MESHING ART WITH ENTREPRENEURSHIP

AMBITIOUS AND FOCUSED: Maxwell Omondi of Kahawa Creations.
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Maxwell Omondi of Kahawa Creations builds a business from his love of art

By Joseph Macharia

It seems he was cut out for art from the beginning. Maxwell Omondi, the prodigy behind Kahawa Creations sees the world through the eyes of a visual artist. Art has shaped and defined his life. Courtesy of art, he found himself into the business world.

Through his enterprise – Kahawa Creations –  he sells artworks and  offers  art services like drawing murals and body art . At first , he didn’t know he would make a living out of art.

The genesis

As a kid, Omondi was inspired by his elder cousin who liked to draw. He would sketch out drawings and show to his cousin who would plainly dismiss them. Accordingly, to show his cousin that he knew how to draw (and win his admiration), Omondi immersed into drawing full-time. He got so good that his cousin doubted his drawings. So the cousin put him to draw in his presence and Omondi stroked a beautiful portrait that won his cousin over.

In high school,  his special abilities in art started manifesting during talent shows. He would scoop awards in dancing and drawing until he was made a talent manager so that he would not be in the competitions.

 His biggest moment back then was when he designed a school bus and won. He was paid a token of Kshs. 1000 which encouraged him to take art seriously.

Upon completion of high school, art was the only thing that he wanted to pursue. His parents expressed concern that he should try doing something else. Even after being given probation of one year to change his mind, Omondi was adamant.  Art is what he wanted. While at home,  he would start recycling materials to make work of arts –  mostly collage and portraits.

Drift into high fashion

Eventually, with consent from his parents, he proceeded to Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts (BIFA) to pursue a course in fine arts. Here, he found a perfect environment that further nurtured his love for art. Later he would venture into fashion and graphic design.

“When I got into fashion,  I discovered I can use regular bleach to paint on fabrics,” he shared. Being an artist, he saw there is a gap when it comes to customized fabric decoration. Since there are few companies that do customized fabric decoration, Omondi resolved to seize and leverage the opportunity. He ventured into patterns, motifs and fabric decoration as an extension of his artistic work.

“There is a gap to be filled; us telling our own stories through the fabrics we produce,” he said. Omondi has since initiated a programme where he teaches pupils from Kibera art lessons. “I focus on solving problems, like turning waste into flip flop art.”

“Looking forward to that point where we can start auctioning artwork in large scale,” he added.

Omondi has a unique style of doing his artwork. He uses a razor blade. Like any other field, in arts, uniqueness increases value of a piece of work. So to use a razor, he mixes two types of paints: oil paints and acrylics which can be used with water. He applies oil paint on a canvass then on top of it applies acrylics. After allowing it to dry, he will use a razor draw or paint. “Depending on the pressure points, I either scratch up to the bottom or the surface.”

His major clients include locals who want their apparel custom-designed, high end art collectors as well as corporates. He finds most of his clientele through art exhibitions like the affordable art shows. For example, during a recent exhibition, he sold several pieces at over Kshs. 50,000 each.

Maxwell Omondi showcasing some of his recent artworks.

Kahawa creations

At the outset of his art career, he used to paint using regular grounded coffee. He would add water and paint using it. As a result, people started referring to him as the ‘coffee guy.’ He thus named his brand Kahawa Creations.  Kahawa is a Kiswahili word for coffee.

“I draw my inspiration from my environment. When travelling,  I take pictures and try to make artworks from there,” he notes. One time,  he took a picture of a woman selling groceries. Inspired by the scene, he hand-painted it, then posted it on the internet. It was bought.

From his original work, he has gotten numerous opportunities to exhibit as well as mingle with the high and mighty in society. They have also brought him opportunities to sell his artworks. Omondi has a vision of creating a Kenyan identity when it comes to fabric decoration and paint.

Hurdles

“Being an entrepreneur wasn’t easy. I didn’t have a structure because I started art as a hobby back then,” he said. Since he registered the business,  he has learnt more about entrepreneurship.

While he has enjoyed phenomenal growth in his art career, he has also faced a fair number of challenges. Back in college, he started a jewelry business with a partner. He would design jewelleries and the partner would sell them. They would split profits into half. Business was booming and Omondi reinvested his share into the business to increase stock. The partner took the stock sold it and disappeared. It was one of the lowest moments for him.

To console himself,  he started drawing to keep going. One time,  he took a video of himself drawing and posted his work. Within a short time, it sold. He did it again and voila business started coming in. Motivated, he started reading books to learn how to close sales, plan and budget. Then at some point, he found his business in debt because of over reliance on artworks alone. He decided to branch into fashion, fabric and graphic design to generate cash.

Another challenge he faced early on was dealing with customers who were not paying on time. He has learned the need for having a good cash flow. Subsequently, he now takes eighty percent for commissioned work. Middle men or brokers have also been a menace. They would collect artists’ artworks and broker deals that normally hurt the artists.

One of Maxwell’s artworks inspired by a bodaboda rider.

Road ahead

“My future plan is to have a farm where I can produce cotton and make my own fabric. I want to fill the entire block chain of production and also to have a space of my own like a gallery or an art café where people can come drink coffee, interact and buy art,” he remarked.

Omondi is dedicated to solving problems through his art. “I would love to see the Kenyan identity grow and become acceptable,” he noted. Already, through his art, he has championed the African identity.

His advice to youths: “Read books, network with people outside your circle. When it comes to mentorship, persistence is key.” He observes that young people don’t want to chase opportunities; they give up easily. Instead he advocates for youths to start looking for solutions to existing problems like how to deal with waste and have inclusivity.

The other side of Maxwell

Typical day: Starts the day at 9 am. Then conducts art lessons up to noon, there after does his daily creative work. Then winds the day in the evening.

Hobbies: Reading and dancing.

Favourite dish: Ugali and fish.

Favourite book: The Art of Discipline by Jessica Marks

Dream car: Range Rover Sport.

Marital status: Betrothed.

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