African Designers for Tomorrow: Gladys Macharia and Inspirational Kenya

Continuing with our look at the three designers we’re mentoring as part of the African Designers for Tomorrow competition, we’re excited to introduce the second of our finalists Gladys Macharia.

Born in Kenya, Gladys Macharia creates jewellery inspired by the rich, exotic and diverse landscape of East Africa. Gladys graduated with a BA in Fashion Design before moving to Italy to enrol at the Academia Italiana. She then worked with the Florentine luxury fashion house Ermanno Scervino, before completing silversmith training at the specialist artisan school, Metalo Nobile. Gladys then returned to Kenya in 2011, to launch her brand Loyangalani. Nairobian designer Gladys Macharia

As one of three Home Decoration finalists, what are you designing and how does this compare or differ from your work as a jewellery designer?

I am designing a tablewares collection that is made up of table runners, table mats, napkins, napkin rings and bowls. As it’s a spring summer collection I have used natural fabrics of lightweight cotton and linen to create a light summer feel as well as rosewood locally-sourced in Kenya. I have always been passionate about homewares, interior spaces and architecture but designing for the homewares collection has differed greatly from my jewellery design work. Within jewellery production in Nairobi we have a well-developed group of artisans with whom I have worked with for three years now. The challenge for this competition was finding a strong team to work with in such a short period of time. Luckily, I managed to find some very talented artisans in Nairobi. Some of the processes were similar to jewellery design though, for example creating samples to compare.

Your jewellery is inspired by the rich, exotic and diverse landscape of East Africa. What are some stand-out features of East African landscapes that you try to embody in your work?

The name of my jewellery brand is Loyangalani, a place in northern Kenya where I grew and which is derived from the Samburu word meaning ‘a place of many trees’. Surrounded by desert like plains and the hard contrast of Blue Mountains with the green hues from the Jade lake, the name and place best describes what inspires my jewellery. Loyangalani jewellery uses natural materials that are sourced locally in Kenya. These include woods such as ebony, mvuli, rose wood, cow horn from the Ankole cow in Uganda and precious stones mined within Kenya. The stand out features of the East African landscape would be the vast landscapes of the desert, Savanna, highlands and ending with the majestic ocean. The jewellery incorporates textures from natural elements derived from each of these landscapes such as tree bark texture emulated on cuffs and coral textured earrings sculpted in wax cast in sterling silver with pearls.

Your mood board “Organic textures, natural shapes” brings together textural elements and bold shades from a range of sources. What role does texture and form play in your work as a jewellery designer?

Texture and form plays a big role within the jewellery I design. I always ask how does the piece you are wearing feel against your skin? Is it comfortable? Does it rub? Does it sit well against your arm, neck or ear? Texture comes into play with mixtures of material; the cold metals and stones accompanied by warm woods against the skin. Form has a big role in design; do the shapes and forms balance each other well? These are some of the fundamental thought processes I employ when sculpting, which have also played a big role in how I’ve developed the homewares collection.

FA254 founder Waridi Schrobsdorff says her vision for the project is to change people’s minds about Africa, while celebrating contemporary African richness and creativity. What is it you hope to change in people’s minds and achieve by participating?

In delving into a different design category, the experience has opened my eyes to the gaps within the local market. For growth to happen in the future, the change needs to begin at home. We need to invest and support more of our local artisans. I would like the outcome of my product to be an example to East Africa that the design, development and production of homewares can play a great role in our everyday existence and identity. It is important to know where our cotton comes from, where the fabrics are spun in the mills, who is the creative mind behind your products. What I would like to achieve from this experience is continued growth in developing my own homewares collection. Kenya is a cradle for highly intelligent creatives.