Pearls And Heels: Wambui JL


After a long break Pearls And Heels is back. Today our trailblazer is Wambui JL. She describes herself this way. “I am a woman who just joined the 4th floor. A daughter to a single mother, a sister, a mother to three boys, a wife, and a friend. I am a feminist who is focused on the boy child. Paradox? I think not, but one day I’ll be able to discuss how this can work out. I am passionate about mental health – the misunderstanding and pursuit of it. I desire to get to the bottom of African education systems and create something that works for us and our future generations.

Professionally, I am an African female content creator who uses graphic design & writing to connect with like-minded people to catch a vibe & collaborate on awesome projects. I’ve been designing since before 2000 and blogging since 2005. While that seems like quite some experience, it almost means nothing in this digital age. I have learned to keep growing in my knowledge of content creation, by always pushing myself in my craft.”

Describe your typical day?

It starts with snoozing my alarm clock several times but eventually getting up to face what the day may bring. I start with a bathroom break, 15mins of coconut oil pulling, brushing my teeth, then drinking 500ml of water and showering (but if I am working from home I shower later in the afternoon).

Then as I let the water settle, I’ll do my daily bible devotion, populate my self designed gratitude journal (I go days and months sometimes without doing this but I try), and then I’ll head over to the kitchen for a bowl of granola, tea and something like a banana or egg.

From that point on I am ready to face the day.

I’ll make my way to work by boda boda (if I am going nearby) or matatu (if I am not late and want to people-watch) or taxi (when that snooze button gets hit too much). I’ll work through the morning, attend meetings, get some work done before eating a home-packed lunch. Then I work through the afternoon, more meetings, emails, design work and close shop around 4/5 pm or sometimes 8 pm depending on the workload.

If I am working from home, I’ll have intermittent breaks to chat up the children as they go about their homeschool routine in the morning and play activities in the afternoon.

In the evening I make dinner most times, eat with the family, watch the current flavour of the month hit show – right now we’re on Zoraaaaaa Zoraaaaa. Recently, we’ve started reading books with the boys. So I’ll read for the littlest one and help the 2nd born if he is facing any challenges.

The evening ends with another big glass of water, and some scrolling on social media (I am trying to reduce my time there). Previously, I would work at night but I now aim to be in bed by 10.30 am and either wake up early or work hard to get my work done during the day.

What did you want to be when you grew up? What shaped you into the person you are now?

I wanted to do many things before the age of 18.

At the age of 5, I declared to my Mum that I wanted to be a runway supermodel who lives in Milan and is married to an Italian. I can’t be sure what it was that informed me, especially the last bit, but I did follow through by taking up an etiquette and makeup course post-high school and  I also learned a little Italian. I tried out for a few modelling gigs and even wanted to become an Air hostess at some point. But lo and behold my 5.65” stature got beaten out each time, and also maybe I wasn’t as committed to the cause.

I grew up in a highly creative family, with a Graphic Designer & Professional Photographer for a Mum. So I always knew I would always study something creative.

In high school, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, and because it was a ‘choppy’ thing I said Architect so as to fit in with the Doctors, Engineers and Lawyers type of aspirations. I actually applied for it, passed sufficiently & got called for the same at the University of Nairobi.

Because I knew that wasn’t my calling – and those days one could end up spending 8 years on campus – I applied for scholarships to the likes of Pratt Institute for design studies & The Art Institute of Seattle for Culinary Art. I also considered studying Fashion Design, Photography and also being a professional Hairdresser. But once I got the chance to study abroad in Malaysia I stuck to Graphic Design as a good entry point to all things creative.

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would take up fine art and grow into a gallery curator. While I love Graphic design, it pigeon-holed my career path to Print Shops & Ad Agencies. I am not sure if Fine Art would have brought me as far as Graphic Design has but I would have loved to explore that bit actively, earlier on.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?

 The top three skills are being able to come up with ideas also known as ideating/conceptualizing, implement them which entails applying learned skills such as design, photography, content management; and assess their impact which requires an understanding of data analytics and being able to draw insights to inform the next steps.

What do you love to do that makes you light up when you talk about it? What about it makes you light up?

I love coming up with creative solutions, I do it without thinking and most times overwhelm the person who is sharing their challenge. In the last year, I’ve learned to just listen, play with the ideas in my head without sharing them. I have people I call to just drop the idea on, and they indulge me, build it along with me. It always feels good to do that. I can attend brainstorming or think tank sessions for free! I get such a thrill from the entire process and figuring out what can be done about what’s being addressed.

What motivates you?

Creative thinking. I love seeing other people come up with nifty ideas across all sectors. It definitely reminds me of the why of what I do.

How do you define success?

I define success based on the ‘why’ that initiated the venture. If I answer the why as I do what I am doing then I consider it as being successful. The moment I lose or forget the ‘why’ I find myself floundering and unable to find purpose in what I am doing – therefore I will consider it not successful.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My Mother.  She followed her own path from an early age, built a successful career for herself, left an indelible mark in many people that she came into contact with all the while raising my sister and I on her own. I always say because I stand on her great shoulders I can only do greater things.

What is your favourite aspect of your job or life?

 I get to come up with new ideas each day or build upon an idea on subsequent days from the conceptualization of the idea. It makes each day vastly different from the previous one.

Another aspect that I love is seeing my work out there for all to see and in some instances standing the test of time. There is a logo I designed 13 years ago that is still used today in its original format and that for me is very affirming that my work can stand alongside great brands of the world.

What would you say are the key elements to being successful?

As shared before, never losing sight of why you are doing what you are doing. If you’re doing it for others, for accolades, out of fear of rejection or anything – then you’re just doing it for the sake of. Success is when you are doing it for self-fulfilment and to grow, others being impacted or being inspired is secondary.

What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?

Do the grunt work, it is where you’ll learn to focus on detail, understand how to find a gap where you can think differently, it is there that you build consistency. Then, always be ready to say, “I don’t know!” and be ready to learn afresh!

What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?

The day I launched Hairpolitan Magazine in August 2016 and ran it for a year or so. Once in a while when I feel like I’ve lost my way I go back, look at those 6 online magazines and remember there is a time I did it my way.

What makes you happy?

Our children, especially now that they are out of diapers and breastmilk. I enjoy secretly watching them as they grow & discover themselves. They are constant entertainment in all aspects.

What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

 It has varied over the years. I have been a dancer, an active blogger, a published and spoken word poet.

I have gone through the adrenaline stage – when all I wanted to do was Mountain climb (yet to be done), bungee jump (done), skydive (yet to be done), take a road trip across Africa, Europe & South America.

I have enjoyed working out with a spin bike and more recently yoga. I love watching rugby & reading books. My right now favourite is Female written Africana. I also love cooking and one of my dreams is to curate, design and publish a Mashakura cookbook – watch this space.

Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?

Sounds cliche but I do want to be sitting in my beach house, listening to waves hitting the shore, reading a good book, still secretly watching my children grow and creating art to my heart’s content.

You can find Wambui JL on the following platforms, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin and you can also check out her website 

Image by Rubanipix and taken at the Nairobi Garage Karen.

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Potentash Founder. A creative writer and editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories. Find me at [email protected]