In the Maasai Mara, women have historically been excluded from engaging in educational and economic opportunities. While this has caused high illiteracy rates amongst female artisans, it has never impeded their ability to create beautiful, far-reaching beadwork.
Maa beadwork, facilitated by the Maa Trust, works closely with communities, individuals, and artisans in the region to link the craft of the Maasai women to the world’s markets.
Maa Beadwork is deeply committed to the needs of the community. They seek to work within a culturally relevant framework to uplift women through economic empowerment and through educating them to utilize their income to overcome the challenges they most frequently face. With income generated from their beadwork, female Maasai artisans can now better cover the cost of:
School Fees and Supplies for Children
Maasai fathers cover educational costs for their sons, but mothers are solely responsible if their daughters desire an education. Maasai women are determined to provide their daughters with the opportunities that they themselves did not have.
Clean Rainwater Harvesting Systems
Without rainwater harvesting systems, women must walk as far as 5.5 miles carrying a heavy load of water - and water that is often polluted.
Household Solar Power Systems
Solar power can provide light for children to study at night, as well as can provide power for charging phones and radios.
Sustainable, Refillable Gas Cylinders
Using this safe alternative source of fuel means women and children no longer have to endure the long and dangerous walks to collect firewood. Gas also minimizes the harmful health and environmental impacts of burning firewood inside homes.
MAA Beadwork, a social enterprise founded in 2013, is based in Maasai Mara, Kenya.
This collective of 578 women from more than a dozen communities spanning 32 miles from MAA’s headquarters began with the simple idea of connecting the female artisans with markets that were difficult for the women to access. The organization supports their artisans with intensive training on advanced beading techniques, and also important basic life skills such as financial management and reproductive health.
The women have the flexibility of beading from home where they perform most of the daily household responsibilities, including tending to livestock, fetching water and firewood and taking care of their children. The income earned typically is used for school fees, solar power, rainwater harvesting tanks and gas to heat their homes. The artisans benefit from MAA’s model because they do not have to purchase materials to produce goods and travel to markets where items may or may not sell. They get paid for work regardless of an item selling.
In 2008, the Antassia Bead Project was formed by Antonia Stogdale in partnership with the Mokogodo Maasai women in Northern Kenya. The philosophies behind Antassia are to preserve the Maasai way of life by harnessing beading skills of the women to create sustainable income for the ladies and their families. The key challenge of the project was to create fashionable and wearable designs that retained the Maasai look. Antassia’s bags have been featured in British Vogue, but even more important is the project's success in terms of female empowerment. The women have now become breadwinners of their community, overtaking the men… an incredible accomplishment, especially in this region of the world.
Antassia’s beaded purses are bespoke envelope purses roughly 8-1/2” x 6-1/2”. Metalwork and finishing of the bags are produced from recycled materials by our Pamwod Craft artisan partners in Kibera Slum. Each purse includes a 47” chain that can be tucked into bag or used to wear cross body.
The amazing team at Pamwod Crafts, located in Kibera, the largest urban slum on the African continent, is a collective of 10 artisans that have been working together for 7+ years. They have partnered with Rowan to produce its first collection of brass jewelry. All pieces are handmade using recycled brass materials. The team, which is led by Paul Asuga (aka Aman) believes in 100% equality in the workforce. I.e., the gender divide, which is still very common in this part of the world, does not exist in Aman’s studio. Women have the same chance as men to perform any job on the production line. Nearly every artisan is a parent, and for them this studio and the work provided means security for their families. The income earned covers basic living needs, such as clean water, food and school fees for their children.
THREADS OF PERU
Threads of Peru is a non-profit social enterprise that works with Quechan weaving cooperatives in four regions of the Sacred Valley, the region surrounding Cusco, Peru. Threads is committed to strengthening the ancient craft techniques of the Quechuan culture and believes in empowering its artisans, who are predominantly women. With little or no access to education and few available economic opportunities close to home, the vast majority of these Quechuan women, who live in the high Andes, are still entirely reliant on their husbands. Income earned from weaving gives them more of a voice in the household and allows them to work from home while tending to their children and their household responsibilities.
Each cooperative that Threads partners with offers different pallays (traditional woven designs), according to how their weaving tradition evolved. Members of the Threads team travels between 1-4 hours by vehicle and to altitudes of over 4,500 meters (14,500 feet) to distribute orders to the weaving communities. Each textile is discussed and assigned individually, after which the artisans begin foraging for plants to naturally dye the wool, which is then hand spun and finally woven into vibrant pallays using a back-strap loom. The entire production process can take up to 9 weeks depending on weather conditions.
Born in Mombasa, Kenya in 1993, Lana is the daughter of acclaimed painter, Tonio Tzrebinski, and successful Kenyan fashion designer, Anna Tzrebinski. Being surrounded by artists from a very young age allowed her to express herself through creativity. Much of Lana’s inspiration comes from Kenya’s untouched beauty and the diversity of tribes and cultures. She works with different materials, such as horn, wood, uncut stones, recycled brass, silver, bronze, beads, antique fabric, canvas and leather. “I am inspired to work with the incredible textiles that are found around Africa, such as Asoke, a Nigerian hand-woven fabric, that is used in my bucket hats,” says Tzrebinski. “I also strive to produce pieces that are ethically produced and try to upcycle and bring new life to antique and second-hand materials.”
For her beaded collections, Lana works with a group of four women based in Nairobi who have perfected the craft of beading and embroidery. The women are paid per piece and allowed to work from home so that they can tend to children, other household responsibilities or work during the day and bead at night as a means of supplementing their income to pay for their children’s school fees, food and rent.
Apu Natividad, age 59, is a noble, hardworking woman who always seems to be smiling. A mother of three daughters, she resides in Sicuani, a city in the southern valley of Cusco, where she has been producing handmade hats with alpaca fiber for 30 years. She first learned the craft by watching her former husband at work; however, given that hat making in the Andes is a technique traditionally handled by men, he was not supportive of her skill and curiosity.
This disapproval pushed Natividad to become independent and open her first hat workroom, continuing the struggle every day to pursue her passion and refine her craft. She has earned the nickname “cloud maker” because of her ability to dream as well as her skilled handling of alpaca fiber, which after carding, the 2nd steps in hat the hat making process, has the shape of clouds. The process to make one of these works of art is elaborate, consisting of more than 25 different steps that include everything from fiber cleaning to hand-molding, flattening, ironing and forming.
The various stages that it takes to produce one of our hats is truly incredible. The resulting product is always a unique, original piece made by hand and with heart.
Silvia Mamani and her three children live in Sicuani, Cusco, where she heads a fur shop that employs between 7 and 10 people. Her family has been working in the fur industry for three generations and are recognized by the Peruvian government as artisan ambassadors for a trade that is perishing. When Silvia took command of the family business she began to experiment with new colors and finishes to improve the quality of the alpaca skins.
Fur farming is a sustainable activity in Peru. Natural selection allows only the strongest alpacas and llamas to survive the cold harsh winters in the Andes mountains, at elevations close to 15,000 feet. In order to make full use of their animals, Alpaqueros recycle the high-quality skin and fiber from the fallen members of their pack and turn it into pieces with added value. In the workshop, Silvia, together with her father Mauricio, use eco-friendly additives and materials to reduce their impact on nature similar to the way that they source their fur.
NYAMIRAMBO WOMEN'S CENTER
Nyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC), a Rwandan NGO, was launched at the end of 2007 by 18 Rwandese women living in Nyamirambo, Kigali. Together they created a project which aimed to address gender-based violence, gender inequality and discrimination. Today, NWC’s mission is to provide education and vocational training to women who do not have the means to pay for such training on their own, so that they can gain better opportunities for employment. NWC educates and trains 300 women and girls each year with their programming.
At the end of 2013 NWC launched the product line "Umutima" which means "heart" in Kinyarwanda. With this project NWC trains and employs women from the community to create a large variety of women's accessories, children's clothing and home decor products. Currently, there are 50 women employed by Umotima as seamstresses.
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