As a teenager, David Karitha would curiously watch his uncle make beautiful products from glass.
Years later, in 2006, he started glass engraving, but only as a hobby, while perfecting his craft. In 2008, he sold his first piece, an engraved salad bowl, for Sh2,500.
Engraving has evolved over time. To date, plastic, wood, glass and leather can be manipulated to feature lettering, and in some cases, pictures of fine detail.
David and his wife Ruth Karimi have been etching designs and words on glass for 11 years, taking what was recycled glass and transforming it into elegant pieces while making money from it.
Kenya is known globally for its wildlife, and thousands of tourists visit parks and game reserves every year to watch wild animals at close range – inspired by this, the duo are recreating these animals on glass.With a capital of Sh70, 000 which they borrowed from a bank, the two founded Elegance Simplified in 2017.
They used the capital to procure engraving machines and raw materials, in this case, glass.“Elegance Simplified deals with glass art.
We engrave different glass products, from drinking glasses, wall hangings, glass doors, and wall partitions. In addition, we make plaques that can be used as appreciation tokens, awards and accolades,” says David, pointing out that they use recycled glass to do some of their work.
Glass etching is an elegant method of creating a graphic design on the surface of an otherwise smooth piece of glass. It is permanent and will therefore never come off.
Etched and carved glass has become so popular, you are likely to see it everywhere, in places such as restaurants, hotels, banks, theaters and even homes.
The current interest in engraved glass only started about 20 years ago, first with architectural applications such as etched doors and windows, but has now spread to encompass engraved glass awards, corporate and personal gifts, elements for interior design and decoration such as table tops, room dividers, cabinet doors, signs and much more.
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“A nice wine bottle can be used to make a drinking glass, or a medium-sized salad bowl or bulb holder, and many more.”
Ruth studied business management, and therefore handles the business side of things, while David is the craftsmanship master.
They source some of the glass from local dealers and glass collectors, though they also import.“We start by identifying the products we want to make.
From there, we choose the bottles to work on, then clean, cut and polish them. Before engraving, we will work on the designs or artworks and once complete, we package them and dispatch them for the market.”
David says that for most of the artwork, he uses picture tracing for accuracy, while Ruth improves on the outlook of the already engraved items by adding beadwork, for instance to glass handles.
The business has adopted customer-based sales and marketing approaches and uses various marketing platforms to reach its customers.
They display their work in their shop located at The Waterfront Karen mall. Apart from using their social media platforms to market their products, the two showcase their work in various crafts pop-up markets as well as sell their pieces to resellers.
Organisations such as Ahadi Kenya Trust, The Nairobi Japanese School, Full of Africa Safaris, Top Guide Safaris in Tanzania and Windsor Golf Club are just a few businesses that have enjoyed Elegance Simplified products.
“We have over 25 different types of products, prices may vary depending on the size, artwork and quantity of products ordered. The minimum we charge for a piece is Sh1, 000 while the most expensive piece can cost up to Sh250, 000.”
In a day, the business engraves between eight to 10 sets, where a set contains six pieces.
Apart from the business being a lucrative source of livelihood for the couple, Elegance Simplified has created employment through engaging other engravers, riders, cleaners and other contractual jobs.
It has not all been a smooth ride since their venture does not come without its fair share of challenges.
“Our business is quite seasonal, therefore we have to find the right market for our products. For our overseas clientele, we have to shoulder the high cost of shipping abroad.”
Despite these, David believes that his business, which was inspired by his passion for glass art, has immensely contributed not only to growing Kenya’s economy, but also to conserving the environment.
The business is working on tapping into international markets. They recently signed a contract with an e-commerce ecosystem agent to sell the products to the US and Canada markets.
Their focus is on structuring the business, expanding the product range and increasing their market share by ensuring continuity to remain relevant in the evolving market and appealing to their customers and society at large.
This, David says, will be key to the company’s expansion. They are also keen on mentorship.“We are planning to start an engraving art academy for the youth in the near future,” he concludes.