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How a High School Dropout is Making it Big in Interior Design

by Samantha
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In the bustling coastal city of Mombasa, a tale of entrepreneurial grit and artistic innovation has unfolded. Dansean Mugambi, a self-made entrepreneur, defied convention by establishing an interior design business in 2015, all without the backing of formal education in the field. His journey from t-shirt printing in his mother’s house to becoming the CEO of Dankiz Arts & Creations Limited is a testament to the power of passion, experience, and continuous learning.

His enterprise relied heavily on a wealth of experience gained on the job. He later sharpened his skills through relevant online courses.

Mr Mugambi is now the CEO of his venture, Dankiz Arts & Creations Limited, that deals in interior design,3D wall art, project management, finishes and CAD drawings. He is also an abstract painter and occasionally holds art exhibitions.

Even before founding the design company, Mr Mugambi had set up his first startup while in high school. He printed t-shirts from his mother’s house and later in a bedsitter he rented.

“I was an art student in high school. By the time I was in Form Two I was doing screen and fabric printing. I would buy plain t-shirts then custom-make them. I would sell to my classmates and school clubs,” he says.

This endeavor not only provided him with a steady income but also marked the start of his entrepreneurial spirit. However, despite achieving good grades and even receiving an admission letter to the esteemed University of Nairobi, financial constraints forced him to make a difficult decision. With his family unable to afford university fees, Mugambi chose to continue his t-shirt printing business instead.

Collaborations with notable artists in the t-shirt printing industry, such as Juliani, Eko Dyda, and Jua Cali, propelled his work to national prominence. At its peak, Dankiz was producing over 3,000 t-shirts monthly. Although the business was doing well, he exited to follow his passion in interior design.

“People loved my work as I was not just printing, I am an artist and my work was art. That was the unique part,” he says.

“But at some point I stopped the t-shirts work as I felt it was not where my heart was. It was also stressful without good money.”

His interior design venture did not take long to pick up.

Mr Mugambi has decorated homes, offices, restaurants, stores, and business premises in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Initially he depended on friends who trusted him with their spaces, something he says helped him to build his name.

“The first client as a friend who gave me his house in Changamwe to revamp,” he says.

He did not have an office then and often met clients in restaurants.

His big break came in 2015 through the Tony Elumelu Foundation where he was mentored and got a seed capital that enabled him grow his business including importing and selling 3D Panels.

“After research I introduced 3D panels. I was among the first people to import it in Kenya. I began selling them from my house and later got this showroom in Nyali,” he notes.

One of Mugambi’s defining qualities is his dedication to learning. While he lacked a formal education in interior design, he recognized the importance of skill refinement.

He turned to online courses to bridge the gap, studying subjects ranging from color theory to space arrangement. Gradually, his expertise grew, leading him to obtain a diploma and later a degree.

“I have not sat down in an institution to learn design. I did simple courses. For example, I would decide I want to study kitchen design and look for a course,” he says.

“ I would do courses on colour, space arrangement and planning for six months. I started with a diploma then a degree.”

This commitment to education, coupled with his hands-on experience, shaped him into the seasoned professional he is today.

His firm has now made great strides, handling a long list of customers including bars in Nairobi, hotels in Mombasa, shopping malls such as Nyali Links Arcade and various residential homes.

“In the interior design awards held this year, my project Barberique Barbershop came number three in the whole country. The two projects that were ahead were massive with big budgets,” he adds.

Mugambi’s journey has not been without its challenges. Financial constraints remained a constant obstacle, but he navigated them by employing a steadfast approach to growth. Resisting the allure of loans, he chose a methodical path, learning the importance of saving and financial discipline along the way.

“We have never taken a loan. It is a slow but sure way of growing a business. It has taught me to save and have discipline about money,” he says.

He also does online consultation for clients in the USA, Germany, Canada, Nigeria and South Sudan. He plans to bring more countries into the fold.

“We have a two-year plan which begun January last year to now diversify. We outsource a lot of stuff. We want to bring our own machines and make things from here. We also want to expand to make lamps as well,” he says.

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