Meet the woman crafting success at Furniture Zoo

Emily Wangui shelved funds for a trip to Dubai to pursue interior design

In Summary

• Inspiration from a Nigerian furniture maker drove Emily Wangui to start her journey

• Less than two years later, Furniture Zoo is serving not just homes but resorts as well

Emily Wangui in the showroom of Furniture Zoo in Nairobi
Emily Wangui in the showroom of Furniture Zoo in Nairobi

A rainbow of brightly coloured furniture fills a showroom on Nairobi's Quarry Road, with the noise of hammers and saws serving as background music for the craftspeople and visitors in the busy space.

Sunlight shining through the showroom windows illuminates a massive white board with the word 'Progress' written across it.

Emily Wangui, who goes by the name Wakeji Kamore on social media, is a ball of excitement as she moves around from workstation to workstation, adding an extra layer of energy to the already bustling room.

“I like to describe myself as a perfect balance of an aggressive and bubbly lady," said Wangui, 38, proprietor of the space aptly named Furniture Zoo.

Pulling her team around her, Wangui used a bright blue marker to update a list of projects under the 'Progress' sign. Nothing escaped her interrogation; raw materials quality, joinery craftsmanship and wood finishing are all evaluated.

While Wangui says she has always been an interior designer at heart, everything she has built at Furniture Zoo is the result of a chance moment online, when she came across 26-year-old Jumako Dada, a Nigerian, who built her successful furniture store, Taellio, from scratch.

“I happened to search 'furniture manufacturing' on YouTube and I bumped into her interview,” Wangui said.

"The fact that she is a young lady in the wood and carpentry sector was so inspiring. What she has achieved is exactly what I was dreaming of doing, and in that moment, I realised that every dream I have is already someone else’s reality, and it can also be mine."


Driven by an insatiable need for creation, Wangui knew she had to find an outlet. Dada's vision was her answer.

However, starting a furniture business from scratch required more than just a dream. A huge effort was required to find funding for the warehouse space, machinery, raw materials and employees.

“Fortunately, my friends and family believed in my business as much as I did, forming my own personal loan squad,” she said.

“I had made some savings for a vacation to Dubai, but this enterprise offered the prospect of an endless journey. A birthday in paradise or building something that will last? My business won!”

With 18 months of doing business under her belt, Wangui currently manages a team of roughly 20 people, with 14 salaried core members handling administration, joinery and finishing, and five contractors bringing experience in sofa framing, upholstery, welding and lathing.

“We facilitate about 10 to 15 orders a month, and each order can have anything from two to 100 furniture pieces, depending on whether it is residential or a commercial space,” Wangui said.

A well-coordinated team helps Wangui meet client expectations from the first order through to delivery. Client favourites include cozy accent chairs, dining tables, sofas and beds.

Wangui ensures that products are custom-made to the client’s requirements, including style, size, wood grains, staining and varnishing. This is made possible by her vast number of employees, who have perfected their niche. Morris Ouma, a wood joiner, is one of them.

“Not only have I found stability and security in my job, but I've also been able to pursue my passion for woodworking on a whole new level,” he said.

He cited a project where they were tasked with designing and building custom furniture for a local cafe.

“Seeing the finished pieces in use and knowing that my work is enhancing someone else's space was incredibly rewarding,” Ouma said.

“But perhaps the most significant impact this job has had on my life is the ability to provide for my family in ways I never thought possible.

“Thanks to the steady income and benefits provided by Furniture Zoo, I've been able to give my loved ones the stability and security they deserve. Whether it's putting food on the table or taking my children to school, this job has made it possible.”

A few moments have stood out for Wangui at Furniture Zoo.

"You know, there are two moments that really stood out for me. The very first order — that a complete stranger trusted us online, sight unseen, to deliver their dream furniture — was a massive confidence boost,” she said.

Another moment was their first restaurant furniture project, when they nailed the turnaround time and impressed their client with the final pieces. This cemented everything for Wangui.

“We weren't just furniture makers anymore, we were building the heart of someone's business, and we did it right,” she said.


Wangui delights in the diverse number of customers who walk through the doors of Furniture Zoo.

Sixty per cent of her clients are foreigners who have made Kenya their home. Another 34 per cent are Kenyans who live in the city's suburbs and are looking for distinctive pieces for their homes.

Furniture Zoo's reach is now extending beyond houses. Six per cent of their clients are resorts, hotels and restaurants, who rely on Wangui's staff to create the ideal mood for their establishments.

Nishit Shah from Tavo Fusion, a local restaurant, said Furniture Zoo's craftsmanship exceeded his expectations.

“From the moment I stepped into Emily’s showroom and workshop, I was impressed by the quality and variety of her pieces and Emily’s interior design insights,” he said.

“Not only did I find exactly what I was looking for, but her staff's expertise and friendly assistance made the whole process a breeze.”

Wangui is tapping into a growing furniture industry, with rapid urbanisation in Nairobi and across the region driving demand for furniture to fill a fast-growing housing market.

Residential construction in Kenya makes up more than 50 per cent of a market worth more than $16 billion a year, according to London-based global analytics and consulting company, GlobalData.


Wangui's challenges started early on.

“My first challenge was knowing what machines and tools to purchase for the business,” she said.

She was completely green in this area, which meant that she had to trust a carpenter to list for her everything that was needed for furniture manufacturing, from the electrical planing machines to the power tools, all the way to the size of the nails they needed.

“That carpenter is still on my team in the joinery department,” she said.

She also believes her gender has set her apart in the industry and even opened more doors for her.

“Being a woman in the furniture manufacturing business works out in my favour. Mostly, women are tasked to furnish homes and even hotels, and restaurants,” Wangui said.

“While there are spaces that will be hard, like buying timber from the yards and leading a team of more male employees than women, it is also an opportunity for growth, and if you come into that space ready to learn, there is more benefit than challenges.”

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