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Me to We Artisans brings can-do attitude direct from Kenya


The women use their earnings to buy food, medicine and pay for their children's school fees.

The women use their earnings to buy food, medicine and pay for their children’s school fees.

(Appeared in the National Post April 20, 2013) —  Roxanne Joyal identified the problem as a simple case of supply and demand.

Roxanne Joyal was inspired to create the collection after seeing “talented Maasai beaders forced to travel daily to small tourist markets flooded with similar products, where they would sometimes sell their beadwork at a loss.”

Roxanne Joyal was inspired to create the collection after seeing “talented Maasai beaders forced to travel daily to small tourist markets flooded with similar products, where they would sometimes sell their beadwork at a loss.”

In Kenya, she saw “talented Maasai beaders forced to travel daily to small tourist markets flooded with similar products, where they would sometimes sell their beadwork at a loss.”

Her Me to We Artisans changes that dynamic by employing women in the Maasai Mara community of rural Kenya to create handcrafted jewellery and accessories for sale in North America. Half of its profits are donated to Free the Children charity, with the other half reinvested into the manufacturing communities.

There are currently 800 women earning a fair wage with the collection. Joyal says through this project, the women are now able to send “many, if not all of their kids to secondary school and that now, girls also have a chance to receive an education.”

“They truly are able to enrich their artistic ingenuity, to leverage the skills they have been taught as toddlers when they were old enough to hold a needle to bead,” she says. “Now, they are able to use that skill to support their families because it is very difficult to come by gainful employment there and this just provides them with that extra measure of human dignity.”

The jewellery combines traditional Maasai beading with modern inspirations, featuring “bracelets in bold colour waves and geometric shapes,” “hand-forged brass chains from Nairobi” and elegant pieces made with elements of brass, fish bone and hand-forged glass beads from a village in Czech Republic.

The women use their earnings to buy food, medicine and pay for their children’s school fees.

The women use their earnings to buy food, medicine and pay for their children’s school fees.

“With necklaces with pendants from market finds dipped in 22k gold and knotted on silk chords all by hand, leather handbags with details of sustainable farmed ostrich shell buttons, hand stitched down and complete with a tassel adorned with glass beads exported from Czech Republic,” she says. “What we really pride ourselves on in any of our designs is great artistry.”

The items generally range between $5 and $35, but their Nairobi Atelier collection (currently sold at Holt Renfrew) also features more exclusive pieces made with sterling silver, gold and sandalwood, for those truly looking to make a statement. She says every piece has a direct connection to the artisans who made them, especially their popular $10 water Rafiki necklace, a favourite with celebrities such as Demi Lovato.

“It is very simple, fantastic for stacking and made with Czech glass beads,” she says. “And each purchase sends one gallon of water to a Free the Children country.”

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