When a Kenyan journalist in London shared a photograph, on her Twitter account, of an expensive Christian Louboutin Casual Style Calfskin Plain Leather Tote (a fancy name for kiondo) that retailed for 450 UK Pounds (Ksh 67,500), a debate ensued.
Kenyan buyers, who are used to snatching up the product at slightly under Ksh2,000 (with bargain tactics able to lower the price to below Ksh1,000) along Nairobi streets, were wondering how the continent next door was more receptive for an environmentally friendly product that Kenyans had taken for granted, for years.
In the UK and across the globe, several designer brands have taken the kiondo idea and added their own leather or flowery designs and sold the product for six figures. Balenciaga, an Italian high fashion line, has listed the product for US$2,000 (Ksh200,000).
Speaking to Kenyans.co.ke, Agnes Gitau, an entrepreneur and partner in an advisory firm based in London, however, painted a very different picture regarding the market forces that control the flourishing market.A Christian Louboutin branded Kiondo in UK.
Non-branded kiondo products in London retail for between 30 UK pounds (Ksh4,500) and 150 UK Pounds (Ksh 22,000) a piece but to make the products sell, some traders attach a ‘sob story’ regarding how the product ‘supports’ poor Kenyan women.
Gitau noted that Kenyans abroad have faced challenges in establishing businesses in the sector revealing that some high-end brands claim that the products were benefiting Kenyan women when indeed they were not.
“Absolutely not , it’s just used for marketing, and the market is pretty competitive, not anyone can get into the business
“Many years ago, you’d get Kenyans selling kiondo in street festivals, but nobody was running it as a business,” stated Gitau.
She further noted that the designer products often sold the products exorbitantly on the premise that it was environmentally friendly and that it was benefitting the penny-per-hour artisans who made the products, mostly from third world countries.
“People who spend that kind of money when it comes to products like the kiondo are mostly driven by (Environmental, Social, and Governance) environmentally friendly and giving back to the community.
“They assume the company gives back, and some of them do give back and create jobs,” she added.
For years, Kenyan traders who have been making the sisal woven bags associated with Kamba and Kikuyu women, lived under the belief that the Japanese had taken the patents of the product denying Kenyans the right to produce it en masse.
The product is often hand-woven by women. A UK patent office ruling that the product could not be subject to exclusive rights in favour of an individual against all the other people yet the women cannot make a big break in the UK market and enjoy huge profits margins as the big brands do.
According to Gitau, the market set-up in the UK does not favour Kenyans trying to break in because most of their target audience would be people of African descent who are scarce and sparsely distributed.
“The market segment was just wrong, as it was mostly targeting Kenyans or Africans. You know our people, first how many kiondos do you need, maybe one every couple of years right?
“The Kenyan community is small and fragmented, different cities/towns hard to access. Also, if a Kenyan really needs a Kiondo, they know where to get one, they won’t be paying more money for it,” she explained.Women woving kiondo.
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