Kenyan craft goes global with luxury luggage line

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

When Jeffrey Kimathi visited his mother in Kenya a few years ago he met local village women weavers and turned their craft into a luxury luggage business.

It was October 2012 and Kimathi says the “artisan weavers” were creating “immaculate Baobab baskets”. This was the start of his Buyu luggage and accessories line currently distributed via boutiques and online retailers.

Buyu is a collection of stylish luggage hand-crafted by Kenyan village women. Pic Supplied

Buyu is a collection of stylish luggage hand-crafted by Kenyan village women. Pic Supplied

“I met the weavers in local village markets not too far from where they live and learned about the process and how long it took an entire group of women to weave the baskets,” recalls Kimathi.

“I saw an opportunity to create an impact and let the work of their own hands uplift women from a marginalised way of life. I partnered with them to give their craft a transformation and design direction that could preserve their indigenous tradition.”

Kimathi felt that a “lack of design direction lends to inferior quality products that cannot compete in modern globalised market, resulting in a loss of resale value”. His response was to create naturally dyed leather goods, from bespoke bags to iPad pouches for contemporary journey-makers.

Buyu luggage is made for journeys across the world. Pic Supplied

Buyu luggage is made for journeys across the world. Pic Supplied

The intention was to take those products to a global market and turnaround the economic challenges which “cripples the community”.

“In order to ensure future financial self-reliance and a better quality of life for future generations, Buyu partners with rural communities and artisans to repurpose their craft into design driven products that’s enticing to the global market,” explains Kimathi.

At the same time, it ensures a “vehicle out of poverty by creating contemporary travel accessories and luggage from their hand woven fibre. This fibre is the core of our luggage and we are expanding the market for this ancient craft.”

Kimathi’s business model, which entrenches itself in social development, also takes a different view on profiteering.

“What if profit was not the end goal of business but the means by which a greater goal, a greater impact were achieved? Buyu is a social business; profits are a means to increase social impact and carry out our mission sustainably,” says Kimathi.

“Unlike traditional non-profits or charities, one of our core goals is self-sufficiency. Fifty percent of the profit from our sales is put back into purchasing raw material from the hands of local women’s groups that harvest, weave and dye our Baobab fabric that builds the core of our luggage.

“These mothers and daughters are the engine that drive our brand. This money will reach their children and family, ultimately stimulating the local economy.”

Buyu is meanwhile the first travel accessory collection to combine the Baobab tree with leather.

“Our competitive advantage in the market place is the uniqueness of this African hand crafted and sustainably harvested fabric and material. It is in its robust, rugged, weatherproof and natural state. It has one-of-a-kind design patterns, all organically dyed,” says Kimathi.

“The inner workings of the African Baobab tree provide a fiber which indigenous people in Africa have used to make cloth, rope, nets, musical instruments and waterproof hats for eons.

“The Baobab tree is known to live for thousands of years. This strength and durability lends to the fibre that we use for your luggage and we offer a lifetime guarantee on our luggage.”

The Baobab is an ancient tree found in many parts of Africa. It has eight species and only one species grows outside Africa and is found in northern Australia.

Kimathi wants to establish Buyu along the lines of global luggage manufacturers, citing Bottega Veneta, Brunello Cucinelli or an “African Louis Vuitton” as its future.

For now, the Buyu collection is distributed in Lagos, Nigeria, and available via a couple of online retailers including Ahalife.com. To view the luggage log on to http://www.buyucollection.com

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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