As Wendy McNeil listened to a presentation about Ibu artisans, she found herself thinking of Antonia. Born in London, Antonia Stogdale spent holidays in Kenya where the last 3 generations of her family were born. When she decided to settle there, a celebrated chef on luxury safaris led by her husband, she also reached out to Maasai women to start a beading project with them making uber-chic clutches and bags. Wendy quietly put me in touch with Antonia, whose bags sell so quickly in Kenya and Europe, they haven’t even found their way to a retail store in the US. Until now.
Antonia and I had an enthusiastic e-troduction, followed by a slew of images bobbled over What’s App (from the top of a tree in the bush so that she could get enough phone reception), hard choices (we loved them all) and then the waiting while fingers flew over rows of beads (it takes two weeks to make one bag).
Antonia describes how she compiles beads and a design in a paper bag and distributes, below, to Mokogodo Maasai women of Tassia in northern Kenya. Her philosophy is to preserve the Maasai way of life by harnessing the beading skills of the women, something which does not interfere with their other household duties, but builds a sustainable source of income for the women and their families. She pays them by weight for the work they do, sells the clutches, and puts all of the proceeds into buying more materials, expanding the circle who can work - up to 100 women now.
A week after reaching out to Antonia, another friend and safari-lover spoke to me of her amazing work. I think of how many artisan groups have come to Ibu through friends like Wendy and Cina, friends of friends of friends, who become connectors in a global web. And just yesterday, Antonia sends me that motherlode conneting link: we're in Vogue!
Until then, I’m so honored that Ibu is introducing these Maasai women to the US market, one that will surely love their work as much as I do. Meanwhile, the Maasai women continue to live in their community, are schooling their children with their earnings, and serve as fierce guardians of the Mokogodo Forest and 60,000 acre wilderness area where they have lived for hundreds of years. And will, they hope, for hundreds more to come.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker