There is jewelry and then there is Niku Singh. Catering for the bold and fearless woman, Niku describes his customer as powerful. Niku stated “a powerful woman will wear my pieces, that confidence and personality is key. Even if you are working as a waiter and you have that trait, you can pull it off.”
Similarly, if you are man with confidence and boldness, you can also wear his pieces. Don’t believe us? Check out Sauti Sol below adorning Niku Singh pieces that have been showcased on the runway. This year, Niku showcased at Tribal Chic for the second time and chose male models to strut the runway instead. The ability to translate his pieces through male models was nothing short of genius. “All the big pieces are from the ramp,” he explained. “I don’t have space to put them out here, I would need a whole new wall to do so,” he said.
That, we can believe. One of his pieces can weigh up to 4kg and each bead and hook (more than 300 compenents in a piece) were hand cut by Niku. No wonder his pieces range from 5000Ksh onwards; it’s truly worth it. “A lot of people come and say “oh wow! That is so nice” and that is where it ends and others haggle for one hour and never come back,” he told us. It is unfortunate, he continues, because only those who have travelled are exposed to the reality that handmade is highly valuable out there.
All his pieces are primarily made with brass and aluminum with his signature back piece. Niku stated “wherever you spot a back piece, you know that is mine. People do copy and you can’t avoid that so you just have to be ten steps ahead of them.” Niku makes every single component to his pieces, except the stone element, from the chain, the hooks to the beads so creating one piece does take a long time. If that is not dedication to the craft, then we don’t know what is.
Niku began his journey in 2005 and armed with a background in engineering, he found his calling over time. His family has been running an engineering company since the 1970’s casting brass and aluminum into gears and other heavy-duty machinery. Using the same process, Niku came up with the beads.
“It all started from a bead,” he began telling us, “when I was working on a coffee table in college on my graduation project. I went to Kitengela Glass to source for a glass top.” Nina Croze, the owner of Kitengela Glass, stated that she would not be able to assist with his modern design, however, she enquired if, based on his engineering background, he could manufacture a square aluminum bead. “When I showed my dad, he though I was crazy because I was only bringing a 400 bob order but I just argued that you never know who might need this. So that is how the journey of jewelry began for me, from one bead.”
When Niku managed to produce the bead for Kitengela, he was swiftly put in contact with one of the founders of a London based Fashion brand called “MADE” who thereafter made three trips to visit Niku opening a space to manufacture his beads for sale in Europe. “From that one bead, I made 7-10 different designs. I was the bead supplier for them from 2005 to 2010.” After working with MADE for some time, Niku ended up with a range of 40-50 different designed beads in brass and aluminum. Niku then began to create his own collections.
“I took off the weekends to go to the workshop and put together a collection. She would guide me on how to do it best and take it to London to market them. The night before London Fashion Week, I was given a call at 11pm and asked if they could use my pieces for the show and I was like “do it, don’t even ask,” he said laughing. “From there onwards, John Lewis and Asos ordered and I knew there must be something to this.”
This is when Niku realized that what began as a side project became a business and pursued it more seriously. “I am very creative and I like working with my hands so 2009 was the official start to my brand with London Fashion Week as my debut. Not a bad start?” he said jokingly. Niku Singh became a brand and the founder from MADE assisted him in turning his passion into a real company fully registering in Kenya. Interestingly enough, the founder who walked with Niku on his journey founded CREA Africa in Kenya specializing in high-end jewelry to generate social change by promoting local artisan business.
Niku does not design his pieces based on sketches but simply from what comes out of him naturally in the moment. His inspiration is simply designing. He simply starts and ends up with the brilliantly designed pieces. Niku has showcased in quite a few fashion shows, but this year, he has decided to cut down. “Most of the fashion shows, 7 out of 10, are for entertainment. Being a designer, you have sleepless nights designing and making a collection which is a cost, you’re charged for showcasing so you need to be sure of a return on investment.” He further explained that doing more than two shows in a year becomes difficult because you have to produce a different collection for each show which is time consuming and costly.
Niku took part in FA254 as one of the finalists in the jewelry section with their final pieces made by CREA Africa. “The pieces were much smaller that we normally do because we had to cater for the European market. I went from huge pieces to smaller than I could imagine or see,” he said jokingly. FA254, he stated, was a good learning experience for him. As a result, Niku is working on a small commercial diffused range of pieces to contrast the larger pieces he is most famous for. In our belief, whatever Niku touches, big or small, will always be a wearable piece of handmade art.
Niku sells his pieces presently in Nairobi, London and Singapore. Take a look at his work below.