Mikuti, a socially active company that creates unique pieces of jewelry, as well as an income for people living in the Meru District of Tanzania. Inspired by the beauty of the Swahili Coast and the magnificent landscapes of East Africa, Mikuti seeks to merge the world of jewelry, fashion, and mindful economic development.
Mikuti means ‘Dried Leaf’ in Kiswahili and was started after founder, Erika Freund, spent the summer of 2009 volunteering with a very small NGO in the Meru District of Tanzania. Originally her work was focused on international social work through agriculture development, but after a series of serendipitous events, Freund saw potential in the natural resource of the Banana Tree and through this the original Mikuti Bangle emerged.
Freund brought some home with her and, at first, didn’t think to much of it. At the time she was living in Brooklyn and attending graduate school at NYU. She wore the bracelets every day and was frequently stopped by people on the subway and in boutiques, asking her where she got those bracelets. Always loving fashion, design, and traveling, and dreaming about the possibilities and potential that lay in front of her Freund decided to start Mikuti and merge the worlds she loves, turning her ideas into an employment generating, social enterprise.
Now Mikuti partner and collaborate with various individuals, workshops, and artists within East Africa, creating new economic avenues, jobs, and income that they believe are the most effective tools for sustainable economic success.
For example, in Arusha, Tanzania they work with Edu-Care – a locally registered NGO that is committed to making positive changes in the Meru Community. Founded by Mr. Novet Shija, an agent of social change himself, he works towards bettering his community and investing into his local village. They have been working with Mr. Shija since the beginning, in 2009. It is through Edu-Care that they have been introduced to various women’s groups and individuals.
Together they are creating a unique brand of jewelry sourced from organic, natural, recycled, and local materials, such as banana bark, recycled aluminum, and local textiles, and are constantly seeking out new and unique materials and value innovative craftsmanship and design.
The Banana tree is one of the most widely used resources in East Africa. The trees grow in abundance and almost every part has potential use. Common uses are animal feed, furniture, agriculture composting, shoe polish, cooking, and of course eating. The material is easily accessible to their local partners and there is minimum environmental impact.
In Kenya they work with 2 local casters, named Anton and Raymond, who reside on the outskirts of Nairobi. Each man has a home-based business where they employ well-trained staff, specializing in aluminum and brass. They also work with 2 women, mother and daughter, who are highly skilled in traditional Maasai beading techniques.
Their original banana bark bracelets have been all dressed up with local Tanzania wax fabric. The vibrancy of the various textiles found in Tanzania is something they love incorporating in their line. All the material they use is made in local factories and purchased from different merchants within Tanzania. For their SS12 range they combined the local vibrant wax fabric with banana bark made with their unique wrapping technique. See a sneak peak below.
Another technique they use is for the Furaha Line which combines the traditional Japanese weaving technique ‘Kumihimo’ – a form of braid-making with vibrant Tanzanian wax fabric. They are all handmade in Tanzania.
Mikuti takes a ‘hands off’ approach towards advising the different individuals they work with and alternatively, provides education, while guiding and empowering them upon decision-making. They strive to promote critical, entrepreneurial thinking, while being culturally sensitive and competent and their local affiliates share in the profits of the company and receive fair wages for their efforts and contributions.
Alongside this, a portion of Mikuti’s sales are reinvested back into the community to fund different local issues and on-the-ground business development. This is definitely a jewelry company with a social aim and one that not only DOES good but LOOKS good.
We encourage you to add them to your Christmas shopping list and going forward to check them out as you make new considered purchases. African made and using sustainable materials – that’s what we love!
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Author: Jacqueline Shaw