Jua Kali is an informal sector comprising of small scale traders and artisans who can create almost anything on demand.
Say you’re opening a restaurant and would like an oven custom built to your specifications. You would like it to have a charcoal grill, a deep fryer, a separate compartment with a chicken roaster, etc. Such complex all-in-one machines don’t exist in electronic shops, but they do in jua kali. Almost anything can be custom made to meet the customer’s needs.
The newly launched online platform – Juakaliproducts.co.ke was born out of the need to bring convenience to consumers.
Fred Ngugi, a Nairobi based business man says “I usually go to the jua kali market in Muthurwa to buy baking tins for my bakery. The products are much cheaper and better quality than what I would find in other places. The only thing I don’t like is actually going there. It is too chaotic for me. And it gets worse on rainy days because I end up looking like I’m from the farm.”
Patrick Kenyi, co-founder of Jua kali Products, says that “The goal is to make it as easy as possible for consumer to buy the local products without actually going into the market. You simply place your order online and it gets delivered within a day or two.”
The words jua kali translate to ‘hot sun’, a reference associated with the fact that the artisans usually work by the roadside, almost completely vulnerable to whatever surprises the weather may have in store. But despite what may seem like a hostile work environment, many of them are actually contented. The absence of formalized systems and bureaucracies allows them to entirely focus on the work at hand.
John Odhiambo, an experienced blacksmith, says that he would never trade his job for anything else. “I have had many opportunities to do other things, but this is my life. I enjoy waking up early and putting my creativity to work. It pays the bills and I have no reason to complain.”
Creativity is breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. With the addition of an online gateway that makes it easier for consumers to buy jua kali products, the future is certainly looking bright for a sector which has often been criticized for its slow adoption to technology.