A customer looks on as her bead is customized

Bottomline: For with work, effort has to be channeled in. With effort comes sweat. With sweat comes benefit in form of monetary profit which we tabulate as the sun sets. 

I am Stephen Alando, a 24 year old professional bead work artist employed in a curio stall outside Uchumi supermarket, Eldoret town.

Patiently, I’ve learnt to stick to my hard surfaced, wooden stool from 8 am every given day, in an artistic work that sees me weave over 4 wristbands everyday in an aggressive bid to pragmatically make ends meet, a toil that runs from dawn to dusk… when we close business, at around  8 pm.

assorted curio shop items

Working in the streets isn’t easy, this is just like any other job or business ; of course no job is easy though it resembles the hardships herdsmen face while directing their cattle to the grazing fields, careful not to have locals’ farms tampered with.Once in the fields, the rest is normally to sit and relax. But then again, no work is simpler when compared to another. For with work, effort has to be channeled in. With effort comes sweat. With sweat comes benefit in form of monetary profit which we tabulate as the sun sets . We share the day’s spoils with ‘madam boss’ in a ratio that enables me foot my monthly bills, put bread on my table and save some more so that my dream to finally graduate from the University of Eldoret can be actualized with time in God’s volition come to materialize in the foreseeable future.

In the streets, I have to make an artistic acumen day in, day out so as to win customers over. The competition is also tighter as showcased by 5 plus stalls selling the same merchandise to a fixed number of daily passersby outside Uchumi supermarket, Eldoret alone. Take it as a survival of the fittest type of hustle, for If I don’t sell the art, suffice is to say I shall not be able to live within my daily means and needs.

Kiondos at the Curio Shop

I was admitted back in 2014 at the University of Eldoret in Uasin Gishu county,  formerly known as Chepkoilel campus. In 2016 two years into my varsity education I was forced to defer my studies due to financial constraints thus I had to survive out here in the streets.

I did not have an alternative partly because I never wanted my dreams and ambitions to be reduced to rubble. Options were neither at my disposal…But what saved me, was a shear fact that I had made good use of my time while at school.

I met some mojo friend who was well versed in making jewelry of all kinds, designs and champagne tastes. He made wristbands, wood earrings, necklaces, bead chokers alongside other merchandise with as little as two separate tools of trade… A fishing thread and small beads which would require ksh. 30 for a single band. The thread I would purchase from retail stores around town in bulk, but a ksh. 15 thread would with surety complete a single wristband to the final millimeter.

The beads are common on the streets of major towns and cities in Kenya, including Mombasa, Nairobi,Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Machakos, Kilifi and Malindi. They are stocked and sold off the shelves at much much affordable prices. What matters most in this job is the skill. For you need to acquire the skill before you can go about acquiring the beads or even the thread from any vendor within your locality.

Beads and other assorted curio shop items

It is also some job that requires patience and concentration, we get transfixed to our working areas for hours from eight in the morning to seven in the evening. The wristbands would go for about ksh. 150 to ksh. 200 on local streets in major towns but the price doubles or triples in high end settings  where they fetch ksh. 500 to Ksh 700. The high prices are attributed to the level of concentration that come with long hours of labor a designer needs before he or she shelves it for sale.

I have passionately focused doing bead work reiteratively for 5 years now, 2019 is actually my 6th year in this trade. Through God’s grace, I managed to land this job back in 2014 after I had successfully learnt the skill from a friend. The skill has proven to be a real blessing in disguise. The more I reprised my daily practices on this talent, the more I realized I could tumultuously do even better. Could the student be on course to being better than his teacher? Only time would tell.

In my opinion, curio industry is an high income undertaking which is very remunerative in Kenyan urban centres. Most portraits we sell here could cost as high as ksh 10,000. Some, depending on its frame’s wood type, could cost as high as Ksh 20,000. The wood carvings would also sell depending on the size and design. With an indisputably marvelous design, comes more money.

Alando at work at the curio shop

We also stock kiondos of different designs, color and sizes. Price ranges from Ksh. 900 while other ones would go up to Ksh 15,000. We also have ones with customized African prints, with cool changeover colors trans-mutating along sisal woven fabrics, well knitted and mellifluously finished bags of different, carrying sizes.

Jumpsuits for women are also available. With different materials ( spandex, flex) and sizes. Thigh – long shirts of similar material and design are also shelved. Kitchen cutlery including forks, serving spoons, cooking sticks all made of wood are also sold at our shop.

Well beaded Akala sandals which go for fair prices are also stocked at our stall. Those who love a little bit of nature are also within our radar as we also sell well painted porcelain flower vessels. Wooden flower vessels also exist, beautifully painted and technically furnished to admiration.

Many of our local clientele and other business stakeholders presume tourists are the backbone in this business when it comes to returning customers. However, locals benefit our business more; far much more when compared to the foreigners. As you have just witnessed. Take this from a more closeup point of view, it is not that easy. In fact, during Christmas season,locals promote our business more.

I have been doing this job for 5 years now. You all can tell by the skin of my teeth, how patience is mandatory in this work. In bead work, as an amateur artist in the industry, I would advise that you do not bite off more than you can chew – suffice it is to say once you begin some day’s task, automatically procrastination is out of question.

Just as I said earlier, this is just like any other business. You have to complete certain legal procedures and bureaucratic protocols before erecting your stall or otherwise having a rental space within town procured for you. We also face a number of challenges that see our business not culminate returns to the maximum. Some statistical survey carried within Eldoret by Campuserian online content creators, we all came to learn that Nairobi’s (Maasai market) forms the curio market that does well while the industry is also largely remunerative within Mombasa ( Fort Jesus’ market).

A customer looks on as her bead is customized

The Nairobi stalls usually accommodate 35% local customers and about 45% forming the sojourning foreign cohort. The 20% is summed up by the unsold goods. To this end as per our data , curio customers within Kenyan urban centres are fairly balanced (locals vis-à-vis touring customers).

My plea to the government is to beef up security within the country.I would also appreciate if proper and even bigger curio markets would get established in major towns by county governments with the support of foreign governments through their embassies. With terrorism  comes tensions thus trade imbalance during Dusit D2 terror attack on innocent civilians, we not only lose precious Kenyan lives but also, foreign tourists – who would otherwise promote curio business as they take souvenirs back with them.