Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Artisan shop lets you buy a piece of authentic Africa

updated 5:07 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
In a small street in Zanzibar's historic Stone Town, a shop, Aromas of Zanzibar, sells authentic African clothing and accessories crafted by local artisans on site. In a small street in Zanzibar's historic Stone Town, a shop, Aromas of Zanzibar, sells authentic African clothing and accessories crafted by local artisans on site.
Aromas of Zanzibar
Kaleidoscope of colors
Big ambition
  • Aromas of Zanzibar sells clothing and accessories crafted in vibrant African prints
  • All products are made on site by local artisans, using only locally sourced materials
  • The shop is the brainchild of former hotel assistant manager Rizwan Janmohamed

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

(CNN) -- In a tucked-away corner of Zanzibar's historic Stone Town lies a little shop of curiosities.

Colorful bags, necklaces and hats hang on the racks, and beautiful African prints line the walls. In the back room, a low hum of sewing machines is a sign of busy artisans at work.

Welcome to Aromas of Zanzibar, a clothing and accessories store that's different to others on the island.

Founded by the 29-year-old entrepreneur Rizwan Janmohamed, every single thing the shop -- from guitar cases to can holders -- is made on site by local craftsmen, using only locally sourced materials.

"Since my childhood, my dream has been to own my own business," says Janmohamed, "so I thought to myself, what is missing in Stone Town? At the time, everything was coming from China, India, Thailand, so I decided to make something which is produced here. That's my concept," he adds.

An ornate entrance in Zanzibar's historic Stone Town.

Janmohamed left his job as an assistant manager of a local hotel and used a bank loan, with added help from family and friends, to set up his shop.

Read more: Teen's gardening invention blooms into planting revolution

Thousands of tourists come to Stone Town each year and visit its many knickknack stores, but Janmohamed thought he would stand out by providing a piece of authentic Zanzibar for them to bring home.

A melting pot of cultures

He started with colorful beaded necklaces and then moved on to spices and aromatic cardamom tea. Today, his most popular items are small wallets, pouches and cosmetics cases made out of vibrant African prints known as Kitenge.

Since my childhood my dream has been to own my own business, so I thought, what is missing in Stone Town?
Rizwan Janmohamed

However, beginnings were tough, and Janmohamed found it difficult to market his products: "When I started the business a few years back, you can say it was a nightmare. It was really a challenge. Because you don't know what to produce first and you don't know what's expected tomorrow," he says.

At the moment, his shop is breaking even, but the businessman hopes to start making a profit within two years, and says his shop is frequented not just by tourists but local people as well.

Janmohamed attributes his success to Zanzibar's unique handicrafts, which display a fusion of Swahili and Arabian culture, but stresses that creating a welcoming environment is just as important.

"It's not just about selling your product. It's about maintaining your service, it's about how you talk to your customer and maintain that relationship as well," he says.

His products may be local, but Janmohamed's ambitions run significantly further: "I want to become one of the largest companies on the African continent for production of fabric accessories and clothing," he says.

Read more: Teen's gardening invention blooms into planting revolution

Read more: Think there aren't enough hours in the day? Meet this maverick slum dweller

Read more: 'Nigerian iTunes' dances to the mobile phone beat

Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:49 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
In north-west Cameroon, a cooperative of women beekeepers gently nurture hives in the rural outskirts of the town of Bamenda.
updated 7:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
East Africa's vibrant music scene has been steadily gaining exposure, and now entrepreneurs and investors are catching on.
updated 10:03 AM EST, Fri November 28, 2014
 A woman sells Liberian flags on the street near an Ebola isolation ward on August 15, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. People suspected of contracting the Ebola virus are being brought by health workers to the center, a closed primary school originally built by USAID, while larger facililities are being constructed to house the surging number of patients. The Ebola epidemic has killed more than 1,000 people in four West African countries. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Workers and entrepreneurs in Liberia are struggling to deal with the economic impact of the Ebola crisis.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Fri November 28, 2014
Taxis remain a common mode of getting around in many African cities. Is this three-wheeler about to change that?
updated 9:09 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Christine Mbabazi started designing clothes in her bedroom, now a store owner, she has bigger plans; to become household name.
updated 5:46 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Dakar is the vibrant home of a growing community of surfers taking advantage of the warm weather, year-round waves and cheap flights.
updated 7:01 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Jeffrey Mulaudzi's tourism business is a learning experience on two wheels, giving visitors an opportunity to see the local lifestyle up close.
updated 9:48 AM EST, Mon November 3, 2014
War long made Goma a difficult place to live in, but one woman has set out to change that -- and she's using soft croissants and fresh coffee.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
When you think chocolate, you probably don't think Uganda. But if two local entrepreneurs have their way, you will soon...
updated 5:34 AM EST, Tue December 30, 2014
If someone has shined your shoes in a South African airport, it's probably thanks to Lere Mgayiya.
updated 5:24 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Meet Kemi Kalikawe, the owner of Naledi Lifestyle Store which specializes in fashion and household items in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
On the streets of the Ugandan capital of Kampala, scores of vulnerable children face uncertain futures.
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
Translating local charm into eye-catching designs, Definition Africa is a booming t-shirt retailer staying true to its Ugandan roots.
updated 6:46 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Janet Fredman Designs transforms modest materials such as seeds, wood and leather into high-end jewelry.
See the full coverage of CNN's African Start-Up -- the show that follows entrepreneurs across the continent making their dreams become reality.