Calypso to host trunk show featuring Kazuri beads
Calypso, a Boothbay Harbor boutique that features contemporary clothing, jewelry and accessories, will host a trunk show Sept. 8, featuring ceramic beadwork and jewelry from a small workshop in Kenya, Africa that is run solely by native women.
The workshop, situated on what was once a part of Karen Blixen’s plantation made famous by the movie, “Out of Africa,” produces the handmade and painted beads.
The company is called Kazuri, the Swaheli word for “small and beautiful.”
Kazuri began as a small cottage industry that employed fewer than 10 local women, mostly for the sake of affording them badly needed work.
Calypso owner Lyndy Bragg said the second year the boutique was open, a man, Rick DeBrule, came into the store with a suitcase full of bead jewelry. “He said 'I think our beads will go nicely with with your clothing.' That was 22 years ago, and we have carried them all this time.”
According to Bragg, the woman who started the bead company, Lady Susan Wood, was born in a mud hut in Africa when her parents were missionaries there. From England, she was sent back home to attend school. There she met her husband, Michael Wood, and together they moved back to Africa.
They moved to Nairobi and Lady Susan began making ceramic beads. She took them to a market and met an African woman who was making “beautiful things with colors,” according to Bragg. In 1975, the two of them started working together, making beads at a compound they started in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi in Kenya.
In the 1990s, a local charity started taking prostitutes off the streets in Nairobi and taking them to the Kazuri workshop. Lady Susan would teach them to make beads, according to Bragg. “They would be put up in the compound with some family members.”
In 1995, DeBrule, from Bridgton, Maine, and his father, who had been living in Nairobi, went to the compound to meet Lady Susan, and told her they wanted to introduce her beads in the United States.
Before Lady Susan died around five years ago, she sold the company to a British businessman. “She made sure that the business would remain the same, and that the women would be taken care of,” Bragg said. “When she sold the business there were about 110 ladies making the beads. Today the company employs around 350.”
Each of the beads is shaped by hand, then polished, fired, painted and fired again. “The ladies do what they love, making beads, and they are paid a fair wage,” Bragg said. “At one time they were making more than the men in the Nairobi area.”
A brochure about the the Kazuri story states: “In the workshop there is a constant buzz that comes from the women chatting away nonstop. They enjoy creativity and are good at what they do … the talking – and arguing – doesn't seem to hamper the concentration needed for their finger tips to produce the desired shapes, designs and colors.”
Kazuri is a Fair Trade member, and ensures fair wages and a clean and safe working environment. All medical needs are met through an infirmary that was built around eight years ago.
DeBrule will be at the trunk show, from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 8. Calypso is located at 50 Commercial Street.