Lucille Nyikuri repurposes cattle horn into elegant, distinctive jewellery and her striking craftsmanship is seeing her jewellery snapped in luxury markets worldwide.
Charles Wachira, bird story agency
What would a vice president at SC Johnson Business School at Cornell University in the United States, an interior design ambassador in New York, and an associate professor at America's first research university, have in common?
Wamwari Waichungo is Vice President for Global Safety Assessment and Regulatory Affairs at SC Johnson, Patti Carpenter is based in New York City and is a global trend ambassador for Maison et Objet, a prominent French trade fair for interior design, while Marlene Williams is Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The answer is that despite not knowing each other and operating in entirely different sectors, all three exclusively purchase jewellery from Lukagwa African Art and Jewellers Company, a 14-year-old Nairobi-based wearable art business boutique.
"Lukagwa's jewellery is appealing to me because of its design and its handwork. There is texture, weight, subtleties of colour and intricacy that is always fresh and can complement a variety of outfits," said Carpenter.
"I feel I can discover a new bead or trinket each time I wear the necklaces because they are so dense and layered. I prefer the short, multi-strand versions and constantly get compliments on them each time I wear them," she added.
Carpenter said she discovered the brand when Lucille Nyikuri, the sole proprietor of the business, was marketing her products at NY NOW – the largest home and gift wholesale trade show in New York.
Williams also discovered the brand at a conference where Nyikuri was vending; "I loved the unique jewellery and continued to purchase. I get compliments all the time," she said of her discovery four years ago.
For Waichungo, Lukagwa jewellery is "very unique and timeless," with pieces whose vibrant colours, she loves, and which "will never go out of style".
Lukagwa, the brand name, is derived from the Buganda community found in Uganda and connotes the imagery of something that falls from above.
"I embraced this name for I had determined that my inspiration and creative ideas would be falling from proverbial skies," says Nyikuri.
Her interest in art was sparked by her late mother, a collector of African artefacts.
"My mother was very hands-on and believed in doing different things. I must admit I was surrounded from an early age by the art ecosystem," she said.
But while Nyikuri's mother was a collector of high-end artefacts, her daughter hand-makes jewellery pieces in a process that first starts with a trip to a far less glamorous destination: a slaughterhouse.
Every Wednesday morning, Nyikuri hops into her white Nissan and drives the 14 km (nearly 9 miles) to Dagoretti slaughterhouse, which slaughters around 600 cows daily.
She was introduced to the slaughterhouse by Ismael Onyango, an accomplished local jeweller who has now transitioned from working in cow horn to creating in silver and iron.
"We met at a trade fair when she visited my booth and we got talking. She informed me she was struggling with getting quality horn for use in her business. She was still a student at the university then. I introduced her to my source at the Dagoretti market," Onyango explained.
Nyikuri purchases an average of 10 horns weekly.
"I then take them to be boiled and stripped of their inner content back at the workshop. They are then cleaned and sanded down for a smooth exterior and interior before they are carved into beautiful wearables," said the former law student.
By purchasing the horns, Nyikuri is, in her own small way, helping to reduce waste from the local slaughter complex that would ordinarily flow into the bordering Kabuthi River. The river is a tributary of the larger Nairobi River.
According to Earth5R, 56% of the Nairobi state's population lives along the banks of the 390 km-long Nairobi river, which has been badly polluted for the past 75 years. Authorities have acknowledged that 2475 tons of waste are produced daily throughout the city, much of which goes directly into the river.
Cow horn usually ends up being burnt, in the trash, or in the river. Now Nyikuri is turning it into beautiful jewellery, instead.
Besides horns, Nyikuri also uses bones, brass, Masaai beads, and glass beads from West Africa.
"The vibrancy of beads from West Africa caught my attention and I had to embrace them. Furthermore, they make eco-friendly glass beads, which align with our values of preserving the environment since it's the source of our existence," says Nyikuri.
She markets her products by attending exhibitions and has an online store on Etsy and a physical presence at the Village Market in Nairobi.
Nyikuri's products include the African Blue Layered Necklace, Afrocentric Maroon wired Bracelet, Black Cow Horn Bracelet, Brown African Wired Necklace, Eccentric African Choker Necklace, Multi-Strand Maasai Beaded Statem, Orange Charm Bracelet, Orange Layered Choker Necklace and Orange Simple Horn Beaded Necklace.
bird story agency