Business brewed in a calabash

Business brewed in a calabash

You know the calabash! It has been used by man as a utensil from time immemorial, but you definitely haven’t seen it all. One young man has taken the calabash use to another level.
At 21, Eugene Ochieng is in a class of his own — his business acumen makes him stand out among his peers.
The third year student at Technical University of Kenya is the founder of Lytsal Decors Kenya, a registered company with 11 employees. For two years now, his enterprise has specialised in carving calabashes into beautiful artifacts, interior décor and collectibles like lampstands, wall brackets, fruit bowls, cutlery holders and flower vases.
Born into a polygamous family in Dandora, Nairobi, Ochieng went to school at Wangu wa Makeri Primary, then Pumwani Boys High before joining Technical University, where he is pursuing a degree in Urban Design and Development.
Life in the slum was not a walk in the park, he says. “Growing up in the ghetto is not easy. I watched my parents struggle to raise our school fees and this made me to think harder,” he says. He says his biggest fear was to get stuck in the slum. “You know Dandora and how it can define you,” he adds Ochieng says after high school, when his peers were busy taking computer courses and driving classes, his parents could not raise enough money to enroll him for such courses.
SMALL START
But still, Ochieng could not just sit idle. Between September and May 2013 while waiting to join campus, he indulged in what he loved best –art and design.
“I started painting, drawing, sketching and carving collectibles like ornaments using materials such as calabash. Then one day, my friend quipped that I could make a lampshade out of a calabash and the joke struck me as a viable idea for a booming business,” says the student.
“Sometimes people don’t believe in ideas until they see results. I gave it a shot and it worked,” he adds. This led to the birth of his company.
Ochieng did not have enough capital to start the business. He says that he started with three lampshades that he had made earlier. He sold each at Sh1,200 and used the money to buy materials and make more products.
Eventually, he managed to make enough money to support his business. “When you invest in your passion, the results are great,” he says.
“Young people wait for that time when they will get money in bulk to start up a business but it’s better to begin small and grow with time than to sleep on a great idea,” adds Ochieng.
Located at Kariobagi South, his company employs young people who turn a penny for their lives by carving calabashes into different products.
“I only design the templates for my employees and they work the designs, although sometimes clients give me specifications of what they want.”
Calabash is the main material for his business, which he sources from Kariokor market and periodically in Ukambani when he needs stock in bulk. So, does he get time for school? “I don’t spend much time in the workshop, so I mostly design the work in the evening and early in the morning and leave the actual shaping of the products to the workers under the supervision of my assistant. The sales team does the marketing. However, I am involved in making major decisions for the company. This is how I balance between school and work,” says Ochieng.
His products are purely handmade. He combines scraping, carving and engraving techniques while also incorporating painting and basket weaving in some pieces.
Ochieng says that he does not struggle to market his products. The beauty of his products attracts customers but he occasionally displays his work, especially paintings, at art exhibitions, photo galleries and workshops at Nairobi Museum.
He has also taken to online marketing through Facebook and is currently working on a website-www.lytsaldecor.com.
His clientele
“The small pieces go for as low as Sh500, medium ones at Sh2,000 while big pieces cost between Sh5,000-10,000, depending on the specifications of the design,” he explains. “On average, we sell about 35 pieces a week,” says Ochieng.
His clientele includes hotels and restaurants. He says there are also individual buyers like home owners who order custom designs made to suit interior decor of their homes, as well as walk-ins who buy directly from his workshop.
EXTINCT GOURD
Ochieng notes that for clients who prefer more traditional and African products, the natural calabash with its earthly colour, wonderful curves and textures, is the solution. For more contemporary designs, other materials such as glass, marbles, liner fabric, wood and paint, which are available locally, are used to give the products that chic and sultry finish.
Ochieng says that apart from paying his employees and rent, he uses part of his income to pay his school fees. He adds that he is saving and is looking forward to buying a piece of land, where he can plant calabashes. “I am greatly pleased to have relived my parents the burden of paying my school fees and that of my siblings. Because of this business, my family, including my siblings, have a better life – no ghetto life anymore,” says Ochieng.
He notes that his main challenge is access to calabashes- which he says are gradually becoming extinct.
His future plans? We ask. Ochiengs says that apart from buying land where he can plant calabashes to ensure enough supply, he also envisions opening shops across the country, where he can stock his products and develop a brand.
His greatest motivation is creating employment and the response he gets from his clients.
For Ochieng, the beauty of entrepreneurship is the realisation that your hard work is paying off.
“Business is amazing because you become creative and exercise the power of your mind,” he says.

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