Jess Kilubu brings a cultural edge to the home

Jess Kilubu is taking a wise approach to mixing furniture design and self-identity. When the designer moved to London from France he started to explore and re-claim his Congolese-African heritage. It was from here in 2017, that his Kilubukila furniture design project began to take shape, where he combines self-identity with craft, furniture, interior design and a plan to bring new perspectives to the interiors world.

In an interview with Tapiwa Matsinde for Shoko magazine, Jess talks about his creative motivation and the practicalities of growing a business.

Please introduce yourself, telling us a bit about your background, and where you are based, and when you set up kilubukila?

I was born and raised in France from a Congolese (DRC) family. It’s only at the age of 19 years old when I first moved to London that I started claiming my Congolese-African heritage. Its anonymity offering me the opportunity to own this part of my identity.

The Kilubukila project is part of that process, working on identity with a craft, furniture, and interior design focus. I started about two years ago and launched the business in November 2017. My question is how does one chair, one room, etc mirror one’s identity and how to look at it (oneself)? Trying to make sense of the different layers of the identity.

What prompted you to take the leap from working in big data to exploring furniture and product design?

The same quest for a sense of self. I work in a (tech) start-up so the motive was primarily to understand how to run a business. The industry I work in is booming but I have increasingly found myself needing to explore different avenues to help me grow, and I put this down in part to the lack of focus on the African continent.

Furniture making was a way to stay connected with the world and, myself and to have an impact on people’s lives, however small that may be. Disciplines such as product and set design are now ways to show that one can have multi-faces, and that’s ok. For me the more complex, the more layers the better.

What is the meaning of the name Kilubukila, and why is that significant for your business?

Kilubukila in Kikongo means be wise’. To be understood as a command, to others and more importantly to oneself. The way I understand the command is in trying, relentlessly to know myself, to question what I do and why. It is the same quest for a sense of self, not only in actions but also in aesthetic.

As such this word is relevant for my business because Kilubukila is a personal project; it is a question of identity and how we construct our interior. And it makes sense to me because the project will evolve whilst keeping a constant level of interrogation.

Upcycling and fabrics are two key characteristics of your products, can you tell us more about the materials you work with, why you choose them and what impact you want your products to have?

I currently work with wood and cotton wax-printed fabrics. And as part of my experiments and training, I am also experimenting with incorporating other materials. The fabrics I choose have a strong graphic focus that’s mostly an aesthetical draw for me, as they give the products a modern touch.

For the furniture I upcycle, I try to locally source product to enable me to create a relationship with local suppliers, this way I can get to know the story of the object and the person I got it from. For the new product namely, the bistro chair frames, I work with a family-owned business in Central Europe. Working in slow production and where human input and making skills are high, along with an ecological and sustainable focus is very important to me.

I would like my product to make one think, firstly through a striking aesthetic, then when using it a feeling of comfort.

You also import and sell honey from the DRC, so what would you say are the key characteristics for becoming an entrepreneur?

The idea behind Luyeye, the honey venture is to bring an unusual yet excellent product to market and talk about its place of origin in a different light. It has this in common with Kilubukila.

The hardest part of becoming an entrepreneur is having to initiate one’s project, and once the mindset is on, it then becomes about repeatability. I say take the time to nurture your idea and communicate it in a professional manner. I am surrounded by so-called entrepreneurs in the tech industry for whom starting a business is a sort of hobby. My projects are somehow intimate and I spend a lot of energy on them.

For me, the key characteristics of being an entrepreneur are how you approach life, which I view as a set of opportunities to catch in order to grow and have ambition and a strong ability to work.

How do you balance the demands of running your various ventures whilst working a 9 to 5, and what advice would you offer to those doing the same?

It is still work in progress but I compartmentalise: intellectually, geographically and with my use of time. Overlapping activities reduces productivity. So, in the office, it’s Big Data, in the studio and at home Kilubukila and Luyeye. At some, point the plan is to merge my projects. But that is a few years down the line.

Also not being alone for me is key. Do not hesitate to confront your project and ask for advice. My girlfriend is a freelance illustrator and is starting a women’s fashion brand so we talk a lot about business. I enjoy evolving with her and our friends, in what I see as a cohort of entrepreneurs and creatives. That is probably our best asset.

What are your tips for staying motivated, and developing your craft?

  1. Do not lose sight of who you are.
  2. Plan three steps ahead, and ensure you successfully complete the step you are in presently before moving forward.
  3. Make a strategy plan and be able to pivot if need be, invest in a coffee machine, and don’t forgot to relax and see your friends.

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started out?

Some things take time and that’s okay.

Find Jess @kilubukila

This article first appeared in 

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