From tech to political science, I found my calling in street fairs – Daily Nation


BETT KINYATTI

By BETT KINYATTI
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Forty Kenyan vendors will be exhibiting their handmade products at Savannah Space’s street fair Saturday. It is happening at The Node, Westlands, Nairobi, until 7pm. I suggest you drop everything you are doing and head on there. You will not pay for entrance, but you will pay for some pizza and buckets of beer to wash it down. And, of course, bag yourself a Kenyan-made item. Win win.

Savannah Space is the brainchild of Cherie Kihato. One of the things the year-old company does is put together these street fairs for vendors to exhibit their work. The vendors are all Kenyan, and strictly exhibit furniture and pieces for home decor.

Cherie, 24, singlehandedly organises these street fairs; she also bears the heartache of being rejected by vendors and sponsors she reaches out to. Savannah’s pilot was a Christmas Fair in December 2018. She held another in April. She dubs this August edition “Street Fair II”.

Cherie tells me her story:

“No one sponsored our first fair in December 2018. I had also reached out to over 100 vendors to exhibit their products, but I got more nos and non-responses than I did yeses. I understood that it was the growing pains of a young business. I needed a track record. The 40 who said ‘yes’ made the fair happen. Whatever I charged got them a table, two chairs, traffic and buyers.

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We had a turnout of 750 during our April fair.

We lost Dad when I was nine months old. I’m told he died from a heart attack. I don’t remember anything about him, but I see his photos.

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I went to the University of Sheffield (UK) on a partial scholarship for my bachelor’s degree. I took a common course in my first year with a wonderful Greek lecturer. His name was Vas. He broke down the theories in such fascinating ways. I ended up switching majors to politics and philosophy because of him.

My idea when I started Savannah Space was to provide access to market for local artisans who make quality furniture and home decor. I feel they are sorely under represented. My market is young urban professionals and millennials moving into their first homes.

I took a semester in Italy with other students from across the world. I learned two important things. One, that our generation is more tolerant than the older generation. The mother of one of my Croatian friends told me she had never spoken to a black person in her life. She had grown up in one of those small villages in Croatia with 50 people. Speaking to me surprised her – she said people everywhere are really the same.

The handmade industry in Kenya is driven by personal taste and the price point of the items. We already have the craftsmanship and materials for creating quality products. I seek to export these products one day.

I graduated from the University of Sheffield in July 2017, then came home soon after. I took an interest in coding and applied for a tech job. The man interviewing me didn’t want to tell me my websites suck, ha-ha. He said instead, “I think you’re better suited for marketing.” He gave me a job as their marketing manager.

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Second thing I learned while in Italy is that everyone enjoys a magical sunset – it doesn’t matter which part of the world you’re from.

HEVA is sponsoring this edition. HEVA is a non-profit that provides knowledge and financial support to businesses in the creative industry. Marketing on social media is our biggest cost – we collaborate with social media influencers to advertise it to their communities.

Another major cost is to pay the Nairobi County government to close the roads off for the day, and put an advert in the newspaper. These are legal requirements.

I always remember a quote from my lecturer, Vas. A Latin quote that said, ‘Cogito ergo sum’. It translates to ‘I think therefore I am’.

People ask me how I ended up being the marketing manager of a tech company, at 22, when I had no experience. I say it’s because of God and my personality. I’m a born-again Christian, a strong believer. I also have two older brothers and they’re confident people. My mother raised us to go after what you want. I reach for these traits as I run Savannah.

After leaving the marketing job, I interned with an international company for six months. I provided support for tech start-ups in Kenya and Nigeria. There was a position I should essentially have been promoted to, but they advertised it. I applied. Deep in my heart, though, I knew I wouldn’t get the job. The idea for Savannah came when I asked myself, ‘OK, Cherie, what next?”





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