Glena and Glaiza De Guzman, founders and designers behind the fashion accessory brand The Pink Savannah, moved to Nairobi in 1992 and have lived here for 22 years. Their father was approached and started working here in the late 80s and the rest of the family moved with him never looking back. “We were really young when we moved here and our whole family fell in love with the country so we just stayed and never looked back” says Glena.
“We could have been making money at a very young age.” Glaiza
Their journey into fashion accessory design began early. Starting off by making beaded bracelets for pure enjoyment giving them to their friends as gifts, Glaiza remarks jokingly “we could have been making money at a very young age.” The business became real about two years ago, unofficially starting it in 2010. “We started to sell in craft fairs and now we are a fully fledge business, Kenyan law compliant and all. So far, so good” says Glena.
The name ‘Pink Savannah’, originally began as Pink Bush however noting the problematic interpretations to that name, they rebranded to Pink Savannah. They wanted to keep the pink and the savannah, which represents the rough edge with a touch of glamour and femininity. “We love camping and doing outdoor stuff which is what made our family love Kenya, we went camping every weekend. Our dad would take us camping or drive to Arusha or Dar es Salaam so the outdoor stuck to us.”
Glaiza added “the outdoors inspired our work, it being light and chic, you don’t feel too bad when you lose it. You are not like, ‘oh my gosh!’, that was so expensive. Some of our clients come to us and say they lost one pair and ask us to make the other. It’s been good, we get good feedback.” They recount that one of their customers from the UN, who whenever she hears that The Pink Savannah is selling somewhere, would buy two three bags of jewelry. “We are like, come one, don’t buy all our stuff, what will we sell tomorrow?” they laugh.
One of their key attributes is that they limit their designs so they don’t sell the same thing over and over again. They make a new collection every two to three months. “There is one thing that is always a hot seller, the necklace with print, lesso necklace” remarks Glaiza (see image below) One of their best selling items is also the hardest to make. This is The Pink Savannah’s unique take on a blend of scarf and necklace using a mix of lesso and chains which any person can either wear with neutral colors or a black and white ensemble.
“I stitch every piece of lesso and get all these blisters at then end of it all. One consistent feedback that we get from craft fairs is that we are different and colorful and affordable. As much as people like to copy each other at the Masaai Market, other people do come to fairs and sell the same thing” remarks Glaiza
In their business, they do all the work themselves. The only component that is outsourced is acquiring local raw materials supplies like brass and horn of which they have particular vendors and artisans that they support from the Kibera Art Centre or from Maasai Market. Other than that, they do all the labour themselves. “We don’t do the cutting of the bones and the brass but the designs are ours.” With a dedicated workspace in their parent’s house, they design and put together all the pieces ensuring to keep up with their growing demand. “I don’t know how people work on table, beads fall off. I cannot work on the table. We both have a favorite pillow that we work on, since we work on the floor ”Glaiza remarks. “We do a lot of late nights and early morning, very last minute but we work best under pressure. We love listening to music as we work so we always have to have the latest album of whomever,” adds Glena.
“The fact that our items are very affordable and unique gives us the edge” says Glena. For Glaiza and Glena, their business is structured to promote fair trade as well as design unique affordable everyday pieces. “We work with local artisans and they cut the bone, horns and we do the rest, putting the designs together.” With about 6 artisans that they support locally, they in turn make money from what The Pink Savannah produces and sells. They find them by going to the Masaai Market and going to their workshops thereafter finding ways to support them as much as possible. They however only get the artisans to cut the components not showing them how to make the full piece. “We don’t like to put two and two together, we are afraid we will find our designs in the market.” says Glaiza.
“The minute we see that we like, we start thinking about how to use it and design.”
With their time spent walking around on River Road and the West African market in town they are able to source only the best materials to match the collection they are working on. “We love that place, all these West African men selling, some who speak French, they are so boojee in that sense”, says Glena as they both laugh. “99% of our material is locally sourced but certain materials are from Dubai.” With their sister living in Dubai, they are able to receive particular materials that are difficult to find locally. As a means to ensure that they do not waste in the process of making their pieces, the cut outs that are left over from the lesso necklaces are either used to make earrings or bracelets. “So we try to recycle all our materials as much as possible,” says Glena.
Inspiration for these ladies in making their collections occasionally stems from the materials they stumble upon which also adds to the uniqueness of their pieces and designs. “The minute we see that we like, we start thinking about how to use it and design.” Working full time in an advertising agency, working both there 8am to 8pm and working on the business is challenging. “Maybe that is what we should do. Just quit. I told her one of needs to quit then I look at her”. Glaiza says laughing cheekily towards her sister Glena.
“You have all these people selling their products but where do you find them?”
They have been in the fashion industry for two years now selling mostly in craft fairs and online on Facebook with marketing through word of mouth. They also sell in boutiques like Sankara, which caters to more business travellers and take part in the Fashion High Tea as they did earlier on this year.
They have, however, never done a runway show as they feel that their pieces are not large statement pieces and would not match that setting. Glaiza states “people have their different tastes so those that want you will find you.”
Glena’s biggest issue is copying of designs losing that aesthetic appeal and uniqueness as a result. Glaiza further adds that the other problem is that China is making cheaper and cheaper products. Noting the danger of copying, they recall sometime last year when one of their pieces was seen in Forever 21, 6 months after they had released that piece in the market. “We couldn’t believe it, the exact same piece, the same concept. It doesn’t make sense, what is stopping someone from making it with cheaper raw materials than selling something handmade and authentic.” Furthermore, Glaiza remarks that is neither sustainable nor affordable to trademark each piece
“People have their different tastes so those that want you will find you.” Glaiza
The business is rooted from their father who, as a dental technician had quite a bit of artistic flair in him as well. “We would take his drill bits and tools and make bracelets. He did play a part in our journey, his sense of perfectionisms and attention to detail flowed from him” they tell us. We actually have an older sister who is a designer by hobby in Dubai, working for Forever 21 and a brother in Australia.
Interestingly enough, both Glaiza and Glena have never been trained in jewelry making. Having started early, they learnt the tricks of the trade and got better at it as a result over the course of many years of practice. Glaiza studied hotel management and marketing and Glena studied international relations and human resource management, both in USIU. Despite their lack of official training in jewelry making, there is not doubt that their talent is natural, borne out of extensive experience and passion. Passionate about their work and family, their logo is both a representation of the savannah, femininity and a bird flying above for each of their siblings. They are a sister duo who work not only sync, complement each other and work perfectly with each other making The Pink Savannah a growing accessory brand in Kenya.
Take a look at their stunning work below. Find out more on their Facebook page. Photos courtesy of (c)ThePinkSavanah.