My name is Nyawira Mafabi. I am the founder of Nyuzzi, a brand that specializes in making crocheted Brown and Black dolls and keychains that celebrate our beautiful African skin. However, I do make other types of crochet dolls as well. Nyuzzi caters to children and the young at heart.
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The name Nyawira is from the Kikuyu ethnic community in Kenya. It means “one who works hard”.
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Education Is Power.
After completing high school, I attended the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). There, I graduated with Bachelor of Science in Computer Technology. Furthermore, I’m an alumni of the Kenya Methodist University (KEMU) where I did my MBA in strategic management. Following my graduation from KEMU, I was fortunate enough to find employment. I worked for Safaricom, the leading communications company in Kenya, as Team Leader – Financials, at the Retail department.
My earliest crafting memory is being taught how to knit in nursery school. I made a misshapen knitted scarf that had so many colours (I was using any scrap yarn I found in the house).
After that, I did not touch yarn again until my 20’s. What started out as a joke ended up being my favourite crafting memory; making a crochet blanket with my mum. I found some yarn, started with a chain, which morphed into making the first row, and the project took a life of its own.
Each day, one of us would crochet more rows, using whatever yarn we found. After a while, we had to buy yarn. And finally we finished the blanket a few months later. It looked quite good with all its random colours. The blanket could comfortably fit a 4 by 6 ft bed.
After that, I started making throws and selling them, trying new and different patterns I found on YouTube.
Basically, I re-learned how to crochet from YouTube. Making my first doll was an aha moment. I love making dolls and seeing the reactions children (and parents) have to these dolls.
A Brand Is Born.
Currently, I am a wife and work-from-home mum of two beautiful girls.
After giving birth to my first child, I felt the pressure involved with my job more keenly. As a result, I decided to hand in my resignation in early March 2016.
That same year, I made my first doll for my daughter. After that, I posted it online and my friend from high school, Shiku Maina, took a liking to it and placed an order for a similar one. And from there, Nyuzzi was born.
However, coming up with a name wasn’t that easy. We brainstormed with my entire family including my mum, sister and husband. I wanted a swahili name. A name that had something to do with yarn. Many of the ones proposed had to do with doll making but I wanted one that didn’t just focus on that; I make infinity scarves as well.
My mum is the one who came up with uzi (swahili for yarn or thread). Then my husband told me that there is already a brand with that name, but why not “wingi wa uzi, nyuzi? (“the plural of uzi which is nyuzi?”). Only add a second “z”?”. i decided to go with this idea. Besides, it just seems like we married Nyawira and uzi lol.
Swahili (locally referred to as Kiswahili) is Kenya’s national language. Swahili originated on the East African coast, as a trade language used by both Arabs and coastal tribes.
Today, the language is used in most of eastern and central Africa and is the most widely spoken African language. In Kenya, most people are trilingual, generally speak a tribal language at home, use Swahili as an everyday language, and English for business.
Source: Magical Kenya
Everyone Is Not Your Customer.
My main struggle is getting people to appreciate crochet.
When I state my prices, there are some potential clients who either say that it’s too high, they want a discount, or they just want “something simple” that “doesn’t cost that much”.?.
I have since learnt that if one cannot understand the amount of work that goes into creating a piece, then they are probably not my target audience, and that is OK.
As for managing the business, I need to be more strict with my time. Likewise, dedicate more hours into my business, so it can grow to it’s full potential.
I have since learnt that if one cannot understand the amount of work that goes into creating a piece, then they are probably not my target audience, and that is okay.
~Nyawira Mafabi | Nyuzzi
Nyuzzi, For Children & The Young At Heart.
The two main dolls in Nyuzzi are The Heri Doll and The Subira Doll.
Matilda, a friend of mine, is the one who came up with the names. I needed better doll names than “Type A” and “Type B” ?. In the same fashion as with my business name, I wanted Swahili names. Ones that held meaning.
The swahili saying “Subira huvuta Heri” is where their names are coined from. The Swahili saying directly translates to “Patience begets blessings”.
My business went to the next level, when I introduced the Heri doll. The smaller doll is named Subira. I made her for a couple of years before I started making the larger Heri doll.
What We Dwell On Is Who We Become.
I draw my inspiration from other crocheters, both local and international. When I see the beautiful unique items they make, it pushes me to try and make something new.
However, sometimes I do lose my drive. When this happens, I either take a break from doll making entirely or crochet a new stuffed animal, one I haven’t attempted before. Either of those usually does the trick. Once I get my mojo back, I continue with the doll making.
Dream Big, Set Goals, Take Action.
One of my main goals is to go international, in a big way! I have sent a few items out of the country, but now, I need to focus more on that untapped market. My husband has been pushing me to have a website of my own, for Nyuzzi products. I honestly do not know why I haven’t done it yet… that’s another goal of mine that I have to work on.
Equally important is the need to focus more on Nyuzzi’s social media presence.
As mentioned earlier, I am from the Kikuyu ethnic community. My maternal grandmother used to make kiondos (handwoven baskets). She would sit in the sun, get her sisal rope and coloured polythene paper and start making her kiondo. I can’t quite remember how long it took for her to finish one, but they were so beautiful and vibrant!
Many Kikuyu women of that generation seemed to have that skill, and even today, I have seen many Kikuyu women still practicing that craft.
My mother, on the other hand, was really good at knitting. She used to knit sweaters for my sister and I, and would also crochet couch covers. I think every Kenyan household in the ’80’s and ’90’s had crocheted vitambaas (doilies) on their couches lol.
These two ladies, my grandmother and my mother, pushed me to gravitate towards crochet. I find it much easier and faster than knitting or weaving.
Basket (kiondo) making was a notable traditional economic activity among the Agikuyu women. The kiondo is a woven basket made in various shapes, colors, and sizes, and decorated with geometric designs. Strings for making the baskets were gathered from the bark of several indigenous shrubs.
Apart from weaving baskets and trays, the strings were also used in making snares, repairing calabashes, stringing beads or tying loads
Source: Arts & Culture
Nyawira Mafabi is active on her Instagram @nyuzzi_kenya & Facebook Nyuzzi Kenya. You can follow her to see her latest work and keep up to date with new releases. For any other inquiries, you can contact her via her business line +254722228874.
Disclaimer: All photos provided for the purposes of graphics & illustrations for this article are from Nyawira Mafabi of Nyuzzi.