Here, we speak with Maria Schlesinger, co-founder and chief executive of Takazuri, a design innovation firm using recycled materials to create smart products for the building industry, and pushing for a more sustainable future.
What was the reason for starting your business, and the driving force behind your mission?
Adel [Kassem, co-founder and design director] and I come from a product design background. After many years in the workforce, we individually found ourselves disenchanted with consumerism and the abundance of products we’ve created to support an unsustainable way of living [on] the planet. On the other hand, Chris [Hornor, business development] has spent over 15 years working in Africa – building clean energy solutions for low-income and rural villages – and shares [our] hunger for solving problems for the most burdened.
Together, we decided to take a stand and use our expertise to make products that can be part of a solution and not the problem. The driving force for us is – at a deeper level – to [demonstrate] to our children and peers how one can choose to contribute to solutions as a way of life.
“Climate change is the defining global issue of the 21st century […] We want to be part of the change, and not stay [on] the sidelines.”
What has been your proudest moment since starting your business?
We can’t think of one moment – every milestone achieved has brought a lot of pride for us. From being awarded a grant from Innovate UK in 2019 to the completion of our first pilot roof construction [in September 2022], these are all exciting moments that we cherish and feel proud of. The positive feedback we get from family, stakeholders, friends, business partners and top industry leaders stimulates us to continue our growth path, and to keep exploring ways to innovate and contribute towards change.
How do you try to ensure sustainability is at the heart of everything you do?
Sustainability is woven into the way we operate as a company. We use an appraisal app, which measures flights [emissions], vehicle fuel [use], and energy consumption to estimate our carbon footprint. And although we are still small, implementing these tools early on helps us stay on track from the start.
With regards to […] production, we rely on product traceability to assess sustainability and improve business effectiveness, growth and impact. With a clear mapping of our value chain and the guidance of written policies with concrete indicators and action plans [Takazuri’s Code of Conduct and Ethics], we track our performance.
For example, we conducted an assessment [of the] environmental practices and employment conditions of different manufacturing companies in Nairobi to [select] our local production partners. The chosen factory is a global signatory to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a founding member of the Kenya Plastics Pact, and a member of Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility, [whose] commitments to sustainability and the circular economy are key shared values.
What were your expectations when you became a Stylus Changemaker, and how would you describe your experience so far?
For us, Stylus is a place for knowledge and inspiration. It was very exciting to become a Changemaker, and we are very thankful for this opportunity. We’ve felt a sense of camaraderie with peers when sharing our experiences as entrepreneurs, and it has also brought us some very interesting business connections.
We were eager to gain useful insights about our industry in the global arena, to extend our collaborating network and learn about how other innovators are shaping our world. Having access to the Stylus platform has been informative and helpful. It has allowed us to keep track of related industries and understand more about consumer behaviours and trends. We just wish we had more time on our hands to dig even deeper into the fabulous content you provide.
“It’s hard to start a business from scratch, and build it from the ground up. Stylus Changemakers is the kind of platform that gives [you] a hand and contributes to […] providing [a] global [perspective] and useful information and data.”
Below: Meet the Takazuri team, left to right, Maria Schlesinger, Adel Kassem, Christopher Hornor.