Hunt like a hungry lioness: A miniseries on Craft It about Nairobi’s creatives
#4. LAURA LWALA: PRYDE ARTZ JEWELLERY
Laura Lwala has the psyche of the girl next door, the one you grew up with. She’s modest, chatty and has great eye contact. We’ve just sat down and she already makes a joke about how outdated her glasses are. We laugh like old friends. I love it when folk reach for self-deprecating humour.
Laura makes brass jewellery by hand. (She’s has two rings on each and dangly earrings. I’ll later see an almost similar pair of earrings up for sale on her Instagram page.) She makes them at home, herself. One can’t tell by looking at her fingers – short, chubby, matted red polish – that she’s manipulated brass wire with jewellery pliers and wire cutters since before ‘Black-ish’ aired its pilot.
There’s something very African, very homegrown, very familiar and very simple about Laura’s jewellery. I don’t feel that I have to be a cultured uppity urbanite to wear it. It’s everyday jewellery for the everyday girl, the occasion being that there’s no occasion. This says plenty about the values the brand and Laura herself embody. My little sister – Winnie – is one of her old-time clients. She’s been wearing Pryde Artz jewellery since she was a sophomore in campus. Her last splurge was on these hair accessories she bangles around strands of her braids.
Laura and I chat over sweetened dawas in the hubbub of Java K Street. The weather today is as moody as an adolescent teen. One minute it’s sunny and peachy, the next it’s gray and pouty, threatening to crack the sky open in the outburst of a drizzle.
This is Laura’s story.
AS TOLD TO FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
I was invited to the New York Fashion Week to showcase my products on the runway. My first thought when I received the email is that, this is a scam. Surely, New York Fashion Week? Showcase my products? On their runway? No way. The email said I’d been selected from over 4,000 people across the world. I believed it wasn’t a scam when they sent me the itinerary. Here, let me show it to you. I had to take care of my own ticket and accommodation and everything else. I would have loved to go but I couldn’t. I didn’t have any extra money for the trip.
I’m a math geek. I wanted an undergrad in pure math but my Dad asked me what I’d do with the degree, lecture? I did actuarial at JKUAT.
Two of my biggest influencers, or is it brand ambassadors, have been Sheila Ndinda, the natural-hair YouTuber, and Talia Oyanda, the one and only Talia Oyando. Even This Is Ess has given us a lot of support. They’d order their jewellery and pay for it – like regular customers – then they’d tag me on Instagram when they’d worn the pieces. I didn’t even have to ask them to tag me. Imagine that. I think they’re just really good people. I’d get several orders after their tags. They helped me grow my brand.
I don’t know what Twitter wants. I can’t seem to grow my following on Twitter, not even on my personal profile. I have a following on Facebook and Instagram. I started out on Facebook. My page back then was called ‘Pride Designs’ and people always confused it for the LGBTQ Pride group. I’d get inboxes asking, ‘Are you part of the Pride community?’ I changed the page name to Pryde Artz. Because everything is art. I don’t get too many orders from Facebook – I’ll post a picture and people will like it and say, ‘Oh, that’s nice’. Post the same picture to Instagram and I get several orders and inquiries.
I ran this fish caging side-hustle that made me broke. It’s fish farming but the fish are kept in cage inside Lake Victoria. I farmed tilapia. I went into the business with my Uncle, we sank in about 300 gees. I’d send the caretaker two gees every week for food for the fish. I didn’t know a lot of what was happening there. There was also a lot theft, someone would go into the cage at night, cut the cage and steal some fish, all the others would swim away.
My day job is in insurance, I advise people how to invest for retirement. I talk to people every day. Before I met you here, I was talking to a client about his fund statement. He’s in his mid 30s. He just wanted to know how much he’d saved. We get that a lot. I tell my friends to start saving for retirement early. Retirement will come. I advise my clients to share pension money equally to their kids, because money can create bad blood amongst siblings. I haven’t heard of anyone [in my portfolio] who’s killed someone else for insurance money.
There are rules to wearing jewellery. It has to match with what you’re wearing. Like this [red] turtle neck I’m wearing goes well with these long dangly earrings. Your blouse is a bit fancy with the frills and large buttons, it matches those simple gold loops. Let me show you some of the custom jewellery I’ve made for Sheila and Talia to wear to events.
I make a mean meat stew. Actually I can make a feast out of anything in my kitchen. I live alone. I cook myself a meal daily. I don’t know what I’ll cook tonight.
I’m catching ‘Game of Thrones’ a second time, I catch it while I do my wire work. The series finale is coming next year, I don’t want to have forgotten anything. I love the short guy the most. Tyrion Lannister. He’s a dwarf but he’s very smart. Knows how to strategize. He says he can’t go to battle but he can outsmart you with his wits. My favourite line from Tyrion, I can’t quote it word for word but it goes something like, Armour yourself with your weakness and it will never be used to hurt you.
I started in this craft by hand-making cards. Greeting cards and birthday cards. I used Maasai beads on the cards. Then I joined the shambhalas craze. Made those for a while. One day I was in River Road buying beads for my cards, I bought them from this place called CottBeads, so I’m getting the beads and I see a roll of wire. I asked what it is. They told me it’s brass wire. I asked what it’s for. They told me it’s used for making jewellery. I bought a small roll that day. I didn’t know what to do with it so I went on YouTube to teach myself how to make the jewellery – rings, earrings, bracelets. I didn’t go back to making cards after that. The wire jewellery made for better business anyway – it’d take me two hours to make one card I’d sell for 200 bob; now it takes me 30 minutes to make a ring with an intricate design, 15 minutes for something much simpler, yet I get twice as much what I was getting from the cards.
My little sister doesn’t pay for her jewellery. When she comes over to my house, she sees what I have and takes it. Ha-ha. I guess that’s what little sisters are for. My Mum also rocks my jewellery.
I’m back to school again. They made it mandatory for anyone in insurance to have a diploma in insurance. I’m in class three evenings a week, Tuesday to Friday, 5.30 to 7.30 p.m. School is in South C. I read schoolbooks before bed and on the weekends and when I’m not hanging with my boyfriend.
Here’s something you didn’t know about insurance: Did you know that pension money supersedes a will? Did you also know that when you hit 40, you can buy an insurance product which pays you a salary for the rest of your life, until death? It’s called an annuity. For instance, if you’ve saved 500K in your retirement fund, you’ll get paid around 4K until death. A good amount saved is at least 4 mili, so you’ll get paid 30K a month.
I’ve been told ‘fuck you’ on phone more times than you have. My first job after campus was as a debt collector for a bank on Ngong Road. A microfinance. They lent money to small businesses and to start-ups. My job was to sit at my desk all day and call defaulters asking for our money back. I didn’t even get up to go for lunch. I was given a phone with unlimited airtime. Then I’d call. And call. And call. Off the hook. My daily target was to recover 10 mili. I think I hit that target once or twice.14