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Swahili Backstory: Tom And His Ostrich Army

Swahili Modern Blog and News

Heads in the sand

See what's at the end of that big green arrow? Yes, tucked back there behind the big weird-looking red and blue rooster. Those are Tom's ostrich planters. "So what?" you may think. Well, this image was taken in 2012, over five years ago, and we wouldn't bring these little lovelies to our collection for another couple of years! What is now our wildest bestseller was once just an overlooked opportunity. While we were intently mulling the marketability of weird-looking roosters, a future star sat there mutely awaiting a glance.

We can't blame Tom

He probably tried to show us, or expected us to see the potential in his charmingly clever creation. In our defense, we were meeting up at Friday market, where thousands of handmade products blend together in a sea of cloying creativity. If exposed to a Kenyan market too long, one can suffer from what we call, "craft blindness", a shocking inability to see great new products and a tendency to grasp anything nearby that's gaudy or gauche.

Staging an intervention

In this picture, I'm pretty sure that John and Tom are trying to stage an intervention over the red & blue rooster, but to no avail. Our overpainting and rooster years with Tom were just beginning. Many months would pass before we finally saw some exquisite little silvery ostrich planters through the fog.

Keeping it simple

Welding nuts, washers and metal rods, Tom and his small team of craftsmen keep their design refreshingly simple. Their little ostriches are sturdy, stable and suited to a variety of uses from holding small plants and succulents to billowing clusters of grapes over a buffet table. We love seeing such an iconic Kenyan animal reimagined with such thoughtful invention. Even more, we admire the restraint employed to keep the piece tasteful, chic and universally appealing.

An honest day's work

Just south of Nairobi, Tom and his team of five work from an old brick building constructed as one of the first British barracks outside the city. From within their small compound, the men celebrate the success of their ostrich design through stable daily work. While the struggle to make ends meet selling to a dwindling tourist market can defeat one's spirit, consistent work and distant customers' admiration for their creativity builds up the team.

One day at a time

Sometimes, success takes us by surprise and we have to scramble to build production capacity. Tom and his team give realistic timelines for the number of ostrich planters they can create, but lacking any other mode of transport, the men are forced to stockpile their ostriches in Nairobi one load at a time in the back of John's trusty Subaru. With thousands of their creations being requested, we may need to figure out a more efficient way to convey.

A joyful jackpot

We're never happier than when fortune shines on one of our African partners. While Tom and his mates now work steadily to meet their demand, we know that we'll find the fruit of their success flourishing in their homes and community upon our return to Kenya. Seeing kind-hearted Tom stepping proudly into the spotlight reminds us to remain hopeful and enthusiastic about who may be next to join him. Among our partners, there are so many creative and deserving souls we're hoping to help feel the joy of success.





1 Comment

Joy
Joy

September 11, 2017

Those sculptures are simply beautiful. I can see why they have broad appeal.

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