Meet the Kenyan Furniture Maker Building the “Ikea” of Africa
Chances are that you have never heard of FunKidz, the Kenyan furniture brand that is set to take on the furniture industry in Africa and the rest of the world. FunKidz manufactures cabinets, desks, baby cots, and bunk beds for kids, targeting a niche market for children’s furniture in Kenya and the rest of Africa.
FunKidz is the brainchild of Kenyan entrepreneur Ciiru Waweru. A wife and mother of two active children, Waweru told aQuartz Africa Innovators Summit that she was inspired to start FunKidz while she and her husband awaited the birth of her first child. She recollects having trouble with finding good quality furniture for babies and children in the Kenyan market; she had identified a need and was thereafter determined to meet it.
FunKidz commenced production in 2010 with a vision of supplying Kenya and other African markets with excellent children’s furniture that can rival products from anywhere in the world. As a result, some have labelled FunKidz the “Ikea of Africa,” a compliment that acknowledges the factory’s reputation for manufacturing very high quality, mass-produced, modular furniture products that can be easily assembled or taken apart by the customers.
But Waweru says she has encountered people who have curiously remarked that the products she makes are not authentically African:
“We need to stop putting things in a label, in a box, and saying this isn’t African enough… What does that even mean? Through our design and products we hope to bridge that stereotype gap… where you look African and therefore your furniture must also look African,” she said.
Waweru says in addition to supplying world-class children’s furniture, she hopes to use the products from her company to offer a fresh narrative about African-made goods. Waweru is one of many African entrepreneurs working hard to change the dodgy stereotypes that associate African manufacturing with what are basically eccentric cultural artefacts or crafts produced with no need for complex modern manufacturing technology.
It is often forgotten that in the first half of the last century, the manufacturing output of many African nations could rival and often surpassed what was obtainable in most of Asia and Latin America. During the independence era, many African countries advocated the doctrine of self-reliance and resourcefulness that encouraged a thriving industrial sector that manufactured most of what was consumed in each country with some surplus for export.
However, a combination of “interventionist schemes” from Bretton Woods institutions in the economies of many African countries in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, a crisis of leadership, and poor macroeconomic management helped to saddle many African countries with huge debts. This forced them to implement stringent Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) that wreaked further havoc on the industrial and manufacturing sectors of their economies.
Like many African countries, the manufacturing sector in Kenya accounts for only a fraction of production – a mere 20 percent of total GDP, recent figures say. However, a development blueprint drafted by Kenyan policy makers in 2008 aims to raise that figure to 30 percent of GDP by 2030. This may sound like a tall dream, but it is by no means impossible.
Waweru herself knows the power of dreams: she recollects starting FunKidz with a loan. In its early days, the company had only two employees, and the market conditions were tough. Six years into its operation, FunKidz now employs 23 people directly and many more indirectly. The company has gained a foothold in the Kenyan market and is making inroads into other East African markets like Uganda and Rwanda.