Producer of the month: Zuri Design

Producer of the month: Zuri Design

Producer of the month: Zuri Design

Do you ever wonder about the origin of the names on some of our products? Some of you may be familiar with 'Namaste', the Indian greeting, but how about 'Zuri'? It means 'beautiful' in Kiswahili and is the inspiration behind the many lovely designs produced in Kenya and Uganda. Set up by Helen Scanlan and her family in 2003, Zuri Design started with a suitcase full of soapstone and beaded jewellery which they brought back to the UK and sold on market stalls. Having witnessed the appalling poverty in the slums of Nairobi following several volunteer trips, Helen wanted to help young people find employment with long-term security. The project has provided employment and development opportunities to over 200 men and women across ten different producer groups in fifteen years. Many of the workers have gone on to run their own independent businesses. 

Have a look at all the Zuri Design products we stock. We're sure you'll be surprised at the variety. Earrings and decorations fashioned from bottle tops, soapstone pebble decorations, keyrings and angels. Our favourites are the wire bicycle brooches, colourful beaded necklaces and animals.

The stories behind the products

Zakale Creations employs young people from the Mathare slum, an area with 80% unemployment. 35 people work in its two workshops producing bottle top ornaments such as the Bottle Top Bike. This is a new range and enables workshop manager John to employ unemployed young men from the slum. The products have proved popular with the men now kept in work most of the year. They have opportunities to take on diverse roles in the running and management of the business. This product line also pays a wage to those who collect the recycled materials. The workshop invested some of the profit from the last year into new machinery, making production more efficient and profitable. 

Art Safi Self Help Group produce a wide variety of soapstone designs. Much of the work is done in Kisii, the main area of soapstone in Kenya, and provides employment for both carvers and miners. The products are then sent to Nairobi for sanding and painting. The group in Kisii are saving to buy a plot of land for a workshop so the work can be carried out locally. This is an area of extreme poverty with significantly disadvantaged workers, so having a route to market through Zuri has made an enormous difference. 

X-Cel Concepts was one of Zuri's greatest challenges. In 2004 she joined forces with project manager Vincent. He regularly encountered young boys living on the streets of the Kibira slum when they came to the food centre he worked at. Orphaned or having run away from home, they were destitute, and many sniffed glue as a means of escape from their situation. Vincent chose six to be trained at the workshop producing cow bone jewellery such as these Brass and Bone Mask Earrings. It was a very demanding time for everyone, and not all the boys could adapt to the challenge. Still, four really took to it and have gone on to turn this into a creative and successful business, changing their lives in the process. 

In 2011 Helen set up the Zuri Foundation, a UK based charity that funds education for children and finances workshop projects. For the UCI World Cycling event held in Harrogate, we worked with Zuri to provide us with some cycling-themed items, such as this fantastic Multicoloured Wire Bike Pin Badge

Zuri Designs also create greetings cards from paper made out of pineapple tops, banana leaf and elephant grass, which make these these sustainable cards. By making these cards, mostly young women who had struggled to find work, gain training, encouragement, practical support and the chance to earn a fair wage.