She always fancied tinkering and making stuff, and rather than get rebuked, Rachael Winnie Kangumba’s parents put up with her constant need to take things apart, reverse engineer them, and many other creative adventures.
“I needed to know the inside workings of the items around me. I guess it is just how my mind is wired,” she says.
But at the core of this inquisitiveness was that the 30-year-old hated being told that her family needed to import stuff. “I always asked, ‘why don’t we just make it?’ Little did I know that the questions I asked as a child would lead me to what I am doing as an adult.”
After pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Art from Makerere University and graduating in 2011, Kangumba is now making things that we only saw at international displays. She started Leaves Arts and Animation Studios straight out of university in 2012.
Kangumba’s first client was one of her university lecturers on a 3D design and visualisation project. “He paid me peanuts as down payment, did not bother clearing his bill and refused to take my calls after the project was done. I remember that because it was my earlier days in the design field as a professional. It taught me the value of legal documentation.”
With lessons learned, Kangumba has gone on to work with several other clients where she has, for example, designed bridges with UNRA, prototyped devices for different IP (intellectual property) owners, built exhibition and communication material for Kyagalanyi Coffee, developed package and visual identity systems for Bushbucks coffee, collaborated with Mango Tree to make mobile libraries, developed the visual brand for Gorilla Bikes, among others.
“These have been quite good to my company because they have given us a chance when we needed it, and we are forever grateful,” she smiles.
It is as clear as yesterday and Kangumba says it was a disaster.
“I took on more employees than I could handle, burnt through my savings as though it were a competition. That aside, I was juggling a contract job and numerous freelance jobs in the face of trying to start a company.”
Looking back, all she can say is it was an experience she needed to go through to ground her ideas. “Even though dreaming big is beautiful, the ability to respect the now and the reality that I live in was the wakeup call I needed.”
Kangumba and her partner have taught many students about what they do and built a team they can call on for projects, hence making their productivity scalable.
She adds that getting a place to call home, at The Design Hub Kampala, has been a milestone. “A home is very important because you are no longer looked at as a briefcase business.”
“We built our own 3D printer with Design Hub Kampala, under a HIVOS grant, which we hope to turn into another wing of business where we don’t only build 3D printers, but also recycle PETG bottles into 3D print filament which shall in turn build a prototype industry.” Kangumba considers this to be a prelude to the manufacturing giant our country plans to become.
Kangumba got into this field with technical knowledge and no management experience. “I knew how to grow my skill, but not how to manage my skill as a business, and this led to undervaluing my services and products to many of my first clients,” she says.
The solution to this was to quickly get business savvy, hence attaining numerous mentors within the different stages of the design business. Her philosophy of ‘I can garner 50 years of experience from my social capital rather than literally work 50 years to gain experience.’
“In all honesty the victories are numerous, and so are the falls, and each are awarded the full respect they deserve, for without them, how would I be able to call myself an industrial designer, and be proud of it?” she reminisces.
“Five years, well, I see Leaves Arts and Animation Studios having its own prototype workshop, where we can build skill through more targeted training so as to build a highly relevantly trained workforce.”
That is coupled with a dedicated animation and story content creation studio, to tell the stories of old and new and hopefully inspire those who watch what we do, to dream too.