Visit to Chreserve Arts and Signs

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By Traci Yoshiyama, Kenya Client Relationship Manager

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.

You cannot travel to Kenya and miss stopping by the Maasai market; even tourists that usually avoid souvenirs will have a difficult time averting their eyes from the vibrant colors and beautifully crafted products. Hundreds of blankets are spread along the sidewalk displaying look-alike items while their owners hustle to make a sale. Having bought my fair share of knick-knacks from several markets in Kenya, I have always wondered, where do these things actually come from (aside from those bought from China)? When I found out Zidisha borrower, Joshua Ogutu, made such products, I jumped at the chance to meet him. 

Across the street from his apartment and resting on a rooftop to ensure proper airflow is Joshua and Samson’s (his business partner) workshop, the heart and pride of Chreserve Arts and Signs. Much as I imagined an artist’s den to look like, Joshua’s workshop is brightly decorated with paint-splattered furniture, half finished bowls and plates, wooden giraffes, and an assortment of nude soapstone figurines waiting to be set apart from the rest. I caught Joshua in the middle of making one of his favorite designs, Kenyan women carrying water jugs on their head. Like a true artist, he describes it as “The real Kenya, suffering women.” 

Joshua began his career as a curio painter in 1992, employed with African Heritage, but found himself venturing into self-employment when the organization closed. Although making a name for himself has proven to be difficult, Joshua has managed to earn a living through this hobby turned career, not only selling his products to local clients, but also exporting to Iceland and America. Despite having almost thirty clients (including Samson’s clients) selling Chreserve products in Kenya, Joshua’s profit is very little due to middlemen buying their products at low costs, only to sell them at exorbitant prices (Joshua sells a small bowl for 55 KES, while the vendor will sell it for 500 KES). Having restricted access to selling his own products in the markets, Joshua has no choice but to continue with these partnerships. 

When Dorcas, Joshua’s wife, heard about Zidisha, she did not hesitate to inform him about it. It wasn’t long before he applied and became a member. Joshua was able to use part of his loan to buy more soapstone and materials needed to create his pieces of art. In addition to receiving a loan, Joshua saw Zidisha as a chance for his products to gain exposure globally. His main objective is to cut out the middleman and have the freedom to sell his products right to the consumer.

My visit with Joshua, Samson, and Dorcas was wonderful; I’ve already made plans to return because as I predicted I could not resist making custom orders of his beautiful creations. If anyone is interested in doing the same, please do not hesitate to contact Joshua at joshkoguta@yahoo.com. I will also be returning back to Hawaii in June and can ship products from there. Joshua, Samson, and Dorcas, thank you very much for a wonderful day and I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks! Thank you very much for the beautiful bowl; my husband loves it! I can’t wait to see the other one. 

Please visit Traci’s blog to view many more pictures and Chreserve products: http://talkingstorykenya.wordpress.com/faces-of-kenya/

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