NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 31 – Along a winding dusty road full of pot holes, approximately six kilometres from Nazarene University lies a dome shaped studio in the middle of a jungle with used diesel fired furnace that burns glass at approximately 11,000 degrees Celsius.
This place, which was once a jungle, tucked away safely, is now a bee hive of activities courtesy of the Kitengela Hot Glass studio.
The founder called Anselm Croze in my mind must have been a man toughened by extreme heat that melts the glass he uses for his craft; only that he is not.
Neither is he an adrenalin junkie as his work would make one to imagine because he enjoys table tennis and ping pong, what you would call laid back games.
Anselm, a confessed fan of marvel movies, who last enjoyed a series called Green of the South considers himself a rebel.
Born to a renowned ethologist Harvey Craze and a mother who is an artist, Anselm married the two closest careers in his family; environmental conservation and art to birth Kitengela Hot Glass.
“I didn’t join this trade because of how fashionable environmental conservation has been, it was more like a necessity because Kenyans love to reuse things,” he says. However, he always had a soft spot for nature and environmental conservation. Born in a tent in England, his journey started in the 90’s when he travelled to Holland to understand glass making with Willem and Bernard Heesen.
So when his father went and bought land from a Maasai family in an area that was tucked away in a bush, only divided from civilization by the Nairobi National Park, he saw an opportunity and set the up the first studio, following in the footsteps of the mother who used to make stained glasses.
His mind was more focused on the art than the money. Anselm just wanted to have fun creating art, he says. Twenty eight years later, it’s a thriving business with influential clients like Richard Branson, Sarova Group, Strathmore University, Fairmont Mount Kenya among other top influential clients who would rather prefer anonymity.
“There was more of bead work, wood work, bone work among others but there was no glass work so I decided to chart that path,” he told me.
“When we started, the big idea wasn’t to build a business but a craft. To position glass blowing as a Kenyan craft alongside wood carving, bone carving and such was the desire,” Anselm reminisced.
The irony if his trade, he tells says is the addiction you get from it all.
“It’s a dangerous sport. You are dancing around with hot drippy objects that can hurt you. But the irony is that because it’s dangerous, it’s almost like it’s meditative so you become mentally alert and attentive,” he says. “But isn’t it prone to many accidents?” I ask. He tells me that accidents are limited in his studio. Maybe minor burns that apparently acts as baptism by fire to the trade.
“Once you are burnt, you can’t work until the wound heals. But during this time, you are feeling frustrated because you want to go back to that trade. When you go back, you become more careful,” he says.
A regular question he is asked when he does interviews is about his expansion plan for the business. He says he only has improvement plans. As a man who believes in a lean team, he does most of the office work which he says has now bored him. He has a burning urge to go back to the extreme heat to make more art, and also mentor more glass artists.
“Currently, one of my mentees is making what could possibly be the biggest chandelier in Kenya. A 4×4 meter art work. The big idea is to transfer talent,” he affirmed adding that “everybody who does any kind of glasswork in this country would have passed through my hands,” he says noting that the industry isn’t as big in Africa as it is in other parts of the world.
– Setbacks –
Asking about challenges doesn’t yield much from him. Anselm admits that he hates to complain. He is an optimist and to him, challenges are part of life and therefore one can’t cherry pick what life presents. However, he admits that the recent challenges with Nakumatt, their anchor tenant is affecting their business. “Right now, the shop business sales is almost 75 per cent down due to the anchor tenant woes.”
He, however, was quick to clarify that it’s not as bad for them as others because of the nature of their business. “We are a very specialist kind of trade. Our customers aren’t accidental kind of clients. That makes it easy,” Anselm added.
He advises entrepreneurs to focus on their passion. Also, sometimes uncertainty works to the advantage of the entrepreneurs Anselm says.
“Do what you love, that’s the kind of obvious cliché. Second is for me, my thing is perhaps not to have too much of the end in sight because the day to day journey of getting to somewhere that might be fantastical might be rather intimidating.”
A father of two, he doesn’t want his children to follow in his footsteps. He wants them to have their own life.
“They will need to chart their own paths. If they want to come back and run the business, let them do so after they have gained some skills.”