While other children grew up playing video games, Ugandan-American interior stylist Nasozi Kakembo designed blueprints. After a stint in the human rights and social justice world, Kakembo harkened back to that childhood creativity to launch her home décor company, xNasozi.
Originally launched under the name “Origins Style by Nasozi,” Kakembo’s venture in home décor has come a long way. “It all started with six really badly photographed pillows,” she laughs. Poor images or not, a gradual uptick in interest on Etsy helped the Brooklyn-based designer realize she was on to something. As orders trickled in, Kakembo began to wonder what would happen if she worked full-time on the company. The answer came soon enough when the challenges of juggling her young son’s elementary school schedule with a full-time position increased. In April 2013, Kakembo decided to devote all of her energy to growing the brand, re-named the company xNasozi, and shifted from Etsy to an independent e-commerce store.
Now 4 years old, xNasozi bridges Brooklyn cool with Afro-chic. With a wide variety of minimalist prints and unique textiles sourced from artisan networks across Africa, Kakembo also stands out from the recent wave of African-inspired design with her innovative approaches to mud cloth and indigo. Her e-commerce store is a design addict’s paradise full of everything from a wax print yoga bag to mud cloth Christmas stockings. An indigo butterfly chair, a bestseller among Kakembo’s wholesale clients, is a particular standout.
Based in New York City, Kakembo sources textiles from the wide network of West African businesses in Harlem and Brooklyn. Some of the fair-trade woven products, such as baskets and sisal bags, are imported from Uganda with the help of her supportive family. Kakembo has recently started to design mud-cloth-based textiles with her own original hand-painted work. In addition to a mud-cloth version of her signature butterfly chair, xNasozi also sells an industrial, modern mud-cloth-upholstered bench.
The more unusual takes on modern African design, like the bohemian denim and wax print aprons she sells as part of her kitchen collection, are inspired by Kakembo’s neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “There’s a very playful juxtaposition in the environment of Bed-Stuy,” she says. “There’s nothing that fits into a box; everything is whimsical and people express themselves fully through their style and interests.”
A quick glance at the xNasozi Instagram shows that the poor photos of the past have been replaced with sleek images of modern, colorful interiors. Kakembo credits these ideas to learning on the job. “xNasozi is more-or-less a one-woman show, so as my brand grew, I had to explore other skills in order to grow my sales,” she says.
Brands and blogs from Travel and Leisure to West Elm’s blog, Front + Main, have taken note of Kakembo’s new-found expertise. In addition to the xNasozi home décor products, she also writes and photographs for a variety of clients including crowd-favorite Apartment Therapy. “In the independent e-commerce world, there’s a lot of competition, so you have to have strong visuals with high-quality photographs of your products as well as lifestyle photos. I taught myself photography by picking the brains of my photographer friends.”
In addition to her hats of designer, writer and photographer, Kakembo has recently added philanthropist. Drawing from her experiences in humanitarian assistance, Kakembo supports Suubi Nursery and Primary School in her father’s native Uganda by donating a portion of Nasozi sales. As a small business, xNasozi’s contributions are small, but Kakembo hopes to scale the impact over the next few years. With a growing network of retailers in over 10 states, xNasozi might just meet its goal and live up to the meaning of Kakembo’s own name—“something to look up in praise of.”