Meet the Social Enterprise Empowering Artisans and Former Child Soldiers in Africa
There is something so special about JustOne: a social enterprise empowering artisans in the Kibera slums of Kenya, and former child soldiers in Uganda.
There is something so special about JustOne: a social enterprise empowering artisans in the Kibera slums of Kenya, and former child soldiers in Uganda. When I met Krista, founder of JustOne, at the Buy Good Feel Good Show in Toronto, I was instantly drawn to the unique and beautiful jewelry as well as the story behind each piece. From necklaces made from repurposed paper materials to bracelets with handmade clasps – every inch of every JustOne piece is so…incredible cool. It was hard to walk away with just one item!The necklace I purchased was made by Lillian; a single mother living with HIV, taking care of nine children. That alone made my jaw drop. It felt so empowering to know that my small purchase was making such a large difference for one person, one family.
Turns out you really do feel good when you buy good.See below a Q + A with JustOne founder, Krista Jefferson- warning: her story pulls at all the heart strings!
JustOne jewelry pieces are so unique! Tell us a little about how your artisans go about designing their pieces.
Thank you. Many of the designs are the artisans creation. They’re such creative and skilled jewellers. There’s often a lot of back and forth, suggestions on trying different sizes, shapes, or colours, sending photos and sketches back and forth. It’s a true partnership.
How did you go about forming connections with the JustOne artisans in Uganda and Kenya?
I had been in Uganda as a photographer, and came home with a necklace as a souvenir. Everyone asked me about it and wanted to know where they could get one like it. I put it on my photography blog and gave people two weeks to purchase a necklace like mine. At the end of two weeks over 200 were sold. It was clear something was happening and I decided to launch JustOne. When I was heading back to connect with artisans, a friend here in Canada asked if I’d consider going to Kibera slums in Kenya to meet with some artisans he had met on a previous trip there. We visited his friends – and could not be more glad that we did! That was almost five years ago and they have become like family with us and are so incredibly talented. Our artisan partners in Uganda, we met when we were looking on social media and following African connections before a trip. One person lead to another which lead to another which lead to “would you like to come meet these artisans?” We were going to be in Kenya, and decided to go on to Uganda and see if this was a connection to pursue. We always want to meet with the artisans we partner with – to meet each one in person, know them by name and see their work and workshop in person. These two groups have been incredible to work with and we are so thankful for people who introduced us to them! Thanks to technology, the world is a much smaller place these days and we stay very closely connected with each artisan group and are continually building our relationships.
Can you share with us your favorite impact story from one of your artisans?
Lucy is a former child soldier we partner with in Uganda. She is full of life – always joking around and making everyone laugh. But during the war, Lucy had had her teeth knocked out and had gone for almost a decade with no teeth. When we discovered this, we were able to purchase false teeth for her. Knowing her now I could not imagine her without as she’s always smiling and so radiant!I find the artisans number one priority is the education of their children. When we were visiting Lucy in her home – a mud hut deep in the rural area – she had one photograph hung on her wall. It was a framed kindergarten graduation photo of her youngest daughter “Lucky”. I commented on the photo and Lucy said, “It is because of JustOne that my children can go to school.”
Wow! That moment made things so much more real to me. Here is a child who is getting an education and learning to read and write, all because of the way we shop and the fashion we wear!
And speaking of reading and writing… each time I visit our artisan partners (usually once a year), we have a meeting with the whole group. I ask them if they have any concerns or ideas to share with me. I thank them for their work. And we talk about ways we can improve on both of our ends. At the end of one meeting, one of the former child soldiers spoke up with an idea. She would like to learn to read and write. I turned to the rest of the group and asked if anyone else would like to learn this also. Every hand went up. We were able to provide a tutor for the artisans to learn to read and write! Lucy was one of the students and an eager learner!We also see our artisan partners making an impact in their own communities. In Kenya, when we walk through Kibera slums with the artisans it is clear they are well respected. They have made it a priority to care for the less fortunate themselves – even when they have so little. At Christmas time, the artisans in partnership with JustOne, provide a large meal and food supplies for the entire community! We constantly are inspired as we see them reaching out with generosity
What percentage of profits go back to the artisans?
It is difficult to say a percentage as it varies depending on if it is sold retail or wholesale, if it is bought on sale or at regular price, etc. The way we work at JustOne is we have the artisans in Africa set the prices for their jewelry. We pay them 50% when an order is placed and 50% when the order is complete. So there is no waiting for items to be sold here on our end for them to be paid – they are paid already!
Our main goal is providing them employment so they can meet their own needs and help in their communities. We are a social enterprise – meaning we work to meet the needs in the communities we are involved in through business rather than donations.
We try to keep all our overhead expenses at an absolute minimum (JustOne is literally just one here in Canada – it’s myself, working from home!). When specific needs arise from the artisan groups, we discuss with the group and try to work with them on how best to assist. For example in the past we have assisted our Kenyan artisans in obtaining their birth certificates (prevents human trafficking, gives them access to government services, etc) and as mentioned already, our Ugandan artisans we paid for tutoring as many were abducted as children into the LRA and still did not know how to read and write.
These are both needs they presented to us. This past week we had a couple of our artisan partners in Uganda ill – malaria, and a lung infection. We discussed with them if they felt they needed external help from us, or if it was something they could manage on their own. They agreed the person with the lung infection needed medicine right away and was above what she could currently afford, so we provided that for her.
How have you found JustOne has influenced consumers?
At JustOne we really believe in statement pieces in fashion. “Statement” – as in “wow! That’s gorgeous”. But also “statement “ as in “this is what I believe in”. As consumers growingly become frustrated with fast fashion, they are looking for ethical, handcrafted slow fashion. They are looking for pieces that make a statement about what they believe in… the fair treatment of all people, in caring for people, in less waste and more kindness (to our earth and it’s people). JustOne also helps to encourage people to ask the questions about who made their fashion and how it was made. We love to introduce our artisans, their workshops and work through social media – educating people about how this is different. And people get it. To purchase a necklace made by someone who’s face you can see, to know their name and hear their story and to know that your purchase is making a difference… that’s what we call “World changing fashion”.
Are there any other programs JustOne is working on with their network of artisans?
In the past we would collect and bring gifts when we visited Africa and a couple of years ago we stopped doing this and made a commitment to only purchase things in country. We saw that bringing items in took away jobs from their communities, and often provided items they didn’t actually need. So, instead on this last trip – my children and husband came with me for the first time! – my kids raised money for school supplies. We purchased the school supplies in country, and the artisans were able to select exactly what their children needed. We gave each person an amount they could spend and it was to go towards their children’s education needs. In Kenya – they selected uniforms, backpacks and books. In Uganda, they selected things like paper, pencils, notebooks, etc. We loved seeing the labels “made in Kenya” on the uniforms! (On a side note – We have also made this commitment to our jewelry – if they can’t find a supply needed for the jewelry in their own country, we don’t make the design. )We continue to ask the artisans what is needed, if it is something they can meet on their own or need external support for – and then we look at the best way to meet this need. For example, in Kenya they needed a new workshop. We did not want to pay for this as then it would be “JustOne’s” workshop rather than their own. But we recognized they weren’t at a place to pay for everything outright on their own. We set up a microfinance loan for them to build a workshop – an interest free loan that they paid back by deducting a small percentage from each order we placed. This way they had the pride of paying for their own building without a heavy burden of a high interest loan. They are so proud of their new space that is all paid for by the work of their hands!