinks to statement necklaces.

Social media

The entrepreneur is capitalising on the social media platforms to market her products and has opened an online store where one could browse a range of jewellery.

“There is a great demand for local jewellery in American markets and this inspires me to push harder,” Ms Atiamuga told Enterprise.

“I thought of exploiting this huge market which is thirsty of handmade jewellery and with my passion and commitment inside me there was no turning back.”

Her products sell for between Sh4,000 and Sh10,000.

“On a good month I sell up to 30 pieces of jewellery,” she reveals.

The budding entrepreneur says she talked to two other colleagues who had passion for arts and they pooled resources to start the venture.

“Our seed capital was about Sh50,000, which we raised from our own savings, friends and family,” she says.

Ms Atiamuga attributes her success to faith in God, supportive family, friends, and “team players” who believe in her vision.

“They journeyed with me in the struggles and I can’t claim success without their input.”

The venture started with one employee and the number has increased to five.

“I am perturbed when I hear some of my learned friends and other professionals complain of lack of good sources of income yet they have failed to use their God-given talents to improve their economic wellbeing.”

She advises young entrepreneurs wishing to start a similar venture to do thorough market research and find their niche.

Also, she adds, “One needs to go back to school, read widely and interact more with people as they are a gold mine of knowledge.”

She says her law degree has greatly helped her improve negotiating skills, as well as understand business regulations and how they affect her venture.

“I use my law skills to understand contracts. I have realised that the United States’ African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) is not all about apparel. It also caters for creative industry and I am exploiting its benefits,” she says.

Cultural heritage

To enhance the creative sector in Kenya, Ms Atiamuga says, “the government should strengthen laws to protect our cultural heritage from exploitation as we have already lost kikoi, kiondo and the ‘hakuna matata’ slogan.”

She says one of the laws she would like strengthened is the Intellectual Property Act.

” The law is so vague it can’t protect my jewellery designs, which are prone to duplication by copycats,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges, she notes, is mistrust from the overseas clients who sometimes doubt whether the products will reach their destination.

“Doing market research is expensive, shipping charges are also high, and there is no good tracking system for items when in transit,” she says.

Her lowest moment since she started, she reveals is when she held a show in New York City but failed to clinch a single order.

” I felt so bad when I returned home empty handed despite spending a huge amount of money preparing for the show.”

The highest moment, she says, was when she did a roaring business at Village Market, Nairobi, despite the threat of Al-Shabaab attack.

” I feel so happy when clients come back and say they love with my products,” she says.

The entrepreneur says working from a Jua Kali shed has helped her cut costs.

“I have no pressure on rent. I use the savings to reinvest in the business,” she says.

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