Artisan in Focus: Victorious Bone Craft
In order to understand why four young men found a jewelry making company in Africa's largest slum, it's helpful to know a little about the place they grew up. Kibera sprawls across the fringes of Nairobi, Kenya, covering a piece of land a little smaller than Central Park in New York City.
It's hard to say exactly how many people live there, but the Kibera Law Centre, a Nairobi-based organization committed to providing legal services to the slum's residents, estimates that more than half of Nairobi's population--nearly 1 million people--call the makeshift huts of Kibera home. The life-expentancy there is 30 years and half of all Kiberians are under the age of 15. There is no clean running water, no streets or police or medical facilities. One of every five children born in Kibera die before they are five, and the paths of Kibera are piled with garbage, human waste and the bones of animals slaughtered for food.
It was in those bones that Jack Nyawanga and his three friends saw an opportunity--a way to help. According to Nyawanga, when the group started in 2006, Kenya's wildlife was threatened by the international ivory trade. The animal bone strewn in Kibera's paths were a health hazard, but no one knew what to do with them. But Nyawanga and his friends saw a chance to help solve several problems with one idea. "We wanted to start a group to solve the unemployment issues in the slum," he recently told Plume via email. "To create income for the youths, but also to make a substitute for ivory products--to save our beautiful wildlife."
So the four men began learning how to turn the discarded beef bones into jewelry every bit as beautiful as the ivory products so coveted around the world. The rest, they say, is history.
Small Company, Big Cause
In the beginning, the group didn't have enough work to hire many people, and the people they did hire were only earning $80 each month. But time created momentum, and today Nyawanga and his partners employ 40 people, mostly school drop-outs, and pay them nearly twice the average monthly income in Kibera. They are constantly training new employees and seeking training themselves, to learn more about design, jewelry making and efficient business practices. Today, they are able to produce more than a 1,000 pieces of jewelry in a single month. Despite the growth, though, Nyawanga says the cause--or causes--have not changed. "We want to save the enviroment, our wildlife, clean our streets...." he says, "and employ many people."
Problems persist for Bone Craft. Despite the group's efforts to help, Nyawanga says many Kiberians don't like the racket created by Bone Craft's machines, and want the group to work away from living areas, which in one of the world's most densely populated neighborhoods is easier said than done. In addition to finding the right facility, Bone Craft has had problems finding the right customers. Nyawanga says they sell mostly to local Nairobi vendors, but market prices in Kenya are low, and he knows in order for Bone Craft to move forward and grow, it must find customers in Europe and the United States. (This poses its own challenges: a package from Bone Craft recently arrived at Plume in Brooklyn. It had been ripped open, the necklaces and bracelets stolen, presumably by Kenyan customs agents.)
And perhaps the problem most concerning to Nyawanga is the health risk working with bones poses to his employees. The process of grinding and sanding bones into jewelry creates an enormous amount of dangerous dust. Disposable masks would be an easy fix, but they aren't readily available in Kibera.
A Little Help
On April 10, Plume debuted its Spring Sale for a group of supporters and friends in New York City. Aside from saying thank you to the people who've supported Plume over the past year, the purpose of the event was to raise funds to purchase masks for Bone Craft employees. We are happy to say the event was successful, and next week we'll be sending 1,000 masks to Kibera.
We are proud to work with Jack Nyawanga, his partners and all of the people who work at Bone Craft. We are also proud to be their first American vendor, to be a rung in the ladder Victorious Bone Craft is climbing.
We hope you take the time to check out Bone Craft's jewelry, available today. If you have thoughts, suggestions or to learn more about Bone Craft, contact us at email@example.com