If I were a superhero, I would choose jewelry as my superpower.
I just returned from an Invisible Children awareness meeting in Manhattan Beach, CA. In addition to being incredibly inspiring, it was a great reminder of the power of unity, and the important role jewelry can and (more often than not) does play in the achievement of a sense of unity among human beings.
For those of you who are not already familiar with the organization: Invisible Children is a non-profit organization that raises awareness regarding children in Uganda and the DRC being abducted by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) for use as soldiers and sex slaves.
In addition to making documentaries and running programs on the ground in the LRA-affected communities of Central Africa, Invisible Children sells wearable items as a way to raise money and further awareness. Some of these items are made in Africa, thus creating jobs in places where they are much needed.
One of their most notable products is the Invisible Children bracelet. It is modeled after a particular design found throughout Central Africa, made originally from elephant grass. Each bracelet has a color accent on it. Each color is associated with a particular child affected by the presence of the LRA.
When a person here in the States wears this bracelet, a connection is created between that person and a child half way around the world. The wearer will think of that child’s story, and pass it on to those who comment on or inquire about the bracelet. A connection is also created between that person and other people who wear Invisible Children bracelets. It’s a unifying feeling; a good feeling.
Jewelry and other forms of body adornment have played this role throughout history. From family crests to coming-of-age tattooing to religiously affiliated jewelry, all of it has the ability to unify. All of it has the ability to change our daily experiences.
It also has the ability to separate people in a negative light (as in the case of slave branding). I don’t deny this.
But I do think that the power of jewelry to unify people whether in small communities or across nations for a common cause is great and important. Invisible Children is an excellent example of such power.
We at KEZA are looking forward to introducing our own version of such unifying jewelry. We’ll keep you posted on the launch of our UBUNTU coin in the coming months!
by Hannah Woodard
I often experience conflicting feelings when it comes to the objects I surround myself with, and the fact that I am willing to pay more for them when they are well-designed even though there are people starving all over the world. Surely my money could be put to better use.
A child somewhere could go to sleep with a full stomach. Or, for my own pleasure, I could have a well thought out bag, or watch, or Italian leather-bound journal. When I think about it like that, it seems positively outrageous that I don’t live off the minimum and devote more of my earnings to assisting people in need.
And yet still I’m prepared to purchase the perfect coffee cup, the one that embodies how I want to feel in the morning when I’m drinking from it. It’s $20 more than the one next to it, which might as well be the same cup except that the one that I want, no need, has a slightly steeper degree of tilt to the taper at the bottom. It changes the whole feel of the piece.
The plain truth is, I’m happier when I’m surrounded by design that inspires me, challenges me, satisfies something in me. I don’t believe that such an experience should be lost.
I do believe that the answer to such conflicts of interest lies in projects like KEZA, EDUN and SOKO. If we can fuse design, creating jobs, teaching and learning, then everybody gets the best of both worlds. And everybody gets an opportunity to lead a happier and more sustainable lifestyle.
by Hannah Woodard
In reflection of the past year and in anticipation of the coming one, a Kenyan friend of mine recently wrote to me that we are all human regardless of different races, cultures, religion, beliefs and taboos. That although we are from different worlds, in a way we are one and the same people.
Besides whole-heartedly agreeing with this, this brought to my mind something a professor of mine at RISD once said: ‘I believe that art is a cultural necessity.’
Culture depends on art because art and design are in every single aspect of life, from religious objects to the architecture of one’s home to the flip-flops or fur boots on our feet. And then of course there is the more metaphorical art and design of social structures and governments.
Our differences are necessary. They make us appreciate the exoticness of people and practices foreign to us. They make us question humanity.
Where would we be without appreciation and questioning? We wouldn’t be making any sort of advancements.
Why do we need advancements? Because the world, though surely bountiful in meaningful relationships, has a lot to work on. Every culture has something to learn about the way it receives, addresses and respects other cultures
Art reflects our cultural and individual thoughts and beliefs, and allows us to recognize and question our similarities, our differences and our very being. Without it, we’d be a lost and dull species, and it is in this that I find my passion for design.
by Hannah Woodard
This past weekend, I was in a shop in Burlington, VT when I came across a bracelet exactly like ones a friend of mine in Kenya makes for a living. I smiled.
I turned the label over: ‘MADE IN KENYA’. My smile widened. I might very well have been sitting with this friend the day he made this bracelet, and now here it was thousands of miles away in the place where I grew up.
But I was smiling because I know the story behind it. I know that this man’s wife sells vegetables, and that they are raising three children on the income from that and the man’s jewelry making. Unfortunately, none of that story is captured in a bland ‘MADE IN KENYA’ label with a barcode next to it.
I wanted others that would pick this bracelet up to know its story too. I believe that even just a little bit of that information would spark a feeling of connection for the person who will eventually buy and wear that bracelet.
I believe that most objects carry much of their value in their individual histories. And I believe that knowing the story behind objects in our lives, especially ones we wear, has the ability to contribute to a feeling of fulfillment and connection in every day life.
by Hannah Woodard
As holiday time draws near, I find myself recalling the things I valued about my family’s holiday (Christmas, in our case) as a child, and what I value now. Unsurprisingly, I was terribly excited about the gifts I would receive. That felt like the most important part of the holiday. But it was also equally important to me that I found gifts for all of my family members that I was sure they would love and appreciate.
I remember the question that adults would be asked of me over and over; What did you get for Christmas? And I remember, as a teenager, realizing that perhaps that one innocent question had fueled the perception that what I received for the holiday dictated how much I enjoyed it.
I resolved then to always ask of the children in my life what they gave for the holidays rather than what they got. I think we influence our young in ways that we don’t even realize, and that’s it’s important to be deliberate even (or perhaps especially) in small, daily interactions.
Nowadays (again unsurprisingly) what I appreciate most is spending time with family and friends and eating good food. Listening to festive songs. Enjoying the general holiday atmosphere.
Thus, I ask everyone to keep in mind this holiday season the question, What did you give? And not only to direct it towards children, but to people of all ages. I believe that taking the opportunity to change perspectives in small, everyday interactions has the potential to make a world of difference.
by Hannah Woodard
I was listening recently to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Walter Isaacson, the writer of Steve Jobs’ biography. Jobs was obsessive about excellent craftsmanship, inside and out. Even the screws in the curcuit board had to have the perfect curves, be the exact shade of the right color. Terry Gross asked Isaacson if this sort of thing drove his team crazy.
“It drove them crazy but they became very loyal….they realized that they were producing, with other A players, truly great products…” -WALTER ISAACSON ON STEVE JOBS
That was dignity that they were feeling. Creating truly great products with excellent craftsmanship usually results in the creation of respect and dignity.
Africa’s artisans (many of whom have been practicing skills that are ingrained in their tribes’ cultures from centuries ago) have what it takes to create truly great products.
The rest of the world often doesn’t expect this of them. Many craftsmen are left making higher quantities of products and not utilizing their skills to their greatest extent. These products are sold at a low price and there is little dignity or fulfillment involved.
What if the world expected of countries in Africa what it expects of countries like Italy, France, the United States (among many others)?
Something as small as changing one’s mentality toward Africa and her people could create a world of difference. Not instant difference, of course; great things take time. But I ask you; keep this in mind and see what comes out of Africa in the coming years.
We love collaboration. The world needs more of it, and we do everything we can to foster it.
We have a handful of organizations that we really love to support when the opportunity arises (or when we just create one). One of those is Charity:Water. The bottom line is that they are setting the standard for providing clean water to developing nations.
Malinda Douglass is a long time KEZA supporter and close friend of the Angazas. She’s also KEZA sales rep in the US. Her and her husband Tim just spend a few weeks with us in Mombasa. After lots of discussion, Malinda asked if she could put together a KEZA & Charity:Water campaign. Of course, we said yes.
Rob Orr is also a long time KEZA supporter and an authorized online retailer of KEZA products on his site, Dragonfly. We asked Rob if he was up for it, and he took it a step further. He’s dedicated his whole website to the campaign for the month of December!
Here’s the deal.
It’s Black Friday today, and Christmas is on the way. Why not get a great gift for your loved one that touches lives all over the world? Seriously, who wouldn’t dig that?
Spread the word and join us in the campaign!
by Hannah Woodard
I have returned to the States and am happy to be with my family and friends here, but am of course missing Kenya terribly.
What has stood out most to me upon my return is the abundance of comforts that the average middle-class American citizen enjoys; and certainly the lack of appreciation for those comforts.
At home I find myself constantly turning off lamps that aren’t providing necessary light. Before my experience in Kenya it is unlikely that I would have noticed their luminescence. Many people that I met in Kenya simply used a flashlight after dark.
I find myself feeling good about the fact that our family dog behaves even remotely like a guard dog, due to a comment a good friend of mine in Kenya made recently. We were sitting at a dusty roadside café, and a woman passed by with a tiny little dog (fluffy and white despite the dry atmosphere). My friend said, “Why does she pay to have this dog that can’t even protect her when there are people here starving?”
It is experiences such as these that put entire cultures into perspective. It is through such contrasts that perspective is gained. But it is only through the pairing of contrasts and similarities between cultures that understanding, acceptance, and respect comes about.
I experienced a drastically different upbringing compared to many Kenyans that I met. Yet I found many underlying similarities; the desire to learn, maintain one’s culture, be an individual, have a sense of community, raise children well and to pursue education whether though schooling or other means.
To me it is imperative that one travel in order to gain a healthy perspective on the world. To anyone that has considered traveling and put it aside, I urge you to go for it. To anyone who thinks they cannot afford to travel; I thought the same, but realized the importance of it and made it happen despite my misgivings.
There is always a reason not to travel, but the reasons to travel are most likely more important.
by Hannah Woodard
As my last week (for the time being) here in Kenya begins, I feel proud of all that KEZA has accomplished in the past four months. We came to Mombasa with only our minds and hearts (and maybe a few clothes) and built a network of craftsmen, designers, organizations and like-minded people that didn’t exist before. The raw nature of this work (literally searching for craftsmen on foot, for example) was empowering and delightfully satisfying.
We also designed and created a full line of jewelry, which of course is satisfying in its own way. To take a project from sketched concepts to tangible pieces of art is an intimate and exhilarating experience.
In addition to these accomplishments, I have been more thoroughly introduced to the world of social entrepreneurship through design. This is something I have been interested in for a couple years now. But before this experience, it was hard to imagine how one might embark on such a journey. Now I have acquired the skills to comprehend this on a deeper level, and to partake in future such endeavors with more knowledge and understanding.
While I am so very grateful for all that Kenya has given me, I absolutely feel that I am not done being here. Whether it’s continuing the same work that I’ve been doing or exploring the rest of the country or spending more time with the wonderful local friends I’ve made in the past 4 months, I have unfinished business in this land.
by Jared Angaza
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a significant increase in the Fair Trade movement. In Kenya, the topic comes up daily. “Are you Fair Trade certified?” “No.”
The developed world’s habit of mass consumption, starting back in 1920 with the Industrial Revolution, has resulted in an epidemic of inhumane working conditions, inferior products and damage to the earth.
Fair Trade addresses the inhumane working conditions by enforcing an international minimum wage. That’s certainly a step in the right direction, and needed, but not the long-term answer.
There are groups of people that are quick to jump on the bandwagon with altruistic social movements, like Fair Trade, to the point where the focus turns toward certifications and away from sustainability.
Now we have a dynamic where the general public believe that unless a product is Fair Trade certified, the assumption is that it is being produced in a sweat shop and destroying the earth.
However, we’ve met artisan after artisan that have suffered greatly from the Fair Trade regulations, to the point where they no longer sell Fair Trade products. The system is so clunky and full of bureaucracy that it bogs down production to the point where there are no longer any profit margins to be had. Isn’t that a bit dichotomous?
The bottom line is that artisans, no matter where they live, have got to create wonderful, quality, desirable products in order to have a sustainable and hopefully profitable business.
We need to get back to the basics and stop focusing so much energy on certifications that only serve as a Band-Aid, not a solution.
Let Fair Trade police the unethical production facilities and represent the bottom rung on the ladder. But understand that Fair Trade isn’t the answer. It’s one small facet of a long-term multifaceted solution.
When someone buys your product simply because of the story or cause behind it, we call that a “sympathy sell”. And that usually happens once. Then the buyer pats themselves on the back and moves on with the satisfaction that they’ve “done a good thing”. Game over.
If you want to build a solid business with longevity, create great products that people want, and do it with integrity. Sympathy sells once. Great products sell over and over. Build your business on that.