They have an eye for detail and a soft spot for various things. From vintage cars to rare watches, limited editions of shoes, antique furniture, wines, jewellery and perfume, Kenyans are now actively collecting various treasures for different uses, joining other collectors from the rest of the world.
These collectors go to great lengths to source for these items, sometimes even importing them and paying a fortune. Travelling abroad offers an opportunity to hunt for memorabilia to add to their rich collections. What would otherwise pass for junk often contends for a place in their studios and garages.
While some collect gems for purely sentimental reasons, for others, this is an investment, running into millions of shillings. Welcome to the world of collectors.
Collector: Vinyl records
Vinyl records, vinyl players and classic artists’ posters in all designs and sizes adorn Karl’s three-bedroom house in Nairobi’s South C estate, lending it the atmosphere of a large music studio.
But it is the stacks of vinyl records that stands out. Karl started collecting them in mid-2000s, and 15 years later, the hobby has morphed into a lifestyle.
He has over 3,500 records, all stacked in different compartments in his house.
“If I sold all the records in my collection, I would have enough money to buy a nice car, land or a house,” he says.
He is a music lover since he was a young boy. His family loved music too and bought records. “So the decision to start collecting wasn’t a difficult one to make,” he says.
When the records started piling up, Karl hired a carpenter to make shelves. One has since filled up, and he now keeps his addition in a closet and the rest in crates. “I collect all types of records. I have jazz, soul, rock, country, RnB, rhumba, high life and rap records,” he says.
His most treasured record is an autographed “Let It Go” by American DJ House Shoes. This record, he says, came at a time when his life was in turmoil.
“I bought the record in 2012. I asked Shoes online to autograph it for me before mailing it. I was going through depression at the time. The music has remained close to my heart since,” he says.
Other than vinyl records and music paraphernalia, Karl collects paintings, baseball gear, sculptures and other artworks. Large paintings of animals, people and posters of famous artists and athletes, notably Muhamad Ali, hang on his walls.
His living room resembles a multifaceted artist’s workshop.
“I buy these items mostly from eBay and sometimes directly from artists. Others are gifts from friends’ collections and family. I have also bought memorabilia from the National Archives,” he says.
Karl, however, notes that collecting records in Kenya is an expensive hobby, especially when one needs to keep an up-to-date collection.
“An artist or store may sell you a record at $30 (Sh3,000), it will cost you an equal amount, or more, in shipping costs,” he explains.
“As such, I end up importing from platforms such as Discogs, HHV, Fatbeats and indie record labels,” he says.
“As a DJ, I’ll always collect music. My record collection will most definitely be passed on to the next generation. Vinyl never dies.”
Few things give Angel as much joy as fragrance does. She is currently at just over 100 brands, including vintages, a collection that has cost her a pretty penny.
Once she adds a dream item to her collection, she starts to fantasise about her next purchase.
“The sense of smell is the most evocative of the five senses. I love how a scent can take you right back to a specific moment in time. Scent is also capable of changing mood and demeanour; it has the power to make you feel bold, seductive, comforted, melancholic,” Angel says.
“The art of fragrance and bottling intrigues me. Jeux de Peau by Serge Lutens, for instance, has a smell of buttery croissants in a French bakery,” she says.
Angel says wearing an old favourite instantly puts her at peace, while a new bottle always fills her with joie de vivre. To her, fragrance serves as therapy, camouflage, a time machine and a mood stabiliser.
“My Roja Dave fragrance was a bottle of Diaghilev gifted to me by my ex-boyfriend. I don’t touch it anymore because it reminds me of him,” she says.
Angel has had a bottle or two hanging around since her teens. Her mother, she says, is her biggest influence as she grew up watching her wear perfume. To this day, she keeps her signature bottle of Organza by Givenchy—for sentimental reasons.
“She was always generous with any perfumes she didn’t like. She readily gifted them to me,” she says.
Angel, however, started to collect perfume seriously in 2012.
“I started reading about fragrance and my curiosity began to swell. I got into chasing the fragrances from the 20s from old houses like Chanel and Guerlain,” she says, adding that this has been her most sacred for the last eight years.
On the brands she has collected so far and if she has bias for any gender and particular brand of fragrance, Angel says she is an equal opportunity collector.
“I am neither snobby nor excessively budget-focused. My collection runs the whole gamut from affordable brands to very expensive brands.”
The bulk of her collection is designer, although the assortment also features exclusive niche fragrance and a variety of “cheap and cheerful” ones.
Angel also collects both masculine and feminine fragrances because to her “gender is not a fixed divider of fragrance.”
“They may be labelled either masculine or feminine, but I find most fragrances unisex. I’ve worn Terre d’Hermes by Hermes, a popular men’s fragrance for some time, with a lot of compliments,” she says.
For someone who owns multiple perfumes, Angel says it’s difficult to have an absolute favourite. In her collection are brands by Chanel, Hermes and Tom Ford. The most valuable ones include Roja Dove and Kilian.
“As a Chanel girl, my current one is Coco Mademoiselle Intense. I’m going through that stuff like juice,” Angel jokes.
Her source of perfume? All sorts of places. “Every week, I sample new releases. But it’s my purchases from online stores that’s alarmingly frequent. I always expect something new through mail,” she adds.
Is hers a hobby, an investment or does she do it for prestige?
“Mine is a passion. I’ve been lucky to come across a few vintage bottles of fragrances. I bought them as speculative investments. These though make up about 10 per cent of my collection, and I keep them in a separate safety deposit box.”
The rest, she says, is for her own use. “On most days, I wear two or three fragrances. There’s a morning workout scent, scent of the day and evening and bedtime scent,” Angel says, adding that she keeps a spreadsheet to compare notes, performance and prices for planning.
The hobby though has had backlashes, from family and friends alike.
“Some people close to me didn’t understand why I needed three, five, 10, 13 bottles of perfume. They criticise me for wasting money. But I don’t mind them since I know what I’m doing,” she says.
Other than money, she has invested a lot of time to study perfumery, reading blogs and participating in fragrance discussion forums.
“I run Angel Lately, a YouTube channel, where I review different fragrances. It takes a great deal of time to gather content for the channel, but the investment is worth every second,” she says.
Collector: vintage Volkswagen cars
Steve describes his fascination for classic VW cars as a hobby that pays. He collects the vehicles, repairs them before putting them up on sale.
“The time spent working on these vehicles is a form of therapy for me. It’s a fitting escape from the hardships of life,” he says.
“I get the cars in wrecks and spend weeks restoring them. My desire though is to open a large garage where I can rework more vehicles and hire for ceremonies such as weddings,” he adds.
His business idea is premised on the growing number of Kenyans with a soft spot for quirky style.
Steve’s attraction to cars started when he was a boy. His grandfather owned a Land Rover. He later fell in love with a neighbour’s grounded VW Beetle.
“I’d spend time in the car whenever I wasn’t in school. My dream was to own a Volkswagen when I grew up. I started to research on the vehicles as a teenager,” he says.
His research would take him to 1930s in Germany when Adolf Hitler’s government ordered the production of a family car that resulted in a Volkswagen Beetle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche. After some years of keen study, a pastime evolved into a fulltime engagement.
“Every car has a story behind it. I enjoy listening to stories of older people when they reminisce about their vehicles,” Steve says.
“It’s thrilling to see a car on a road many years after its production was stopped.” He sources his cars from all over the country, mostly from owners of old, grounded vehicles. Some of them, he notes, have been owned by famous people including the late president Daniel arap Moi and Orie Rogo Manduli, the first Kenyan female safari rally driver.
“Alan Dix, the winner of the first edition of the Safari Rally in 1953, was driving a VW Beetle. A VW Beetle won two other editions of the race in 1954 and 1957,” he says.
For spare parts, he imports them from Brazil, the US and the UK.
“I wish the government allowed us to import classic vehicles. Some of the cars are as old as 60 years, but due to restrictions, you can’t get them into the country.”
While he is cagey about the worth of his collection, Steve says he normally has between four and six vehicles in his garage, either undergoing repairs or awaiting resale.
“Some are easier to resell. Others, I just want to keep them and see them every day even if they can fetch good money,” he says.
His most treasured item in the collection? There are two, he says, grinning with pride.
“I have a VW Beetle 1959 model that features semaphores and a VW Split Screen Kombi Bus.”
On VW models he’d love to add to his collection, Steve says VW Oval Beetle, VW Split Window and VW Karmann Ghia are his dream cars.
Other than money, Steve says he has heavily invested his time in research about the vehicles.
“Many people across the world own classic VW cars. It feels good to be part of this large family,” says Steve, who also collects old cameras, records players and vinyl records besides cars.
For the love of these cars, Steve started groups on Facebook and WhatsApp (VW Bus Owners Club Kenya) that admit exclusively VW car owners.
Collector: Match day tickets
For the last 12 years, Tom has collected tickets for every football match he attends. A staunch fan of Kenyan Premier League multiple champions Gor Mahia, Tom doesn’t miss his team’s matches. Whenever his team travels, so does he, both locally and internationally.
It was by happenstance that Tom started collecting match tickets.
“I’d just bundle them in one of my jacket pockets after every match. After a while, the bulge grew. It’s then that I thought I could keep them for posterity,” he says.
Having attended hundreds of matches since 2008, Tom says the tickets now run into hundreds. He doesn’t know the tally, and he doesn’t intend to count them until he’s 50.
But even as he collects the tickets, some have more emotional value to him than others. Tickets for the ‘Mashemeji’ derby (encounters between Gor Mahia and arch-rivals AFC Leopards) rank above others, especially where his team wins over ‘Ingwe’. “No football rivalry in the country beats that of these two teams. They’re both the most successful in Kenyan football. Watching the two teams play excites me,” he says.
Tickets remind him not just about the outcome of the match but also about the events surrounding the duel.
“My all-time memorable match was on October 23, 2010 where we beat Ingwe 1-0 in Nyayo Stadium. On that day, there was a stampede at the stadium and a number of fans lost their lives,” he recalls, adding that he has kept the tickets in memory of the victims.
This endeavour though hasn’t been without setbacks.
“At some point, stadia management started to tear off tickets at the entrance to avoid double use. This really messed up my collection for months,” he says.
Tom though has devised a clever strategy: he would buy a ticket, but flash his stadium pass at the gate to gain access.
“This allowed me to keep my ticket intact,” he says.
While that solved one problem, it resulted in a new challenge.
“Tickets are made of very delicate paper that spoils shortly after. Storing them without tear is difficult,” Tom says.
To keep his collection in good condition, he now bundles them in a steel box, kept under lock and key in his bedroom.
“I hope to start scanning them.”
Collector: Golf paraphernalia
For the last 15 years, Tony has collected various types of golf clubs and an assortment of other golfing items. Tony, a golfer for many years, comes from a golfing family, hence the deep-seated passion for the sport.
His collection features drivers, Fairway Woods and wedges.
Other than clubs, he buys and preserves prizes won by different athletes over the years.
His dream addition to the collection are ancient golf balls used in the 19th century Scotland.
Collecting golf paraphernalia is both a hobby and an investment for Tony, who sources for these items from veteran and retired golfers.
“I like to study the technology used to make the various types of clubs in different eras of golfing history,” he says.
“My vision has always been to set up a golf academy complete with a golf museum. The end game is also to keep collecting and to sell them off at premium auctions and make money.”