It has often been said that Lamu, Kenya (the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa and host to several festivals year round including the Lamu Cultural Festival) is an inspiring and enchanting place, one that fosters healing and tranquility. Ali Lamu, based in the idyllic Lamu, reflects the spirit of its origins. Ali Lamu makes bags and uses proceeds from their collections to fund community projects in Kenya. When Joy Mwaniki from Ayiba asked Daniella Bateleur, one of the founders of Ali Lamu, about the origin of the brand, this is what she had to say:
Ali and I started to work together in June 2008. This is our story…
ALI LAMU is a fisherman who one day when the sea was rough and impossible for fishing came to me asking for a job. I told him that unfortunately I didn’t have a job but I asked him if he knew where I could buy some of the old dhow’s sail (in Swahili, tanga) because I always loved the material, I always looked at it as a piece of art designed by the wind, the salt of the sea water, the sun, the rain, and years of travelling over the ocean.
Ali came back a few days later with a very old tanga, the color was just magnificent, a brownish color impossible to reproduce even if one tried hard, the weather and years were master of that piece of art. We started to open it and look at it, in the middle of the tanga there was a big hole probably created by strength of the wind during years and years of navigation, I looked at it and said…this looks just like the hole I have in my heart at the moment, created by the strength and pain of love…
The day after Ali came back with a tin of red and black paint, and together we started to paint a big red heart around the hole, then I dipped my brush into the black paint and wrote: LOVE AGAIN FOREVER WHATEVER…Well this is how it all started….with and because of a broken heart….there is always a reason….follow your star…. After the first broken heart we made many more paintings that with our huge surprise and joy went all around the world, our art is all based on the mood of the moment….it is simple, what you see is what we feel.
How do you stay innovative in your designs? What is your design process?
The mood of the day, what you see is what we feel.
What materials do you use in your bags? How do you produce the bags?
We use recycled sails; we buy the sails that fishermen can’t use anymore so that they can use the money to make a new one. It is not an easy process, in the end the old sail is worth the price of silk. Sometimes out of a sail we can get only one bag, others more, and others none. We have a team working full time searching for them.
What has your experience been with regards to marketing to international audiences?
It all happened slowly but surely, the people in love with our products worked all very hard to spread the message of love, and like this it all happened ….
How do you use technology in growing your brand?
We haven’t started using that yet, but we will have to start soon. Someone professional will take care of that side; we only paint hearts and make bags that are 100% heart and hand made.
What do you wish you knew before you began your brand?
We didn’t have a clue that Ali Lamu would become a brand, it all happened so spontaneously and without plan or direction. It is all really just straight from the heart, every day we loved and loved more what we were doing, and the love became contagious. I don’t wish I knew anything more, every day we learn a bit more and so we move on with it, it is like learning to be a fisherman, you do not wish you knew it before, you just have to go through it and enjoy the whole process.
Since the launch of Ali Lamu, what has been your most memorable moment?
Probably when we put our first broken heart painting in a shop of a friend and after half an hour it was already sold. Ali and I looked at each other, shook hands, and ran to paint another one and then another and another, until the broken hearts became flying hearts with beautiful wings, and even these were selling all over the world. We call it a “miracle” and we do believe in miracles.
What do you consider to be the epitome of happiness?
To make happy someone who wasn’t happy before.