Picture: Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe Mengi
Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe Mengi is a well-known figure in Tanzania. The 38-year-old mother of twins was an award-winning singer and performer and winner of Miss Tanzania in 2000. But she’s proven to be much more than just a pretty face. Opting to shift from a comfortable career in interior design consulting to full-on furniture manufacturing, Jacqueline is making her own mark on Tanzania’s economy and taking her place among a growing line-up of successful women in business.
“One of the biggest barriers to women-owned business is lack of self-confidence and the limitations we place on ourselves. After making a good living, women in business often become complacent and don’t try to grow bigger mostly because they don’t believe that they can. Many economic sectors, including furniture manufacturing, are still dominated by men, and those of us who have ventured out are few. But things are changing slowly. More women are fighting to be at the top both as creators of wealth and in the corporate world. My motto has always been ‘If you believe in yourself, there’s no limit to what you can achieve’ and it’s always served me well.”
Jacqueline is the youngest of three born to British/Tanzanian parents. Her father, a gynaecologist, was an important figure in her life and encouraged an avid interest in books. But the secondary school student loved music best of all and spent her days singing Madonna and Mariah Carey songs. All that practice paid off when she was recruited as lead vocalist for a local derivative of hip-hop − bongo flava −band, The Tanzanites. The exposure was “life changing” as Jacqueline toured a number of cities across the world and launched her musical career under the stage name K-Lyinn. She went on to work in the industry as well as on TV before returning to the studio and recording two albums with hit singles, which saw her nominated for Best Tanzanian Female Artist twice over.
In between all that crazy success, Jacqueline won the title Miss Tanzania in 2000 and went on to represent the country in the Miss World pageant. “Becoming a beauty queen was an exciting experience. During my reign, I learned a lot about my country. It definitely opened many opportunities for me to grow,” she recalls.
Almost ten years into her music career and shortly after the release of her second album, Jacqueline made a surprising decision and left the industry, this time to follow another dream: interior decoration. “I had done a three-year-long interior design course with Rhodec International and felt ready for the change. I informally launched Amorette with the savings I had built up from Miss Tanzania and my ten-year music career. After a year or so, when I could see it was gaining traction, I incorporated it as a business.”
At that time, Amorette Limited provided a comprehensive range of interior design services for high-end commercial and residential projects. The firm became increasingly popular amongst Tanzania’s jet set and, leveraging on this success, its founder launched Molocaho, a made-to-order furniture design and manufacturing arm of the company which – in one short year – has expanded to include designer fabrics, lighting, decor, outdoor and garden furniture, and rugs.
“I struggled to find what I was looking for in terms of high quality, unique furnishings for our home. You’d have to source locally and be happy with what you got or buy from overseas so I felt there was an opportunity there for Amorette.”
She was right. The designs, which mix traditional African symbolism with contemporary patterns, are inspired by the environment from which they come: settees resembling ocean waves, chairs reminiscent of the delightful baobab tree, lush flora fabric prints, and side tables made from reclaimed cargo boats.
Despite her growing success, Jacqueline explains the lack of information and bureaucracy in establishing and running a business is an issue with which she – like many women business-owners – has struggled. Fortunately, her husband and experienced business tycoon, Reginald Mengi, has helped her navigate the hurdles. The pair married two years ago and have twin boys. Once the business was underway, getting the right team on board who understood her vision has probably been Jacqueline’s biggest challenge.
“Starting a new business is always difficult because there’s so much at stake and many lessons to be learned. But I believe that’s what pushes us to work harder. As a perfectionist, I always go for the best quality and finish in whatever we make, and craftsmen who work with me must be thorough so we only produce the best goods for the market.”
But her doggedness appears to be paying off. Jacqueline won bronze awards for furniture design in A’ Design Award and Competition held in Italy. Her successful venture has funded the Dr Ntuyabaliwe Foundation, an NGO named after her father that builds libraries in schools and encourages children to become passionate about reading. Profits from the business are also being used to support the local artisan community through a newly established mentorship programme, which exposes carpenter and upholstery, for example, to international workmanship standards.
Jacqueline’s short-term goal is to begin exporting these custom-made pieces to Europe. While she is proud Amorette has built a strong customer base in East Africa, her dream is to create an international Made-in-Tanzania luxury brand that will make her country proud.
“I see Molocaho becoming a successful and globally recognised brand, with its pieces being exhibited and sold alongside other internationally-renowned furniture brands.”
And don’t doubt she can do it. “The power of positivity works,” she explains simply. “If I visualize it, I can make it happen.”
Keeping a positive attitude is the best thing I’ve ever learnt in my life! Focus on the positive and keep negative thoughts away by visualizing what you want to happen
in your life.
Give your clients more
value than the money
you take from them.
I am grateful to the power
of providence, my family,
the people I work with,
and the nature from which
I get my inspiration.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
I chase perfection in what I do. I am very passionate about asking for and getting the best, even from myself.