Nani's Wonderland
How a German lady makes business out of
art and nature at Kitengela Glass Trust

Text: Simon Mburu
Photo: Bob Oluoch

Nani's Wonderland
How a German lady makes business out of
art and nature at Kitengela Glass Trust

Text: Simon Mburu
Photo: Bob Oluoch
The small sign board welcoming you to Kitengela Glass Trust in the outskirts of Nairobi may give a wrong impression that you are about to meet a commoner trying out her luck in an abandoned land characterized by a poor road network.

Driving from a busy emerging town of Ongata Rongai to Kitengela Glass Trust, the façade of a smooth drive ends at the main campus of Africa Nazarene University.

But this is where Nani Croze, a German, found her love with nature that she eventually turned into a business hub that consist of a conservancy, museum, a farm house and a hospitality center.
How the business started
"Kitengela Glass Trust started nearly 35 years ago but my love for conservancy started back in 1968 when I joined Serengeti Research Institute to study elephants," said Croze, a mother of three, in an interview with Tuko.co.ke

Success did not come to Kitengela Glass Trust overnight; it did not start at the current location. Entrepreneurs know how to create their own opportunities even when the going becomes tough. Croze was not exceptional.
"Our journey started in Limuru where we had rented a house but later got informed that it had been sold. We had no option but to start looking for another place to shelter and that is how we found ourselves here"
Nani Croze
Owner of Kitengela Glass Trust
"There was no option but to scout for land and the destination turned out to be Kitengela, Kajiado County. This was back in 1978", reminisces Croze.

"There were no roads here and we had to clear the bush first. There was no water too and we had to dig a borehole. We also had to make Manyatta to serve as our shelter and eventually started planting trees, rearing cattle," she re-calls.
Aerial view of the Kitengela Glass
She remembers selling her house in the United Kingdom to raise funds and dig a borehole. Those desperate times that needed desperate measures.

Diversifying to the glass business was another uphill task – first she had no experience or the skills on how the business operates. Importing glass was more expensive, and financial constraints were becoming inevitable day by day.

Unbowed, Croze had to go for a short term course in the United Kingdom on stained glass making that aided her current success when she came back and went commercial.
How the glass is made
Glassblowing is an art where one makes sculptures by exploiting the molten glass. Kitengela Glass Trust uses the Blowing the Glass Off-Hand technique where they heat to melt the glass to fit different shapes that are required. The melted glass is used to make ornaments and flower pots as well as home decoration items.

The decision by Kitengela Glass Trust to stop importing raw materials to make stained glass had its merits. Glass that was locally available helped Croze create a good business relationship with friends who informed her whenever the materials were available.

Croze later took her employees through apprenticeship, showed them how to melt glass, source for old bottles locally, and make glass products through a mechanical process
Kitengela employee making a glass item
How the glass is sold
Buoyed by the new development, word went round about the new invention and more inquiries came from individuals who wanted to buy glass for interior and exterior decorations in their homes and/or offices.

Today, her clientele includes: banks, hotels, and individuals.
I am an artisan and this is not a profitable venture but more of a conservancy.
Nani Croze
Owner of Kitengela Glass Trust
Instead, she admits the venture has created employment opportunities to the local communities.

"My lowest moment is when we have to trim our workforce when the business is down," reveals Croze.

Overcoming challenges has been one of Croze's stregnths.
Creating glass work is not the only business
Croze has diversified her business to include a hotel, a museum and a farm house.

The cottages which are available for weddings, bonding and team building have been a great inspiration to her.
Plans for the future
Croze says the next idea is to open a vocational center for young people from the neighborhood to learn glass blowing skills and earn an income from selling glass.

"My legacy would be to leave this place better than I found it," she says with a grin.

Croze has written books on how she set up Kitengela Glass Trust.

Her enterprise that overlooks the Nairobi National Park has become a must-visit place for local and international tourists.
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