Tag: Kenya

Prickly Pearther Replaces Pleather

Sustainable fashion and innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint are twin interests of mine.   Two young Mexican inventors Adrian Lopez and Marte Cazarez from Guadalajara have created an eco-friendly leather alternative made out of prickly pear cactus. People thought they were crazy and even engineers did not believe it could be done. They travelled to Milan, Italy to present their innovative leather to the top designers of the fashion industry at the Lineapelle Leather Trade Exhibition.

Making leather out of cactus caught my eye because I have seen the negative results of introducing the prickly pear cactus in Kenya and hope new, innovative ideas can help the plague of prickly pear cactus Kenya is experiencing. 

What is good for one ecosystem can be the kiss of death to another ecosystem. During colonial times in Kenya, the British decided to introduce the prickly pear cactus as an ornamental plant that thrives in dry climates.  An invasion occurred and the prickly pear cactus plague is the result. The cactus threatens grazing, one of the mainstays of the Kenyan economy, and is thought to kill baby elephants, which impacts the tourist industry. 

While the species of prickly pear cactus in Mexico and Central America have many uses, the species is Kenya is strictly ornamental and useless. It has a chokehold on the landscape and the economy. 

Each time, I visit Kenya and I am overwhelmed by the prickly pear problem that I can’t stop thinking of ways to stay this invasion. Two young inventors have devised an organic blend of prickly pear and cotton with the proper hand feel and attractive look leather consumers crave. Maybe this new innovation can be used in Kenya to help end the scourge of this invasive species of cactus.

Beauty and Kazuri Beads

Before you go inside the factory, you can hear the faint roar of women talking and laughing. Seated at long tables were about 200 women doing a variety of tasks to make the finished beads. The workers are able to multi-task, they are able to hand craft beautiful jewelry from start to finish and gossip simultaneously. 

Some women rolled out the clay into beads and put them on small wooden skewers. Some had unpainted pottery beads in front of them, plastic tubs of glaze and paintbrushes and painted various patterns on the beads, others were loading the kilns or stringing the beads into necklaces, bracelets and earrings.  Some women tended the kilns. 

All beads are shaped by hand and the women used forms to make sure the beads were completely uniform. The woman working rarely used the forms because they were so adept at forming beads. The beads came out uniform every time without the form. Holes were made in the beads with a wooden skewer not unlike what we use for shish kabob. Kazuri beads come in small beads, large beads, ovals, triangles, squares—anything you can imagine.

Once the beads are made they must dry to leather hard before glazing. Rows and rows of unglazed beads were roasting in the sun on the patio outside the factory. One woman would step outside to check on the progress of the beads every once in awhile. 

I was dumbstruck by their storeroom, which had shelves and shelves and shelves filled with large glass containers filled with handmade ceramic beads in a rainbow of colors and assorted shapes and sizes. I was immediately inspired to use these beads in my work. 

Kazuri has branched out and is making pottery dinnerware, mugs, water pitchers, ornaments and figurines. One of their patterns is a giraffe print. Others patternspay homage to life in Kenya. 

I love how this company purposely employs women who need work to support their families. “I enjoy my job.” one worker explains, “I have learned how to do new things and is very satisfying doing something so creative.”

While it is fascinating to visit the factory, it is overwhelming to visit their store.  Entering the store is like experiencing the grand finale of a fireworks display. I was overwhelmed by the explosion of colors and the variety of jewelry. Every piece of jewelry was so beautiful, it was hard to make my choices. I had no idea how to narrow down my choices, but honestly, that was part of the fun visiting the Kazuri Bead factory store in Narobi.

Kazuri Beads: The Power of Small and Beautiful in Kenya

Kazuri Beads, which means, “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began as a tiny workshop experimenting with handmade clay beads. Each handmade colorful bead reflects the culture and wildlife of Kenya.

For forty years, Kazuri has provided employment for many single women. Today, over 300 women handcraft these colorful, beautiful clay beads in Kazuri’s Nairobi factory. 

The enterprise improves the lives of single women.  Many of the women employed by Kazuri were nearly destitute, abandoned by their men or widowed by the AIDS epidemic that is still ravaging Kenya. Employment and empowerment of women are guiding principles of this craft enterprise.

Kenya embraces women’s empowerment and there are many women run enterprises that provide employment and training with the intent of improving the lives of all Kenya people.

I have always loved and coveted Kazuri beads long before I knew they were made in Kenya. But once I found out where they were made in Kenya, I always visit their factory and their showroom whenever I go to Kenya. 

I love learning about how craftspeople make their work. The tour starts with a discussion about the clay they use, and how it goes through a giant pug mill. From there, they take the clay into a room where the beads are formed and shaped. All beads are handmade from start to finish. To take a tour of the factory is totally overwhelming.

Beading with the Maasai Women at Twala Cultural Center in Il Polei, Kenya

In Kenya, I always visit the Twala Cultural Resource Center located in Laikipia outside of Il Polei. The Maasai Ranch Groups has set aside 40 acres of land for the woman to share their culture and give visitors an intimate look at the Maasai way of life.  The center includes accommodations either traditional Maasia boma or manyatas or more modern cottages, cook house and meeting house, an aloe farm and beehives.  Everyone who has traveled with me to Kenya reports this experience was their favorite.

At the cultural center, visitors can participate in many activities including dancing with the Maasai warriors by a fire under the Milky Way, walking with a troop of baboons, and beading with the woman of the tribe. 

Unlike Americans and our rigid schedules, the Maasai woman appear like magic under a tree on their own time in their traditional bright colored clothing resplendent in their beadwork singing a welcome song and getting us to dance with them. They wear their bright beaded collars, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and tiaras.

What happened next reminded me of the Kenyan version of a quilting bee. We all sat under the tree trying to learn how to bead. We gossiped and laughed and smiled.  Even though we did not speak each other’s language, we created a community. 

I decided to give beading a go because I am a jewelry maker, but I only lasted a few minutes. The whole process was tedious for me and I have never been good at following instructions.  A common theme in most things I do… to be continued

Kenya Domino Bone Beads

Hand carved and shaped into many sizes, the beads are made from cattle, camel, or Cape buffalo bone. After the bones are bleached, they are treated with a batik-like process in which patterns are painted on the surface with wax. Patterning occurs when the bone is dyed and the waxed areas are left natural. Traditional geometric patterns include stripes, dots, swirls or other motifs.