Careers, education and Finance
Clare Kagimu – The startup story of a talented Ugandan interior architect bringing her unique design vision to the UK
Creative entrepreneurs in the interior design and architecture space are by their very nature, highly dynamic individuals with a wonderful eye for detail and a unique way of looking at the world. Clare Kagimu, founder of Phoenix Design, is dynamism personified. As a creative member of the African Diaspora, she showcases the best of her African design talent from her base in the UK, combined with a global perspective and stacks of energy and passion for what she does.
LoA spoke to Clare this month about this exciting new phase of her entrepreneurial journey and about her vision for her company, Phoenix Design.
A Message From Clare
Before I write what will be my first symphony in the rhythms of this entrepreneurial world, I would like to say thank you to Melanie Hawken for this great platform and opportunity within the fabric of the Lionesses of Africa online community of women entrepreneurs. I would also like to say thank you to Martin Mclellan for the amazing imagery that will be showcased in this article. Truly a great workman in his trade. Thank you Martin.
I would like to say thank you to my family. To you my late father, Paul Archie Kagimu, the greatest dad and Architect I ever knew; and my mother Edith Kagimu, who has supported my every Dream to this day. Your utter confidence in your little one is beyond the wings that have carried me to this platform. I would like to thank my siblings, Wendy, Hubert, Sharon and Victor Kagimu for believing in me, why? Though being the last, you all dared to look up to me and I honour you all for being my anchors and source of identity and joy.
I dedicate this to all who dare to believe that you were created for something so much greater than your background. You who believe that you were created and empowered for a very specific purpose and destiny. I dedicate this piece to all of you that seek new worlds to change, and believe that with you and in you lies greatness and solutions that will make this a better place. Stay on your path, for that time will come. Lastly I would like to thank my Mentor, my role model Ralph and Lucy Mugi for your love, patience and belief. Thank you. For all that I am today, I give God all the glory.
“Coming from, and being brought up in, a very creative family, it was safe to say that the breeding ground of a pioneering heart was inevitable.”
It seemed just a few years back that women would not be seen to be able or equal playing parties in the marketplace. I am very careful to realise this responsibility that I have been given, for those that have paved the way for us.
In the light of our freedom, I desire to encourage and leave the bread crumbs of our experience to those that will come after us. I am so encouraged today, seeing many young and older women arising to take their place in the entrepreneurial marketplace. Seeing them break through barriers and take back much needed ground has awakened a ROAR, a voice that is now a force to be reckoned with, a voice that is now resisting its pitch to be silenced, until the original purpose of these women is restored in all its beauty. How beautiful is a woman that knows who she is, and where she belongs, confident in why she exists.
What a day we are living in. What a time to be alive to now sees such changes happen in our generation. It is with this background and awareness that I take this honour and experience great pride in writing my startup story. That has truly been a very long time coming – 13 years to be exact.
ARISING FROM THE ASHES, ELEGANCE IS REBORN!
“Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do (and do it better!)”
– Andrew Carnegie
Tell us a little about your company, Phoenix Design
Inspired by the mystical bird legend of the Phoenix, Phoenix Design is a Re-Branding Solutions Company, created to look at everyday problems and seek very practical solutions in a creative way. We are ever-evolving our specialist skills set, and our range of services and products to meet the high demands of our clients.
Our services range from Interior Decor, Graphics and 3D Design, Logo and Branding, On-line Marketing, Cleaning Services, Events Planning and Management, Visual Bible, and Thought Provokers Publishing.
Within this corporate service offering framework, Phoenix Designs has created various specialist avenues to meet the full range of client needs. As a result, three specialist areas of the company were created – Phoenix Events, St
yle by Phoenix, and the Phoenix Cleaning Company. Each is a relatively new business concept or idea with its own ethos, mission statement and motto. Each of these distinct service offerings has been intentionally designed to provide a specific solution and channel to clients to meet business needs and challenges. They also enlarge my creative vision and open an array of opportunities to other doors that I desire to see opening for Phoenix, and where there is space for the company to have an influence. With its distinct approach to creative design which is like no other in the marketplace, I believe that Phoenix is rapidly on its way to being a truly dynamic design house, known for its inspirational creations and services, excellent products and delivery.
Give us a little insight into the range of specialist divisions, services and products that you have created at Phoenix Design.
The best golfers use their minds to see an invisible line that the ball will travel over, to get it from the green to the hole. Similarly, as an entrepreneur, you train your mind to see the invisible line to success through your obstacles.
Style by Phoenix
Phoenix Cleaning Company
I believe in having an entrepreneurial spirit, exceptional-ism and the philosophy that every man and WOMAN can achieve greatness, despite the card that life gives them, if they only dig deep enough to unearth the treasure that was inbuilt in them from the beginning of time. I did and so can you #DARE TO BELIEVE and shake up nations.
Thought Provokers Publishing
Thought Provokers is a collection of books that have been birthed out of personal revelations of the word of God. I hope to challenge and provoke a paradigm shift in the thinking of the readers to reconsider what seemed known norms in a new dynamic way, by incorporating specific images and scripture, contemporary ideologies laws to point out the kingdom of heaven, it’s mandate to us, and how it affects every decision and moral code we aim to uphold.
Tell us a little about your team
At the moment I am my own Team, fully in charge of the company. But when we get contracts, I feel the need to leverage and contact the required workers I need through my network of people I have met over time – I have made some amazing contacts and connections with very creative individuals in the business like Willvan Gacita, an awesome graphics designer I have worked with on the Commonwealth Games Track Suit Designs in Glasgow 2014. I also work with my colleague, Andrew Akilan, who is talented at creative logo design. The décor and interior side of the business is my personal baby, and there I have the freedom to indulge.
What inspired you to start your company?
My journey began as many do, in a safe home and enjoying the simple life in Africa. Beyond all the limits and restrictions, at a very small age I knew I was destined for greater things. From my physical stature, to my outlook on life, I felt a deep passion for my planet, women, cities, buildings, and all things that aim to create order.
Coming from and being brought up in a very creative family, it was safe to say that the breeding ground of a pioneering heart was inevitable. Having one of the first architects in my nation Uganda as a father, and a very business savvy, street smart strong woman as a mother, I had two role models to look up to. For in the Late Paul Archie Kagimu and Edith Musoke Kagimu, I found HOPE. That beyond this nation lay incredible possibilities. His love for buildings and design inspired my little heart. In fact, my inspiration has always come from a very playful place. I believe that there is something childlike, playful and enchanting, almost endearing about well-designed interiors and rooms that captivated me from a very young age. To know that beyond the doors lies a world of soft textures, cushions you can dive into and almost get lost in their generous embrace. Or the perfect setting of a well laid-out room that ushers you in with an aura of confidence. Or perhaps the perfectly boxed windows that framed an amazing view – a sunset that someone will enjoy at its best positioning.
Seeing my late father design and build our home from scratch, was his way of being my pioneer and role model. When I look back, I think that all the work he did, I loved. With his love of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a pillar of Scottish design, to me they were in a league of architects who owned their world. They were so daring in being pioneers, well-learned and passionate about what they did. I thank them both for the legacy that they left behind for me to run with; the self belief in their own uniqueness and innate gifts; the ability to break new ground with innovative designs in an era that was yet to be enlightened; their ability to bring their forward-looking and trailblazing approach to their work, moving past all the pain and birthing structures that to this day inspire nations e.g. The Uganda Entebbe Airport that my late father refurbished before his death.
In them I was inspired to see that design should be an outlet, in all its shapes and form, for truly we have not yet reached or touched what we think could be the highest visual expression of mega structures. And this gets me excited. For surely from the ashes of their design archives, elegance will evolve into new design for future generations to come. How awesome the times ahead are for us designers. My advice is to just keep focused. Stay humble and childlike in your business approach and ethos, constantly experimenting and networking. I am sure the best will be yet to come.
Tell us a little more about your own design philosophy and approach
Elements of playfulness, elegance and unlimited creativity – I wanted to recreate a business with this philosophy embedded into its very fabric. After all, if we can’t enjoy the spaces we live in, then why have them?
“I learned very early on that I needed to keep fresh and evolving, always learning something new to keep ahead of the game.”
You see design to me is not just clever staging. It is about understanding and working with all you have in your hands, from the buildings, the landscape, sky, and lighting, clients specification, details, instinct. All these joyous elements work in such symphony to create a very colourful piece with intent.
I also was inspired to have a tool that others could see and be empowered to solve problems in a creative way, using design. To see the passion and faces of the clients we have worked with, seeing the expressions on their faces as they walked into finished spaces for either a birthday party or a corporate event. Nothing beats that type of reaction and validation, and it’s why I do it over and over again, each time.
Tell us a little about some of the exciting and varied projects you have worked on at your company.
Some of the projects Phoenix Designs has worked on include a bedroom refurbishment project for the Edinburgh Royal Mile Mansion; the design of The Ghana Track Suit for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow; corporate logo design for WOFEM – the Way of Faith Evangelical Ministries Church in 2014 and fundraiser event coordination for the same organisation; a catwalk fashion shoot at the Tall Ship for Joanita Jojo Fruit Richie Clothing Company; and designs for a new pub project in Glasgow, plus many others.
“I believe that adding value to anyone, any space is a Kingdom mindset I apply to my business. What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you.”
Tell us about some of the projects and initiatives you are going to be working on in the near future
At Phoenix, the future is looking bright. We hope to launch our new website in 2017.
At Phoenix, we also hope to distribute this amazing product all over Europe by 2016, as Phoenix Designs won the rights of distribution for it, and it is now under the umbrella of our range of products.
What piece of entrepreneurial advice would you like to share with other women entrepreneurs?
Having come this far, and having looked at all the great opportunities we have been presented with, and all the lives we have positively impacted as a company, no project has been the same. For every client that walked through our doors, they offered a new dimension, a new problem to solve. I learned very early on that I needed to keep fresh and evolving, always learning something new to keep ahead of the game. I am going back to school in the fall and will be networking with like-minded people, because as they say, it’s never too late to learn again. My advice to others is be willing to fail, fall, but always get back up again. Remember that nothing comes easy, but it’s all worth it. Also, remember that being a pioneer is lonely, but soon like all great leaders, you will have many people with you at the top. As you encourage each of them to realise their gifts and skills, your company will grow, because you will have liberated each member to add to what you are building.
Finally, remember most of all to stay grounded. Being a Born Again Christian in this industry calls for a standard, and integrity like no other, because people are always watching you and your work. On a personal level, I intend to run my race fully and hope to win-over as many friends, colleagues and other entrepreneurs along the way, inspiring them too to arise and shine, and believe that their dreams can come alive, with much hope and much effort.
Contact or follow Clare