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Home Startups CEO Weekends: Alilamu.com a Story of Love, Art & Friendship From a Kenyan Coastal Town

CEO Weekends: Alilamu.com a Story of Love, Art & Friendship From a Kenyan Coastal Town

by Sam Wakoba
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Daniela and Ali at their workshop

Daniela and Ali at their workshop

Founded in 2008 in Lamu by former fisherman Ali Omar  and Swiss photographer and traveler Daniela Bleattler, Ali Lamu had an unlikely start.  The weather wasn’t good, even economically, Ali Omar, then a fisherman and broke went to Bleattler for a job as he couldnt fish anymore and he was jobless. Bleattler, who was then a heartbroken traveler and afraid to give love another chance was looking for a tanga (sailcloth). She loved them but couldn’t find anywhere to buy one. So when Omar showed up and asked for a job, the only thing she wanted was him to get her a “tanga.”

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Determined to fulfill the request, Omar went around looking for her request but what he found was so old and weathered and Bleattler wasn’t pleased with it. The old sailcloth was tattered and had a huge hole in the middle. Omar, who was also a painter went to his home and got paint and brushes and went back to Bleattler’s to fill the tattered part. They did the painting together.  Bleattler loved the piece, framed it and put it up for sale at a friends art store. Within two hours it had been bought by an American couple.
Today, Alilamu has employed over 30 employees from Lamu’s fishing community. With several workshops, the two with workers who hit 70 at times get old sailcloths, paint them and then create bed covers, cushions, pillows, furniture, bags and many other items.
 The handmade products are then sold to the tourist community in Lamu, a coastal city in Kenya.  Apart from just the designs, the painters put thoughtful and uplifting messages to promote peace, love and environmental conversation.

All the crafts are made from recycled fishing materials disposed off on the shores of the beaches and from old sails.  The designs are inspired by fishermen, the cool ocean, the sandy beaches, the lovely people  playing on them, and at times inspired by their own moods. Apart from the site, they also sell their items from their Lamu boutique, though the island has had a reduction in the number of visitors due to rampant terror attacks.

Daniela and Ali

Daniela and Ali

See below our interview with Daniela;

What is AliLamu?
Ali Lamu is a recycling family getting bigger and bigger.

What are your main products?
We make bags, paintings , cushions among others but we are dreaming big and so new little things always come out.

Who are your biggest customers-locals or tourists?
Tourists here and abroad. We export or they order online.

How do you get materials?
People know us, so they come to us with all kinds of old materials then our team recycles them.

Who are the founders?
I, Daniela Blaettler, am a photographer and a lover of elephants and Ali Omar, a fisherman

Any business challenges?
The biggest challenge is we at times fail to produce enough in time and sometimes we find it hard to get enough materials especially the old sail. Our workers have kids here and finding food to feed everyone and then send them to school is not easy.

Is there anyone doing something similar to yours?
Yes, so many but if someone copies our work, we feel proud of ourselves, the important thing is to be the first and original and be good enough not to let your competition beat you. We are happy we managed to  to inspire others and hopefully they are able to earn some money and help other people survive too.
What makes you stand out from the competition?
Alilamu is Alilamu, one can copy us but they will never be us because we are 100% heart and handmade Alilamu .

Where do you expect your business to be in five years?
(Jokingly!) Over the moon, playing with the stars, allover!

Have you raised any funds and do you plan to expand?
Of course we are expanding every day and we have faith that everything is possible with a big open heart. We make every shilling here and we are already out there and online. Our goal is to help the poor and get as many people out of poverty, no one might get rich in the end but we just want as many people out of poverty as we can.
How is the business environment in Lamu?
One day it will be good again, but in the last three years, it has been very hard for everyone.

 

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