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Opportunity Knocks

While exploring Nairobi, Sarah finds a new hidden gem where Kenyan creativity, craftsmanship and innovation collide
Above: Where the magic happens

I didn’t know what to expect from my first visit to Kenya. Surely, all of the colour and heart emanating from every picture I’d seen, story I’d read or video I’d watched couldn’t be real life? When a work trip took me from the open plains of the Maasai Mara and the Mount Kilimanjaro-shadowed Amboseli to the lively streets of Nairobi, it was proved tenfold. I spent my final days exploring the capital city and discovered a must-do: The Opportunity Factory. 

It seemed we were always short on time, there was too much to see and do in Nairobi. Our Angama city guide, Daniel, who had meticulously mapped out a busy schedule around the city, informed us that we should set aside time for this particular visit. Itinerary duly updated, we walked through the gates of The Opportunity Factory into an open courtyard — with a sign proudly declaring 'Made by Kenya' — which also housed a now-familiar Spring Valley Coffee shop (Angama’s choice coffee, with good reason).

The proud mantra of the Factory

Up first, we were welcomed to the Sandstorm shop where a collection of luxury Kenyan leather bags were on display. The Opportunity Factory is a Sandstorm initiative launched in 2021 as a platform for connecting other creative businesses while sharing their craftsmanship and expertise. The Factory’s ultimate goal is to provide job opportunities and training for local Kenyans and establish fairer ways of connecting artisans with the local and international markets.

Our tour guide was there to greet us and confirm how long or short a tour we wanted — we opted for ‘as long as possible’. Our next stop found us in a bright and airy communal working space where a team of ladies sat beading and crocheting. Stretched across the wall hung an intricate tapestry in shades of blue. A closer inspection revealed that the material used to create these beautiful pieces was denim off-cuts. The ingenuity and beauty of these upcycled handmade crafts had us enthralled.  

Tracing the Wild, a joint initiative between the Sovereign Nature Initiative, Kenya Wildlife Trust and Nairobi Design Week

To add to the creative atmosphere, nearby stood a vertical portrait from a Nairobi Design Week exhibition. It featured the outline of a lioness created using the data points captured while tracking her actual movements in the Mara — a spotlight on the conservation of predators for healthy ecosystems. The Factory appeared to draw creativity from all parts of Kenya.

Screen printing is a lovely way to customise the pieces
This one says 'my bag'

Screen printing is a special art form to me, as my father specialised in it, so I was thrilled to find myself in the screen-printing studio. What made this tour so unique, was the desire of the artisans to show us their creative process; we were invited to try our hand at making a screen-print (under their kind guidance). 

Measure twice, cut once
Glueing the edges before the final touches
Hand-cut and pressed labels ready to find a home

We next found a warehouse buzzing with teams of people absorbed in their work as they sat at neat rows of tables. Walking around freely, you could see the full metamorphosis of Sandstorm’s beautiful bags from table to table. First, strips of fabric and leather are glued and threaded together to form the start of a bag. Next, recycled brass hardware and zips bring the bags to life, and finally, the branding featured on each leather item is stamped on. 

The beautiful glass art varies in size from small pieces like this...
...to enormous reliefs such as this

Finally, we met with the stained glass artisan in residence, John Clark. John had previously been commissioned to work on the cathedral for Kericho (the second-largest cathedral in Kenya). Stained glass window panes and glassware of all shapes and sizes illuminated the studio. I was particularly taken by the striking shattered glass art piece of an elephant, its long tusks a strong reminder of the Super Tusker I’d just seen at Angama Amboseli. The effect of the glass gave this large animal a fragile-like quality — a gentle reminder of these giants’ vulnerability.
 
On my way out (after stocking up on Spring Valley coffee and strictly telling myself I didn’t need another leather handbag) I looked back one last time, and saw the “Made by Kenya” sign in a new light — the creativity, work ethic and vibrancy of all the people behind it.

Filed under: East Africa Travel

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Angama Team , Nairobi

About: Sarah Kajee

As part of Angama’s marketing team, Sarah's put-together-ness helps her keep her thumb on Angama's many intricate facts and figures. She also has her ear to the ground on all things Cape Town and her nose in all the best books. Never one to appear flustered, she’s even mastered the ways of her darling nonplussed cats.

Browse all articles by Sarah Kajee Meet the angama team

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Join the Conversation (2 comments)

Comments (2):

KAVISU NZILANI

6 March 2024

An amazing piece of info,am honored to be working at the Opportunity factory! it's always a beautiful experience interacting with these creative minds!

    Charlotte Ross Stewart

    6 March 2024

    Hello, thank you so much for sharing your creativity with us. You all bring such joy to everybody who visits.

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