I recently returned from an inspiring, gratifying, and motivational journey to Nairobi, Kenya. One that proved to me, if you embark on a journey with an open mind and heart, you have the space to receive, and be filled with what is in front of you. This was my experience when I set out to Nairobi with the mission of establishing our Women For Women program, W4W.
This past February I began a partnership with an amazing group called Art & Abolition. Run by its Founder, Brittanie Richardson, and based in Kenya, Art & Abolition is an organization that works to restore justice to young girls in Kenya who have survived sexual violence as a result of poverty. The group fosters the girls, providing safe housing, proper education, and therapy while working with their families to reconstruct their environments through economic empowerment, making it safe for the girls to return home. Plume Collection funds and directs the Women For Women program, W4W. We provide employment opportunities, and a safe working environment in order to energize their efforts to provide a better home life for their children. I work directly with the women in making the designs I have developed for them.
In making this trip, I looked forward to meeting and getting to know the women in the program as well as those working for the organization, we worked together to make sure their goals were being met. We were lucky to find Pauline who we hired while I was there to be my point of contact, and to train and work with the women on the products being made and sent to me in Brooklyn. The six mothers in the program will be making three designs that I’ve developed for them. It’s an interesting undertaking because many of the women come into the program with limited to no crafting skills. My aim as the designer, is to design pieces that are beautiful, wearable, and simple enough to be understood and well crafted by the mothers. While there, I was able to personally train them in making and perfecting the designs, which was quite special. Before getting to work, we took some time to talk with the women about their lives. We traded anecdotes about our children and daily lives—with them asking me about the weather in NYC, and me being told about the day-to-day encounters of life in Sinai, the slum where they live. Though their living conditions are harsh and could challenge their ability to be hopeful, their sense of pride and enthusiasm about making a better life for their family was unbridled.
In addition to my work with W4W, I was delighted to finally visit with the artisans I have been collaborating with for the past year and a half. Jack Nyawanga along with two other partners started Victorious Bone Craft in their community of Kibera, which is the biggest slum in Africa. While the word slum often conjures up the negative associations, I witnessed so much life, kindness, art, inspiration, and amazing crafts coming from the people of Kibera. When meeting with Jack I was able to finally see the workshop and go over some of my new designs for our next season. In addition I am having Victorious hand craft the beads that we use for W4W. I’ve been so lucky to have such wonderful partnerships with the artisans I’ve collaborated with, to finally meet them in person made things that much more extraordinary.
I left Nairobi feeling so full. Mostly because nothing fills my heart more than love and art, and Nairobi is brimming with both! It was so important to see how much we are helping the mothers and other artisans there. This has always been my main drive in the work I am doing. Equally as significant, it was profound to see just how much joy this work brings to them on a personal level, knowing that they truly enjoy what they do. This confirmed that even though we are still small, we are making a difference in not only their lives, but their childrens'. Providing economic empowerment has been life changing to this community. Providing a new skill set, and creating jobs, allows these women to provide for their households. There is now hope for these families to leave the slum in the future.
There are so many people whose support I couldn't do this without. First I want to thank Brittanie who is doing such important and challenging work, and has made it her life's mission to support the girls of Art and Abolition. I want to thank my friend Alyssa who traveled with me to Nairobi. She is talented with such valuable input, and passionate about the work being done in Nairobi for both the girls and their mothers. I couldn't have asked for a better travel partner! I want to also extend a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has purchased a bracelet made by these women! By buying one bracelet you have made it possible for one of the women to pay her rent and provide food for her family for a month. I literally could not do this without all of you! We will continue to make the beaded bracelets and we will have a new Mala necklace available as well as our leather clutch ready for Fall.
If you've not yet done so, please consider purchasing one of the bracelets benefitting this life changing program.