When Michael Jjingo first visited China in the early 2000s, he did not imagine anything beyond meticulously designed Beijing skyscrapers.
He was wrong. There was more to learn, especially on how ceilings in such buildings were beautifully curved. As he travelled back, something kept telling him what the Chinese were doing could possibly be done in Kampala. Later, Jjingo sought training in China for a few weeks. When he came back in 2005, he embarked on plans to work on ceiling designs.
He started a company – Jeje Deacutecor Designs. The firm started with metal fabrication, making metal beds, chairs, doors and gates. Jjingo has since incorporated designs for ceilings, putting to use the skills he acquired from China.
He now makes cornices, which look like small poles placed at the corners of a ceiling. There are also centre pieces -placed at the centre of lounges, bedrooms, walkways, where you would also place power bulbs.
“This is pre-designed finishing that will suit the builder’s precise desires. We target people who want to have that unique look in their houses,” says Jjingo, also a manager with Centenary bank.
Similar designs can be found at Hotel Sajavaro, Hilton hotel, and Hotel Africana, among others. At his shop in Kibuye, along Salaama road, a couple of designs are on display. One can go for as little as Shs 25,000. The most expensive design is sold at Shs 60,000. Five people are employed here to make the pieces.
Jjingo says it’s still a challenge because they use artisanal methods to make the designs. On the open market, Jjingo says, a centre piece can go for Shs 140,000. Asked whether Ugandans are into such sophisticated designs, Jjingo speaks of a class of Ugandans who are particular about what they want.
“And when it comes to building, they don’t leave anything to [chance],” he says. “What happens is that your ceiling will have the usual concrete but when it comes to finishing, some people would want more tidings to make the house look a little bit classy.”
Jjingo says response from customers has varied from delightful to disappointing, citing cases where customers think the products would not work.
“One time, I gave someone in Masaka to sell for me. But those who took the pieces brought them back saying they were heavy and would fall on them,” Jjingo says.
While installing these designs, however, Jjingo says, they use screws to tighten them. He is optimistic that it won’t be long before Ugandans finally appreciate the designs.
“As people move around the world, they will see such designs and will want to have them,” he says.
His business started slow, but it has begun to pick up, with more individuals and hotels as far as in Fort Portal, Kasese and Malaba seeking his services. He uses his website and a Facebook account to market the products. He also talks to his friends who also sell the ideas to their friends.
His biggest challenge is the high cost of imported raw materials and the associated taxes.
“By the time you get the products to [the market], it doesn’t matter whether you are small or big, you will pay all the taxes,” Jjingo says.
Another challenge is that the materials are fragile and can easily break during transportation. Not so many people are dealing in such products about three shops in town, owned by Indians and Chinese sell these ceiling designs, which are imported.
The designs are manufactured using raw materials imported from Kenya, China, and India. They include gypsum powder – a soft white substance used to make plaster of Paris. Jjingo also imports fibre from Kenya, which acts as a binder to help hold the materials together.
He has partnered with Chinese and Indians to help in research and development to come up with new designs. A person who wants to design a three-bed-roomed house may have to spend about Shs 450,000, including installation fees.
In future, Jjingo says, clients will be allowed to come up with their own designs which the company will make for them.
Source : The Observer