Walking through one of Nairobi’s shopping malls, my eyes were caught by the bright colours of bead jewellery in one store. I had to have to look! The name of the shop was Kazuri and there began my education about one of the most effective community projects Kenya has seen.
I learnt that the beads were each handcrafted by women based in a factory in the suburb of Karen. So that was my next stop. The factory began in 1975 as a small workshop where women experimented with making ceramic beads by hand. Initially, the project was established as an income generation project for single mothers.
It continues today to be a source of income for some 340 women but now has grown far beyond its humble beginnings. Having perfected the ceramic beads, they produce them from acquiring the raw clay, purifying and processing the clay, crafting the beads, drying, glazing and painting the beads, firing the beads in a kiln, sorting and storing the beads, and finally stringing them to make necklaces and bracelets all within the factory in Karen. Using the word factory conjures images of a huge production process, but really it is still small and intimate despite producing over 5 million beads a year. And this scale of production is necessary with retail outlets in five of Nairobi’s major malls, three in Mombasa, one in Kisumu and a shop co-located at the factory – the output the women produce now has certainly increased over the past four decades! It also exports to more than 30 countries worldwide.
“Kazuri” is a Kiswahili word meaning “small and beautiful” which aptly describes the ceramic beads produced. The vibrant colours give the Kazuri brand a distinct look and the ceramic beads are somewhat unique in the jewellery industry. The mission of Kazuri is “to provide and sustain employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society.” As well as employing single mothers, Kazuri has a clinic which provides free medical care for employees and their families.
The factory is open to visitors and makes a pleasant stop on a city tour as it is very close to the Karen Blixen Museum and also in the vicinity of the Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage. Large trees provide shade as you enjoy a soda before or after your tour of the workshop. And the large shop on the site sells much more than simply jewellery – pottery crockery, leather work, hand bags and art are also available.