Making a living from dressing alcohol bottles

Susan Wamuyu, 30, (left) and Grace Waithira, a 24-year-old psychology graduate, inspect wine and beer bottles they decorated in their handicraft shop at Nyeri town (PHOTO: KIBATA KIHU)

Beautifully crafted ornaments adorn a handicraft shop in Nyeri town. The shop is run full time by two female university graduates.

But what’s most striking are the used wine, whisky and brandy bottles that are turned into decorative objects of art.

The bottles are artistically wrapped in knitted yarn and cloth fabrics, turning them into adornments for homes, business premises, restaurants and hotels. 

The artistically decorated bottles go for Sh500 and, as Grace Waithira, a 24-year-old psychology and sociology graduate from the University of Nairobi says, “Sometimes the demand is so high we get overwhelmed. When that happens, we are forced to carry the unfinished work home in order to deliver on time.” According to her, it takes about three to fours hours to complete decorating one bottle. Some finished work goes for as much as Sh4,000, depending on the bottle size and nature of decoration.

Despite watching her mother knit and crotchet for years, Waithira never developed a passion for the craft until she finished college and started looking for a job.
She says that she discovered her artistic skills after helping out a friend who had been stuck half way while decorating a wine bottle with coloured yarn. It is then that she decided to try her hand in knitting and realised that she could make a living out of it.

As fate would have it, Waithira’s path crossed with that of her colleague, Susan Wamuyu, who was then running their current shop.
Before they met, Wamuyu, a Bachelor of Commerce graduate, had quit her job of four years due to low pay and frustration.

In retrospect, she says making that decision was tough, but she has no regrets since she has gained the freedom she desired. “Besides making money, I love what I do. All the adornments we make reflect our energy and love and that is exactly what we convey to our clients,” says the 30-year-old. Wamuyu says they often learn new ideas from their clients and this enhances their artistic skills.

Besides turning used bottles into works of art, they also utilise locally available materials such as beads, knitting threads, metallic coils and thin plastic pipes, which they artistically craft into accessories like necklaces, earrings, and bracelets that go for between Sh150 and Sh400.

The business is currently earning them a monthly income of about Sh60,000 from accessories and between Sh10,000 and Sh20,000 from decorated wine bottles, which is not bad considering that their initial capital was just Sh20,000.

But it has not been a smooth ride always. A major challenge has been the availability of raw materials. It is hard to get beads or threads of particular colours, such as light purple or dark yellow, as they run out of stock quickly.

The other challenges include dealing with clients who fail to follow up on their orders while others demand drastic changes to the end product. Marketing is another problem, but they hope to address it progressively as their business gain traction.

Normally, clients place their orders indicating their preferences and specify the time they want the items delivered.

Although the accessories are largely marketed directly from the shop, popularly known as Pearls Beauty & Interior Creations, others are sold online and on social media platforms.

The two are currently working on a website that will enable them reach a wider market.