Nicola from the African jewellery brand Urban Artefacts is the fairy behind our brass jewellery production. She and her skillful team of artisans run a mini brass jewellery workshop in Nairobi where they produce their own collection and the collections of a few lucky other brands - one of them being us ;) The work they produce takes a very special approach on African jewellery combining it with the most high-end quality of craftsmanship. Find out about her story and more in a short interview below.
Nicola, you have a workshop making beautiful handmade jewellery made from natural African materials. Apart from the African jewellery you make for HIITU, you have your own collection under the name Urban Artefacts and in your online shop, you offer a variety of African style brass bracelets, necklaces and earrings with pendants and beads - all handmade with great skill and love and under fair conditions.
How did you get into this business and what do you love about it?
I love the constant change and opportunities for creative problem solving; from design issues to how to develop processes that make your business more effective; but mostly I love the people. It attracts people who are dreamers and doers. I love that. I was looking for a business opportunity where I could use my creative talents and still have flexibility in my schedule for taking care of two young children.
Fair working conditions are a must for you. How do you implement them in your workshop and what’s your view on the general Kenyan situation concerning Fairtrade fashion and jewellery?
I prefer the term social responsibility to fair trade. Our social responsible ethos is in the very DNA of our business. We address some of the core issues that artisans face: steady incomes, fair wages and market access by building a viable business model that improves productivity and quality. We are thereby able to produce the quantity and quality necessary to export and support a domestic market. For many artisans, the lack of a steady income makes it difficult to invest in equipment or other resources to become more productive and therefore the cost of production is very expensive. Also, because they lack market access they are removed from the needs of the market so its difficult for them to be relevant. Our workshop addresses these issues by creating a viable business model that keeps our artisans in full-time employment and comfortable working conditions. The Kenyan situation is evolving but undoubtedly many artisans struggle to be profitable. You’ll often see artisans engaging in many different income-generating activities, like farming, to sustain themselves.
Why are people so drawn to African style jewellery? What makes it so unique?
The African artistic heritage is as rich and diverse, as the many countries that make up the African continent. As a result, the history and cultural perspectives of the people that make the jewellery is so unique and it’s difficult to talk about a single idea of African style. I think the reasons people are drawn to Kenyan jewellery are as unique as people themselves. For some people, it might be the ethnographic stories, for others abstract shapes in the traditional brass casting or vivid colours of the beadwork. There is so much diversity in what is being produced here from contemporary interpretations like Adele Dejak to the traditional pieces by Maasai artisans. I think there is something for every taste.
Urban Artefacts is your personal brand. How would you describe its style? Hippie or elegant?
I would say we are a blend of both! We aim to embody a timelessness as oppose to super trendy.
The Kenyan artisans - including your team - are so imaginative and skilful with often very simple raw materials. It’s very easy and fun to get inspired here and come up with the designs for our African jewellery and fashion collections. What does creativity mean to you and what inspires you?
Creativity is about seeing things from a unique perspective. This can involve combining or contrasting elements that one wouldn’t usually put together. I’m inspired by different points of view, by travel, history and literature.
Tell us 3 fun facts about you!
1. I’m a big fan of the Dave Matthews Band.
2. I love dancing.
3. My favourite book is "The Hobbit" by JR TOLKIEN.
HIITU stands for indie style fashion and accessories. What’s your favourite piece in the HIITU online shop?
The Maasai chokers. They are literally works of art. The workmanship involved is super intense!
Maasai Choker by HIITU.