The days are gone when Nairobi shopping was limited to crowded curio stalls, where endless bartering made patrons ask themselves just how much they wanted that little wooden statue anyway. Now a smattering of independent, eclectic stores provide a platform for the country’s talented designers and artisans to sell items that truly represent and reflect the country’s creative energy.
Upepo Photography Gallery
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the bustling Hurlingham neighbourhood is Upepo Photography Gallery. The gallery represents accomplished photographers and only showcases pictures of Kenya. The founder, French photojournalist Cyril Villemain, wanted to give visitors a chance to buy an exclusive photograph that will remind them of their fabulous trip to Kenya. All the images are sold in limited editions of 50 prints, many signed by the photographer. Everything from the printing to the framing is done locally. Customers can choose from an array of sizes and finishes and can also have their print carefully rolled inside a tube for the journey home. The gallery is set in the grounds of the Kuona Trust Centre for the Visual Arts, which is definitely worth wandering around as well.
Wasp and Sprout
The popular Wasp and Sprout shop began selling goods produced by a single seamstress who was struggling to make ends meet. Today it has grown to a team of local seamstresses, carpenters and artists. The shop stocks fair trade and environmentally-friendly crafts, arts and furniture to empower local creatives through training and mentoring. Customers will find modern prints, fabrics and other afro-chic items to brighten up their homes. The Wasp and Sprout cafe below serves great coffee, fresh juices and delicious pastries too.
Amani Ya Juu
A little oasis of calm in the middle of bustling Nairobi, Amani Ya Juu in Swahili means ‘Peace from Above’. This small social enterprise has a lot of heart and was founded with a commitment to peace and reconciliation for African women. The shop opened in 1996 with just four female refugees sewing place mats together. Today there is a workshop, cosy store and shady garden cafe. Shoppers are greeted with a loud 'Jambo!' from the friendly sales assistants and can choose from an impressive selection of fair trade, locally-made textiles, handbags, jewellery, clothing and homeware. What sets Amani Ya Juu apart though is its adorable selection of children’s clothes and toys, like the safari animal mobile and lion puppets.
These are for the hagglers. The ever-bustling Maasai markets are a must for anyone eager to pick up some traditional style souvenirs, like bright beaded jewellery, hand-woven baskets, soapstone statues and wooden masks. The markets were started by Maasai women who wanted to skip the middleman and sell directly to tourists. Though no longer exclusively run by the Maasai, these shopping extravaganzas are popular and rotate between several locations throughout the week: Tuesday, Prestige Plaza; Wednesday, Capital Center; Thursday, Junction Mall; Friday, Village Market; Saturday, High Court parking lot; and Sunday, Yaya Center. It’s hard to beat the impressive range of goods on sale and customers can often interact with the artisans themselves, while ladies thread beads and chatter in the background.
Made in Kenya
This trendy store is situated at The Alchemist, one of Nairobi’s most popular creative hubs. Made in Kenya’s collection is curated by One Hundred Years, whose mission is to sell modern, original designer items from across the country. As a result Made In Kenya is a unique store with some of the country’s best, handpicked brands, all local and made with a lot of love. Indeed, shoppers can pick from a range of sleek clothing, sparkly sandals and statement jewellery pieces, or buy colourful notebooks, condiments like pineapple jam and chilli chutney and neatly packaged toiletries – there’s even beard oil for hipsters. The store’s high-quality brands are relatively exclusive, but won’t break the bank.
A firm Karen neighbourhood favourite, Marula Studios is a great choice for environmentally-conscious shoppers. The vibrant studio combines its boutique with an inspiring flip flop recycling project, which sees its signature 'Ocean Sole' flip flops being made from discarded sandals collected on Kenya’s beaches. Customers can also tour the workshop where they’re made. Marula Studios makes a point of sourcing organic, ethical and eco-friendly creations. Shoppers can pick up pottery, beaded bags and belts as well as cosy knits. It also has a selection of handmade greeting cards and art produced by artists from nearby Kibera, the city's largest slum. The stylish Marula Mercantile cafe is a great place to stop afterwards for a snack.
This sprawling arts and crafts hub is situated in the leafy Kitisuru neighbourhood. Spinners Web was originally created to provide a showplace for Kenya’s many talented spinners and weavers. Today, it touts itself as a ‘one-stop-shop’ where visitors can choose from nearly 400 vendors under one roof. This is the spot for hand-woven, woollen goods, bold patterned fabrics, carpets and curtains. The quality of the items on sale makes Spinners Web popular among tourists and locals alike. If the huge choice gets a little overwhelming, shoppers can also take a tea break at the cafe downstairs.