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Self-taught interior designer with a magic touch

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[dropcap]D[/dropcap]ropping out of university in the last semester of the Fourth Year was a risky but worth it affair for Marion Wanjiru. She looks back with a heartfelt laughter that is very infectious. “I laugh a lot,” she says as a polite apology.

She wanted to be a journalist while growing up but pursued computer science in her undergraduate days at Multimedia University.

But why did you change your mind in the last minute?

“I sat down and thought if I finish school, what next? I could not picture the next move, or being employed. It was blur. So, I did a lot of soul searching and decided this school thing will not work for me. I dropped and ventured into self-employment,” she narrates.

Self-employment, the biggest allure for many Kenyan youth, is not an easy journey and definitely not for the fainthearted. This is the path that has saved thousands of youth from the unemployment menace.

Ms Wanjiru, who had interest and passion in fashion, trend and colour matching, opened a hair dressing business in her homestead. Her strong work ethic made the business pick up in a matter of months, driving her to look for more locations to open new branches for her saloon.

“I always have an impulse of trying new things that are out of the ordinary. I once dyed my hair with the colours of the rainbow. It drew a lot of attention from my neighborhood that clients approached me wanting to try different colours on their hair,” she says.

{ Read: 7 steps to make your side hustle more successful }

It is this natural psychology of colour matching that makes Ms Wanjiru mix the impossible shades in a living room effortlessly.

But just how did Ms Wanjiru change from being a skillful hair dresser to a self-taught interior designer?

“This is a journey that started at the lowest point of my life. My saloon businesses had closed down, and I had no income. I fell into depression and my house was unkept. I hated the way my sofa sets looked, the curtains, the carpet, everything just seemed off. This fueled me to change everything. I wanted a different look for my own home,” says Ms Wanjiru.

Before Ms Wanjiru went to shop for new fabrics for her new mission, she took a picture of the her living room.

“I worked the whole night that day changing the fabric on my sofas, the carpet, curtains and I even painted my walls to match with the new fabrics,” she says.

The long night of hard work on her own paid when she posted the photos of before and after of her living room. Within hours, she got her first call from Nyeri, more than 150 kilometres from Nairobi. The woman on the other end of the line wanted her sitting room changed that day.


“I had mixed emotions. The post had very positive comments and now I was getting calls of people asking me to redesign their living rooms,” she explains.

In less than 60 minutes of the first call, another phone call came from Nakuru County. This was the beginning of Malya Interiors, an interior design and furniture supply company.

“It is then that it dawned to me that this is my niche with colours, trends and designs,” she says.

Her first gig that was not up to her best standard did not disappoint the owner  who ran to hug her and cried as she thanked her for the makeover. Though she criticised herself harshly and  lost thousands of shillings, her first client was defiantly impressed.

{ Read: Kitenge designer stitching together a business empire }

However, her new path soon had stumbling blocks. She needed a car to ease her movements, a work force and a standard quotation for her job.

“I was very green when I did my first job. The quotation I made was low than the production cost I incurred. The time and distance exhausted my energy but these were my first lessons that I learned,” She says.

The first few months in her newly found purpose, Ms Wanjiru says, taught her valuable lessons she still carries three years on.

“If I didn’t make the mistakes I made then there’s nothing I would have learned. I took my challenges as a push for me to do better and be a better person than I was in my previous work,” narrates the single mum of a six-year-old girl.

From doing three or five houses in a month, she now refashions three houses in a day.

Social media has played a vital role in the growth of her business. This is where she meets new clients every day, and it is free to advertise her work in several groups.

But the online space has not been fully kind to her. Some netizens steal her work and post the photos as theirs causing confusion and to some extent online fights. However, she keeps her distance from online negativity and only responds when it is necessary.

According to Ms Wanjiru, praying, reading, staying positive and keeping her word makes her the top dog in this unexploited local industry.

“First, I set a target, then I pray about it and work towards it. In this industry, it is very important that you deliver what the clients want. I encourage those I mentor not to carry today’s work to tomorrow. Finish today’s job today. If I can do it, so can you,” she offers.


“Another thing is that I don’t stay or allow negative energy around me. I am a very positive person no matter the challenge. If someone has negativity in them, I simply walk away and keep my distance since it will drain my energy,” she advises.

Having an able and reliable team enables Ms Wanjiru to work at anytime of the day to beat all the deadlines. Her team of four people consists of a personal assistant and three carpenters – whom she trained in the interior décor value professionalism and the satisfaction of clients. This makes them the most demanded workers in this industry.

As a self-taught entrepreneur, Ms Wanjiru says asking for help, investing in people and staying motivated keeps her going.

“If I gave up when I made losses in my very first jobs, this story wouldn’t have been written. But I kept pushing and going forward. I look back, an I am so proud of myself,” she says.

Ms Wanjiru refashions living rooms for Sh25,000 to Sh300,000 depending on the size of the house, the work to be done: sofa sets, curtains, carpet and paint.

Having mentored several interior designers in Nairobi and having a strong base of clients, where does Ms Wanjiru see herself in the near future?

“I have this crazy idea of building a house from scratch then design all the rooms from the kitchen, living room, bedrooms and so on. It is still a thought that I know will materialise in the next few years. This is how I have started all my hustles. They come as crazy ideas,” she says.

Her parting shot: “Nothing is impossible. I believe I can do anything when I set my mind and focus on it.”

{ See also: Emmah Amoni: Mtumba dealer turned fashion designer }


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Brenda Gamonde
Brenda Gamonde
Brenda Gamonde is reporter with Business Today. Email: [email protected]
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