Lots of people will bring you back treasures from Kenya, but the likelihood that they were MADE in Kenya is pretty small. Wooden salad tongs, carved with tiny impalas, and beaded sandals are typically imported from India.
It’s one of the reasons that I really appreciate local industry in Kenya, and, in particular, small projects that really help out Kenyans.
Kazuri Beads was originally started in 1975 by an expat born in West Africa to missionaries, who wanted to give some single mothers a job. It now employs 350 ladies, and some men, and it’s almost entirely local.
The clay comes from the base of Mount Kenya, it’s all processed in Kenya, shaped, fired…the only import is the paint!
The factory is on a part of the estate of Karen Blixen, who is famous for Out of Africa. And, while there are tons of places to buy Kazuri necklaces, mugs, earrings, and ornaments around Kenya, it’s really fun to see it all being made. I’m particularly fond of their collections of fat animals.
My mom had an absolute blast, marveling at all the incredible detail – teeny tiny polka dots, gentle golden lines – that the ladies put into each bead.
The best part of any tour is being routed into the gift shop at the end. Like that elephant bead you saw being made? BUY IT.
I even decided to get a full tea set for my friends to celebrate their wedding, since an exquisitely-made handmade gift from Africa is, I’ve found, to be the best kind of present.
We all walked away with extremely heavy bags, and big big smiles.
The Kazuri Bead Factory is in Karen (also named for Karen Blixen), about an hour from my house.
Another visit is definitely in the future — someone needs to come and visit me to give me a good excuse.