I can’t believe 2020 is over, can you? It feels like just the other day I was struggling to make it to work on time, trying to tiptoe into our small office in heels. Now I just wear leggings or shorts and a shirt and work from our dining table. My feet must be flatter from being in full contact with the ground 24-7 (I’m already horribly flat-footed), my heels are gathering dust and I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten how to walk gracefully in them. But we move, and we look forward to a better year, because 2021 can’t be as bad as 2020 has been, right?
Although to be fair, the pandemic has come with its little blessings. Spending so much time at home has allowed me to bond with Gong more, to reconnect with my husband, to learn to be present and still and to listen to what’s going on around me and within me. It’s had its sucky moments, yes, but it’s also had these amazing pockets of happiness that I’m just so grateful for.
One of the things I’m most grateful for is the gift of experiencing some pretty dope African brands, connecting with Kenyans with a passion for celebrating all the beautiful stuff that comes from our country – and continent – and exploring a “modern African” aesthetic in my home and in a few projects I’ve done for fun.
I’m so happy with all the discoveries I’ve made, and I thought it would be great to share them with you, so here goes: a list of some of my favourite African brands and shops. Not everything is manufactured here (you know we still struggle to make manufacturing competitive), but everything I’m sharing is made with love, and is a piece of someone’s beautiful big African heart.
These homemade granola and granola bars are delicious. Not just because they’re made by my little sister Nikkie, but because she brings her passion for heathy lifestyles and conscious consumerism into her business. This is an ethical start-up run by a strict 21-year-old vegan – so you know her treats are good for you and the environment. Plus she donates a portion of proceeds towards buying sanitary products for girls who can’t afford them. Eat good, do good, feel no guilt.
Now if you’ve never had fancy tea, this is fancy tea. From the packaging to the flavours, this is a brand that you can tell is well thought out by someone who likes nice things. My favourite is the Turmeric Tonic, which has seen me through a basic homa and catching COVID. The ginger in it hits the spot – add honey and you’ve got yourself a very yummy winner. Perfect for impressing guests, gifting, or living your posh “teetotal lady who lunches” dream.
I spent a bit of time ogling over their collection before I finally went to their showroom with a friend who loves, loves fine things (hi Imali!). I swear I was just going to look, kufurahisha macho, then I saw these dainty gold rings with topaz and sapphire, and I had to have them. I bought them before I could overthink my decision. They were my early birthday gift to me, my I-work-so-damn-hard-I-deserve-nice-things gift to me, and I’ve worn them every day since – with no regrets. Currently eyeing the Dalia cigar band ring in white diamond, and you know I’m going to work my ass off to get it.
An offshoot of luxury goods brand Eleleck, Eleleck Life is fairly new on the scene, but definitely a brand to watch. They reached out to me and offered me a set of their bowls to review. I loved them so much I ended up buying a set of their charcoal ceramic plates, and now we eat like rich people. I’ve already placed an order for another set of plates so my guests can enjoy this experience as well. Because I’m a good host, when I do host.
Bumped into their stand at the Bizarre Bazaar fair in September and spent a few minutes swooning at their magnificent work. Their handcrafted pottery ranges from dinnerware to serveware and accessories. I ended up buying a bowl and planter that day, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Eleleck Life plates and bowls I adore are actually made by Tope. It’s a match made in heaven.
I first purchased a candle and soap dish from Organic Savanna for a friend early this year, and I fell in love with them. Their products are sustainably sourced, organic, locally made, and benefit not just the people with good taste who buy them, but the communities they operate in. Each handmade product you buy from their range impacts a Kenyan family through job creation, education and vocational training. Their commitment to empowerment puts them at the centre of my heart. Shop their candles, bath, body and skin care range and get 20% off using my code: THECULTUREDCOW20
I’ve had the pleasure of using their products throughout the year and they are hands down among the best whipped shea butter products I’ve tried. Their butters literally melt into your skin, and they smell like comfort and soft life. My favourites are the shea latte and sandalwood & bourbon butters. I also recently tried their peppermint foot soak and foot cream to treat my tired feet and they worked like a dream. Highly recommend!
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I hate clothes shopping. Hate it. I don’t enjoy browsing stores and trying on things, and if you can’t deliver it to me there’s little chance I’ll buy it. But I also like looking good, and feeling comfortable, which is why I love Siri Studio. I’d describe their pieces as “accessible luxe”. Ready to wear pieces that look and feel good, priced on the right side of my budget, can take you from work to lunch with respectable people to drinks with the girls, carry sizing that makes sense to our African bodies, and can be delivered to your doorstep. Their clothes work as hard as I do. Win! It’s also owned by my not so little sister Anita, who I’m immensely proud of, even if she makes me pay for all my clothes.
Their clothes drape over my body effortlessly, like liquid gold flowing over glorious melanin. They feel effortless, like something you throw on quickly before rushing out the door, knowing you’ll look good anyway. Shop their catalogue – their fabrics are a little light though so if you’re going for something fitted or a little clingy, good shapewear would be advisable to smooth out any bumps you might not want seen.
I have a very good relationship with my tan leather Adero sandals, which they gifted me in October last year. I wear them with jeans, with tights, with shorts, with dresses. They’re sturdy, dependable, the kind of shoes that will not let you down. They were also my first pair of locally made shoes. Love!
Another made in Kenya footwear brand I’m currently obsessing over. I got two pairs of sandals from them a few months ago after seeing a pair of suede thong sandals (my favourite kind, pictured) and these beautiful, brown, almost barely there pair on their site, and they custom fitted them for me and delivered them on time. Definitely worth investing in if you’re looking for 100% leather sandals that will last longer than a trip to the mall.
I’m a pillow fiend. I’m obsessed with them. I have pillows in every room in my house except the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry area. My pillows are not just accessories, they’re an expression of my desire for a comfortable life, so dressing them well is important to me. Check them out for a range of pillow cover designs with very Kenyan names as such as the Borana, Mara and my favourite – the faux leather tan Sahara. It’s such a beaut!
I love leather, and I especially LOVE Kenyan leather. HBG by Azaria (which just happens to be owned by my cousin Mariam) make beautiful leather bags, and accessories, including cotton pillows with real leather inserts. My favourite cowhide clutch is also by them. It’s quite literal, considering I am THE CULTURED COW.
Easily one of my favourite shops. Afrika Handmade stock the most beautiful pieces collected from all over Africa, a curation of highly desirable collectibles that will sing to your soul and make you look well-travelled – even if your passport is dusty (or expired, like mine) and the furthest you go nowadays is your living room. Check them out for a wide range of African accessories, art and little treats like exquisite teas and seasonings. They gifted me this luxurious cotton throw a few days to my birthday (I nearly cried when I saw it), and I’m still dying to own these gorgeous baskets made in Ghana. 2021 is my year!
Another recent discovery. I’m proper obsessed with their stools, whose designs first caught my eye on Pinterest. I love how well this black masterpiece works in my home, where I’ve styled it multiple ways and currently have it in my living room. I also love their paper stone bowls, which are both functional and stylish. Place them on your shelves or coffee table to create a stylish moment.
I came across them on Instagram a few weeks ago and had to have their bowls. I used two of them to style floating shelves in a friend’s study and balcony, and I think I want some for myself now!
Another fortunate Instagram find (if you can’t already tell, I’m really good at shopping on Instagram). Styling spaces is one of my favourite activities and getting great pieces with unique style, amazing texture and that organic, natural feel can be a bit of an extreme sport when the general aesthetic seems to be cold glass and shiny metals. I love playing with texture and adding warmth to a space with wooden accessories, so these are about to become a common feature of my styling exploits.
Bumped into these guys on my first trip to Waterfront Mall in Karen and loved their selection. It’s simple, unassuming – the kind of stuff you’d probably walk right past at Maasai Market – but with bold textures and warmth. That’s why I love it so much. Style their wooden bowls anywhere from kitchen to living room to bathroom and see how versatile (and striking) a humble accessory can be.
A Cultured Cow favourite. I have their baskets all over my house and have used them to style nearly all the spaces I’ve touched. I especially love the recycled plastic baskets, which look good while doing good, and these grass ones with leather handles that look much more expensive than they actually are. Great for extra storage and vibes.
When it comes to locally made custom furniture, Santana Africa has a piece of my heart. Their attention to detail, high quality finishes and patience with me means I’ll basically love them forever. I can’t wait to work with them in the new year, praying we’ll have something amazing for you guys. Stay tuned!
These beautiful, handmade leather-bound journals make me want to write more, even though my handwriting has really gone to shit in the last couple of years. Got one for a friend recently and now I want one for myself. I might even start journaling, just because I think it would be really cool for Gong to one day read my journal and pass it down to her kids. I’ll try and make it funny so it’s worth her time.
You know how people talk about fundi’s from Ngong’ Road with disdain, like they could never own something made in a jua kali workshop by the roadside? I used to be one of those people, until I met Daniel. For the last year and a half Daniel has made me custom mirrors, a beautiful bed with hidden storage, the sideboard of your dreams, nightstands and floating shelves. I’ve never been to his workshop, but he and his little elves come through for me every single time. He doesn’t have a page on Instagram or Facebook (as far as I know) but you can reach him on +254 723 465263. Tell him I sent you.
Bonus mention! The Urban Tortoise
I’ve been wearing glasses since I was about 9 years old (I’m basically a mole with better fashion sense). Before visiting Urban Tortoise I’d never had an optician’s visit worth writing about, but Arifa, who did my last eye test, changed all that for me. She had me buying glasses I didn’t even need because her service was amazing, and their collection spoke to my heart – and eyes. So while their eye wear is not locally made, they do have a locally designed own-brand collection that holds its own against big brands, and I’m now a happy convert. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for interesting eye wear that doesn’t break the bank.
That’s it for now! This listicle was initially meant to be a holiday gift guide, but I procrastinated until a few days to Christmas (as usual) and here we are now. The pieces mentioned would make great gifts all year round though so…why limit yourself right? Just bookmark them for the next time you decide to treat yourself – or someone else – to something nice, and support local business.
Do you know of any amazing Made in Kenya and/or Made in Africa brands I should check out? Drop me a comment and I’ll look them up.
(I hope 2021 brings with it the discipline to blog regularly, not thrice a year. Pray for me)