When the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) banned the use of plastic bags about two years ago, Arfa Haq was at a loss on what she would be using to carry foodstuffs from the market.
While on a tour of Lamu Island and Marikiti Market in Mombasa, she bought three traditionally woven baskets for the prupose.
She later applied her painting skills to decorate them with colours and other pieces of art, just for fun. The result was beautiful baskets that would draw the attention of friends, and relatives who kept asking her to help them get such baskets for their own use.
It is this admiration for her products that prompted Ms Arfa to begin the basket business.
At the beginning of last year, she bought 20 pieces of woven baskets from women in the island of Lamu at Sh100 each. She got others from Marikiti market where products crafted and modelled in Swahili designs are popular.
She would then add her own decorations, and partly paint the baskets to accord them a fresh look. She used buttons and pieces of clothes to do this.
Surprisingly, she sold each basket for between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000, which is far higher than the Sh100 with which she bought them. This motivated her to pay more attention to the budding enterprise. She would soon acquire customers, mainly through referrals.
“I felt my art was appreciated when I sold all the baskets I had painted and re-modelled. This motivated me to expand my business,” she says.
Ms Arfa, 30, studied interior design at Tijan International College of Art and Design in Mombasa.
Before settling on the basket business, she had been employed in a number of firms in the town, but the family pressure of having four children to take care of weighed heavily on her shoulders. She decided to look for another source of income
Because of the seemingly insatiable demand of the beautiful baskets, she now buys the traditional baskets in bulk. She procures about 200 to 450 pieces after every two months.
“Because of the demand I have a network of artisan women who I have tasked with crafting the baskets as this ensures I do not run out of stock,” says Ms Arfa.
She has displayed her products in various art exhibitions at the Coast. Recently, she showcased them at the Serena Beach Hotel and Spa exhibition where traders from the region were in attendance.
She is also promoting her business online, mainly through Facebook and Instagram, with her trademark Island Kikapus.
“Many of my customers are interacting with my products online. This is helpful to me since I have not opened a shop within the town as I operate from home,” she says.
Recently when Nema, the environment watchdog announced, a ban on non-woven plastic bags her sales soared.
“This has been my peak season following the ban on plastic bags and non-woven bags. People, especially women do not want to be caught unawares in the market,” notes Ms Arfa.
She sells between 15 and 20 baskets every month.
The ban on non-woven baskest has however been suspended following a court ruling
Some of her other expenses include transport from the archipelago of Lamu to Mombasa, as well as paints and brushes.
She plans to open an outlet in Mombasa town.