Nzilani Glass Conservation
Nzilani’s core values are “Be Safe. Have Fun. Do Excellent Work.”
Nzilani Glass Conservation embodies everything great about Oakland. Established in 2003 by Ariana Makau, a woman of color who both lives in Oakland and bases her business there, Nzilani is a highly specialized stained glass conservation and new art glass fabrication company that gives back to its community.
Equally comfortable on a job site, in a boardroom or museum, Makau brings over 25 years’ experience of art and architectural preservation to all who are interested. With a Masters in Stained Glass Conservation from England’s Royal College of Art, Ariana could have remained exclusively within the museum field. Instead, she established Nzilani to provide more equitable opportunities to do this type of work. The diverse Nzilani crew–“Team Nzi”–creates new art and provides safe, museum-quality conservation for the public. Nzilani includes disconnected Oakland youth in its success by opening the studio for tours and internships. The company’s in-house documentation services allow it to reach a wide audience through professionally produced videos, surveys, and treatment reports.
Nzilani initially contacted PCV for HR and Business Management assistance in 2016 when the company was in its first growth phase while conserving the monumental stained-glass windows at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (for which Nzilani won a California Preservation Award). We paired Ariana with Cindy Kaczmarek to work on HR policy, marketing, and growth strategy. Ariana told us that Cindy is “one in a million. She genuinely cares about the people and the company in equal measure.”
Following her partnership with Cindy, Ariana was paired with Roger Sexton of Heath Ceramics. Ariana knew that PCV had worked with Heath before and is a fan of their production quality, collaboration with guest artists, and their commitment to their employees. The focus of her work with Roger was financial: “I’m an Excel nerd,” shares Ariana, “I love the logic of it. Any opportunity to make the program work harder and smarter for the company, I’ll use it. Roger updated Nzilani’s Excel projection formulae so we can more accurately forecast our short and long-term financial viability. This ultimately will be a game-changer for us.”
The Bay Area has a wealth of artists who are moving away because of the cost of living, but artists’ contributions to the community are a cornerstone of why it’s such a desirable place to live. Nzilani’s goal is to ensure that the people who are doing highly-skilled work are fairly compensated, not only with wages, but with tools and knowledge about long-term financial planning. PCV has worked with Nzilani toward their vision to ensure the proper building blocks are in place to support employees. This is a challenge for a project-based company whose revenue is tied to each job, which is why Makau was happy to be part of the Beta test version of the “Good Jobs, Good Business” digital toolkit.
Nzilani’s core values are “Be Safe. Have Fun. Do Excellent Work.” The company leads the industry in best practices for employee protection from lead exposure while working with stained glass and believes that being aware of your environment and materials frees you to do your best work and have fun while doing it.
Makau’s approachable, non-judgmental style is well received in classrooms and public talks. Her presentations at national conferences bridge the gap between health & safety regulators and those in the stained-glass industry. Attendees leave with a better awareness of what is necessary to protect their own personal safety as well as a better appreciation of the art form.
“PCV shares my vision of where the company can go and how it can continue to serve our community, artists, and the art,” says Makau. This was achieved most recently through a CDFI loan to enable Nzilani to be a competitive small business in bidding government projects. The company had honed in its team management infrastructure from years of large, high-end, private projects but longer payment terms created a barrier to entry in this field. The loan will assist Nzilani as it continues to reach a wider group of people and projects.
Update: Responding to COVID-19
Nzilani Glass Conservation embodies everything great about Oakland. Established in 2003 by Ariana Makau, a woman of color who both lives and bases her business in Oakland, Nzilani is a highly specialized stained glass conservation and new art glass fabrication company that gives back to its community.
Nzilani’s core values are “Be Safe. Have Fun. Do Excellent Work.” “Be Safe.” is a cornerstone of their business practice and part of everything they do since they work with leaded art glass. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, resulting in subsequent social distancing and business closures, Ariana put safety before profits and sent her entire company home. While the management team could function remotely, Nzialni’s core studio team couldn’t work safely at home. With numerous projects waiting to start up in the studio once it is deemed safe, she wanted the team to know they continue to be a vital part of the company. Before putting the studio “to bed” she met with everyone and had an email follow-up with links on how they could register with the EDD for unemployment due to the state-mandated shelter-in-place order.
From there, she started investigating their viability for a Work Sharing Program and sent this email to her team: “Good Morning Team Nziers, I want you to know that while we are not physically together, I’m still working on our behalf. There is a lot of information out there for small business relief. My pledge to you is to check out at least one opportunity/lead every day to see how we can be at the top of the list when we’re back at work or even during our imposed hiatus. Missing the studio already! In solidarity, Ariana.”
She received the following email from one of her employees: “Hi Ariana, I just wanted to thank you for the effort you are expending to make sure we will be ok. I know that a lot of it is out of your control, but it’s the thought that counts. This reason is why I choose to stay with Nzilani. You are doing the best you can for us, and I really admire you for it. You are setting a wonderful example for what leadership looks like for your children. So, as a welcome back for the team, when we go back that is, I would like to make a pumpkin pie for everyone. It would be nice to reconnect over something we all love.”
We’re proud to work with small business owners just like Ariana, all across America, who are working day in and day out to create good jobs and strengthen our towns and cities. Small businesses are the character of our communities, and they’re in real trouble right now.
How can you support small business owners? This article from CNN has a lot of ideas: A few include purchasing gift certificates or gift cards from small businesses so the business can use the cash while business is slow; Continue shopping with small and local businesses if they’re offering takeout or curbside pickup; and tip more than usual. You can find a map of all our small business clients nationally at Pacific Community Ventures, and support one near you.
When the Bay Area shelter-in-place order was announced in mid-March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic; Nzilani Glass Conservation immediately started thinking about how to safely continue employing their core staff while keeping people safe in the Bay Area & Beyond.
Nzilani leads the stained glass industry in best practices for employee protection – so temporarily pivoting to making cloth masks seemed logical. From the beginning, the focus was on getting masks to those who need them. For every mask sold, one is donated.
The masks go directly to organizations in the East Bay who serve underrepresented populations who may be choosing between buying a mask or getting food. To sustain production, the project relies on purchases and donations.
Even as the stay-at-home restrictions are lifting allowing the team to get back to stained glass conservation in the studio, the need for masks for the general population is, unfortunately, going to continue. If there is still a need for masks when the core team returns to 100% stained glass conservation, Nzilani will hire additional staff to continue production – boosting the local economy by creating more jobs.
“The impetus definitely came from Nzilani, but we couldn’t have rolled out an e-Commerce site so quickly without our PCV marketing mentor. Though we have over 20 years of experience in stained glass conservation, this was a new venture and he definitely helped us go from vision to fruition in lightning speed.”