Whenever I visit my home country Kenya I always feel overwhelmingly inspired by local craftsmanship and skillsets possessed by those who do them. They are age old traditions that have been carried down from generation to generation and whilst they always embody a strong aesthetic and cultural value, they also are generally very practical and their very nature lends itself toward sustainability through the use of natural materials etc. Basically everything I love; aesthetics, culture, practicality and sustainability - the perfect ingredients to get me all inspired.
I spent three months in Kenya from June through to August this year; after having my baby Coral in Cape Town we decided to avoid the brutal winter in search of sunshine and it was simply pure bliss! My advice on adjusting to being a mum; hit the tropics for 3 months and leave all your woes behind :) This was also the perfect opportunity to tune into my creative source and use the time to connect with some artisans to create something - in this case, our new range of bags.
Anyone who's visited the East Coast of Africa will know the abundance of the beautiful palm woven baskets. I asked around for someone who knew some one who does palm weaving in the village and I was eventually led to the legend that is Ali Bakari.
Palm weaving, known as 'suka' in Swahili is a craft traditionally carried out by older men. It's a sort of retirement job - something to keep them busy whilst they are less physically able whilst still providing a stable income for their families. It was really awesome to learn that since Kenya banned the use of plastic bags the demand for woven baskets (known as kikapu) has considerably increased - so great to think of the influence this has for people living in the rural areas on the Kenyan coast too!
Ali Bakari came to meet us on the side of the main road so we could travel together to his hut in the village. The main-ish road soon became a dirt road which soon became a dirt track which soon became a dirt path which he faithfully insisted we would be fine to carry on along! We weaved through cyclists, goats, children and chickens and popped out at his sanctuary amongst the mango, baobab, avocado, papaya and palm trees. What abundance!
I had already dreamt up the designs that I wanted to work with him on but I always like to better understand the craft so that I can consider any limitations or further possibilities towards the design. His grand children had great fun playing with Coral whilst we sprawled across his great big floor mat under the jacaranda tree and looked at his samples and got down to specifics.
We used his forearm as a measuring tool, the original 'foot' as it were - because what are centimetres good for when the fruits grow abundantly on the trees and your days are drowned by children's laughter?
I left Ali Bakari to run up one of each as a sample and came back to visit a week or so later - what do you know, he'd made some of his own interpretations but they were perfect and he'd nailed the brief! So onwards with the rest of the order!
Once Ali Bakari had finished all the weaving we sent his basket work up to Jennifer in Thika - you can read more about Jennifer and the work she does on a previous blog post here. Jennifers masterful leather and brass work were to be the marriage to our baskets which would elevate their feel into a more contemporary aesthetic as well as making them more usable and durable.