Born and educated in Morogoro, in 2006, young Rizwan Janmohamed, having a certificate in Hospitality and Tourism, was happy to be working at the Ammani Kendwa Beach Resort in Zanzibar.
He stayed there for four years, by which time he knew that his interests and talents were best utilised in a creative outlet, and that running his own business could be the way to achieve this.
Once the decision was made, instead of leaping into the unknown, he gave himself a year in which to observe and learn about the handicraft and arts curio sector, before opening his shop, Aromas of Zanzibar, in the Stone Town in February 2011.
Initially, he says it was difficult translating business ideas into a working reality, but with the right approach, guidance and support, it gradually became possible.
He also thinks that as a designer, and given the nature of his product, that everything connected to the business, should reflect the owners personal taste and style, so that the brand image will be strong.
Nearly one year on, it’s still early days for the enterprise, but Rizwan, sporting a funky hairstyle, and looking even younger than his 29 years, says he made the right decision. As expected with a first business set up, he admits to some small errors.
The shops title for example, might indicate it is primarily a perfume store. Although he does sell perfumed oils, soaps etc., this is not the main core merchandise, so the name might restrict possible customer perception of the products on offer.
He might change it slightly, but thinks the word ‘aromas’, is inclusive of many things. He says, “…,there are the aromas of spices, herbs, teas and coffees, the smell of the textiles used for our clothes designs, even wooden curios can have a pleasing distinctive odour, as does leather and baskets, etc.”.
Riswan says the concept of his business, is that everything, where possible, down to a small button or ribbon is made from local and natural resources in their workshop.
Increasingly, some handicraft outlets stock imported items from India, and especially Kenya, which are sometimes sold as locally produced.
When asked why Tanzanian handicrafts can’t compete with Kenyan or Indian products pricewise, Riswan acknowledges this, but says “overheads and taxes can be high here, as is the general overall cost of living. However, when you are just starting up, you have to accept lower profit margins, to gain a competitive footing in the market.”
Among the realistically priced products, are unusual kitenge covered cigarette lighters for 3,000/- stylishly printed little unisex bags for 4,000/-, locally made soaps in decorative pouches for 2,500/-,... and other unusual items.
There is contrast to some high-priced goods selling for dollars in the isles, many tourist shops and trading outlets.
In Zanzibar, most commercial transactions regarding tourism (and some) are conducted in dollars. Even the Isles government, contravening fiscal legislation against it, demands their hotel dues in the currency.
On this subject Rizwan is brief, and to the point, saying: “I feel it’s completely wrong to price my locally produced goods in dollars….we’re in Africa, let’s use our own currency”.
His shop and showcase for his ever evolving products, though small in size, is big on originality and style. Where else could you buy an amazing kitenge printed guitar cover for example, well made, and apparently bought by some teachers at the Dar es Salaam International School.
Some ideas are so simple you wonder why they haven’t been thought of before. Popular with Americans, mens ties of brightly printed local fabrics are a clever and practical item, as they’re ideal for souvenir gifts, being lightweight to carry. Whist eye-catching ‘bow-ties’ are designed to appeal to the British.
Rizwan has a constant flow of ideas, the current one being, could being brilliantly patterned kitenge umbrellas of which he says, “if they can’t be effectively waterproofed against rain, then we’ll sell them as sun parasols…..be a unique product for locals and tourists alike”.
There you have it, clever compromise and an innovative marketing strategy, that makes a negative become a positive.
In an uncertain retailing climate, of which handicrafts can be hardest hit, Janmohamed deserves to be on track for success in 20l3.