Mwari Muthaura was diagnosed with lupus and her insurance could not cover hospital bills. That did not dampen her spirit and the trained mental health professional started making accessories to help pay the bills. She shares her story of hope and resilience with Soni Kanake.
"My name is Mwari Muthaura, a psychotherapist. I am a trained mental health professional having attained my B. A. in Social Work from the University of Nairobi and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton Graduate School, Illinois, United States. My life is interesting as I double up as a therapist and artist. I feel that both worlds complement each other perfectly. I work part-time as a mental health practitioner and my work involves counselling, play and art therapy, lending support to professionals, especially education and health institutions, trauma work, child and adolescent care.
"I found myself leaning more towards my artsy side after I fell ill and needed to boost my income to help with the exorbitant hospital bills. I had been diagnosed with lupus and colitis, and the medication being quite pricey I needed an alternative way to make more money.
“Initially, I was creating for fun and relaxation. I didn't really sell jewellery until about four years ago. I would mostly wear what I made, or gift friends and family on different occasions. I self-taught myself to make beautiful neck pieces, wrist bangles and earrings, which I make from stones, pearls and ceramic. Depending on the simplicity or the complexity of the design, a piece can take me from 10 minutes to six hours to make, with each going for between Sh450 to Sh3,000.
"When I was in high school, I thought I'd be a fashion designer when I grew up … that's not what every parent wants to hear, right? I'd participate in costume designs for events in school, along with other creative stuff that required creativity like calligraphy, drawing and making cards. Like most other teenagers, I went through the usual growing up phase that included conventional schooling, university and the exposure and knowledge it comes with, of which I'm very grateful for now.
"I started making and selling accessories along with other artsy stuff like decor and stationery after a long time of being away from full-time work due to my health challenge. Due to the complications of lupus and colitis, I'm not able to work full time. I'm also photosensitive and cannot be out in the sun for long periods. The art work helped keep me going, and pay the bills as well. I started doing art regularly to pay for the hospital bills as no insurance company would touch me. Creating is also a very therapeutic process. I don't take that for granted because even in the months when I'm not able to work, I’ll still do art. I never stop with the art. I do jewellery a lot, but I also help with events set up and decor whenever I can, I also make notebooks, journals and cards.
SOURCING FOR MATERIALS
"I make all the jewellery by myself and I'm self-taught. It's a skill that I developed over time. But I hope to get some training as I'd like to do more advanced and challenging work. I also plan to hire in the near future as things begin to pick up, and as more people get to know about my work, and buy as well. But for now, I come up with the designs, and then make them by hand.
"However, sourcing for materials can be challenging at times as I don't always get what I'm looking for and sometimes I have to order from out there. That takes time and a lot of money. Sometimes people don't appreciate the time and effort and cost poured into the work and, therefore, do not want to pay the set price. They believe it should be cheap because it is handmade. That has been a bit frustrating.
"I have met a lot of people in the fashion industry who are happy to partner with me. Last year, I participated in a fashion runway event at the Coast. It was exciting. I have also met a few designers, who are willing to stock up my work in their shops. It's enabled me to meet clients and sell better. I appreciate all the lessons I'm learning along the way, and I feel incredibly lucky to have support from various people in the industry, as well as family and friends who are tirelessly sharing my work out there. Honestly, that’s been the most helpful bit in marketing. Social media; My Instagram page (mwari¬¬¬_giftcottage) and Facebook (Mwari’s gift cottage) have also been good avenues. People are constantly reaching out, making orders, giving feedback and offering support.
"I'm in a good space. I think I'm able to have a functional life. I work when I can, rest when I can't. And when I am not able to be up and about, you’ll probably find me doing my art work. I have really slowed down over the last few years, but I am now trying to pick up again. With my kind of life, you learn how to assess the situation and figure out how you will handle the day ahead. Art is therapeutic and it helps me to unwind and relax.