Changing Lives One Bead at a Time

Posted on October 25th, 2016
Categories: Uncategorized

zinj  Zinj – a name used by Herodotus to describe the ancient Swahili coast, from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique – is the inspiration for our unusual little workshop, in a tiny village overlooking the beautiful Takaungu creek and the Indian Ocean. It is here, in this unique location in Kenya, that we make beautiful handbags, belts, dog collars, sandals and other small accessories completely by hand.

Dedicated to promoting East African bead and leather-work across the globe and improving the lives of East African craftspeople at home, Zinj Design has now trained and supports over 80 artisans from Takaungu and the surrounding area.   Before joining the team at Zinj, many of the villagers were either unemployed or working only very sporadically. The steady income they are now earning means they can settle down with their families and send their children to school. Hence our motto: ‘Changing Lives One Bead at a Time’.

From a creative point of view, our mantra is “a contemporary take on traditional East African beadwork” and our aim is to create contemporary products that pay homage to location, culture and East African tradition. Our specialty is beadwork, and that iconic element is consistent across all our products. We use only local materials including natural, free range, Kenyan beef leather, and every single aspect is handmade, often using very basic tools. We have learned over time that African ingenuity is often the simplest and most lasting solution to a problem, hence our Kikoi cotton linings are made on a sixty year-old treadle machine, every handbag is stitched using needles cleverly fashioned from paperclips, and all our brass buckles and handbag clips are cast by hand in sand moulds after melting down Kenyan scrap metal and extracting the brass. Hand-made does not mean poor quality, however. In fact, so much painstaking attention is paid to every aspect of our creative process that we can offer an unconditional, lifetime guarantee on everything we make.

A Zinj Design, inspiration comes from our community and surroundings: Takaungu, the ocean, shells, baobab trees, the local people, kangas, savannah, wildlife and Kenya as a whole. Moreover, every successful product has been the result of an extraordinary collaboration between the designers and the people who actually do the handiwork. The whole team collaborates to solve production problems together, and it is this collaboration and sense of community that leads to the precision, consistency, and idiosyncratic style of a Zinj product.

Above all, Zinj Design is not simply about creating beautiful products but also job creation. We strongly support the notion of ‘Trade not Aid’ and we feel first-hand, every day, the difference employment makes to local families around us. So whilst our aim is to create a successful fashion brand, we simultaneously strive to create jobs, expand the ‘community of artisans’ and by so doing, become economically and socially responsible. After all, social entrepreneurship is a growing force where business meets community development, and it is ultimately that force that underlies the creative and economic drive at the busy Zinj Design workshop. Come and visit us!