Kipato Unbranded is a social enterprise based in Kenya that is commissioning local artists to create unique and ethical jewelry for everyday people. The company disregards luxury jewelry prices and offers practical prices for high— quality, handmade empowering jewelry. Kipato Unbranded artisans are given 50% of the profits made from their jewelry, and the jewelry itself is highly sustainable and made with only local materials, which includes brass, recycled bone, and beads!
See below for a Q&A with the founder of Kipato Unbranded, Marta Krajnik.
What inspires the designs of Kipato Unbranded’s collections?
At Kipato Unbranded we design products collaboratively and the inspiration could come from any one of our team members, being that of the artists, staff, or shareholders. Our first collection is very simple, circle and diamond shapes made of brass. We wanted to start very basic and then build on that. With the second collection, the Savannah Collection, we started introducing more colors and different materials. It’s quite an organic process and we work together to create the products. The process can take from 1-2 days to many months, depending on a wide variety of factors. We name all of the pieces together. It’s a transformative process. We never really know what’s going to happen at the end.
The Anticipated Collection has very much come from requests from our customers, especially the stackable rings and bangles. The Thick and Thin Band Rings, the Midi-Rings, and the Trio Bangles (that come in thin, medium, and thick) can be paired with any outfit and go with any other kinds of jewelry. They are the most versatile pieces yet. Our latest collection, the Vaga collection, was inspired by how women are treated in contemporary times and wanted to challenge those perceptions by creating an in-your-face look to capture fearlessness and power of young women. The images of beauty and rebellion are intended to shock and draw attention to these goddesses that are capable of changing the world around them.
Where do the artisans source the materials for their creations?
Our pieces are made from local materials that include brass, recycled bone, and beads. Our products are created from recycled products, and our packaging and operations are eco-friendly, making it an environmentally responsible enterprise. Our artists source the materials from left over by-products or purchase them in town. We work with the Bone Makers Association in Kibera who take bone from butcheries (cows, goats, etc.) and then refine, dye, and mold it into shapes that we use in our jewelry.
Have you found Kipato Unbranded has made an impact on local shoppers within Kenya and their buying trends?
Kipato Unbranded has changed the Kenyan market trajectory because we have simple, designer, yet affordable products that are accessible. We create jewelry that is inspired ‘by everyday people and for everyday people’. Kenyans and Africans on the continent are able to buy locally made jewelry that is of high quality and not labelled as ‘luxury’ that is out of reach for most consumers. Kipato Unbranded is unique because it has many avenues for clients to purchase our products. We have our own website: www.kipatounbranded.com and www.kipatounbranded.co.ke for a specific Kenya – based customer. We sell our products andhttp://www.causeartist.com/wp-admin/media-new.php interact with customers on our social media; we are active on Instagram and facebook.
How has Kipato Unbranded brought about empowerment and change within the Kibera community?
We currently work with two artists , Elijah and Ojiko from low income areas in Nairobi, called Kibera and Dagoretti Market. Kibera is known to be one of the largest slums in Africa. These two artisans manage a whole network of other artisans that they work with to create the individual pieces of jewelry. This includes a Bone Makers Association in Kibera that we source recycled bone from local butcheries. In Dagoretti Market, Elijah works relentlessly in the mounting heat of Nairobi: hammering away at sheets of brass, cutting them into thin shapes, rolling these out out on a cylindrical piece of wood. As he creates, his concentration so sharp you could use it to cut through the brass in his hands, his work slowly comes together to form the intricate, delicate artistic designs that will end up adorning someone’s hands or neck.
In Kibera, Ojiko does the same. Being an independent jewelry maker in a lower income neighborhood in Nairobi, these artists depend on employers to give them access to larger markets. And while the jewelry industry in Kenya thrives on the labour of artists like Ojiko and Elijah, their salary is dependent on the whims of their employer, and often is only a very small proportion of the profits their work would generate. On the flip side, their jewelry pieces are mostly aimed at high end luxury stores, selling at prices that are normal for the target market but which are exorbitantly out of reach for many Kenyans. This dual problem: the need for more enterprises that offered a just wage to jewelry makers, and the desire to make their beautiful work accessible, is what inspired the founding of Kipato Unbranded in August 2015.
How has breaking into the North American market been for Kipato Unbranded? How are the artisans feeling about having their creations available worldwide?
We have had success in North America, through agents in NYC, San Franciso, and our wholesaler in Maryland (Mango & Main).We acknowledge there is much more scope for expanding in North America and intend to begin piloting this year in various locations. We are a fair trade and ethical brand and look for partners that support and stand for the same cause. We work hard to share our story through our social media portals which helps to raise awareness from partners, potential stockists and wholesalers who also believe in our vision and mission. We also intentionally target ethical trade brands and reach out for potential collaborations that way. Our artists are beyond excited about having their work featured internationally and are eager to gain access into larger markets.