(May 3, 2014) Imani Workshops employs people in three areas: paper making, ceramics, and tailoring. With those elements, a product line of journals, cards, bags, purses, jewelry, stuffed toys and much more is possible. Julie, Global Gifts' Purchasing and Design Manager, has been working with them to develop new products within all three of the categories. Global Gifts' goal is to provide balanced opportunities so that all three areas can grow. Currently the tailoring area is the busiest section of the workshop. It has not been difficult for Imani to find skilled tailors as that is a common skill that women in Kenya possess; and through AMPATH and the local market there are many orders for uniforms and other items. But, for the export market, Imani has yet to come up with strong selling products.
(Imani utilizes old foot powered sewing machines. When I asked if electric would be better they said electric was too much trouble because of how frequently they lose power.)
Paper making is also a critical department for Imani. It is so important because it allows Imani to provide employment for unskilled workers and those with disabilities For instance, there are several blind men and women that trim banana fiber and essentially shred paper with scissors so that both can be pulped for the paper making process. I commented to Scott, Imani's Director, that the paper could be shred much quicker with a shredder but he pointed out that would leave less opportunity for these unskilled workers.
(A group photo from the paper making department.)
(Julie helped the paper makers form boxes and suggested they put swatches of their colorful kitenge fabric on them. This is what they came up with. They should be arriving in our stores by September. Global Gifts also placed a large order of gift boxes that we will start offering instead of our factory made craft boxes we currently use. We are very excited about this as it will help be a perfect way to keep the paper making department busy. We sell thousands of gift boxes every year!)
Ceramics is important to Imani because it allows their products to be differentiated within a tough competitive market. There is an oversupply of jewelry made with rolled paper beads made from strips cut out of old magazines. But very few other groups are combining the paper beads which have been so popular over the years with the ceramic beads. Imani has been working to make their paper beads more consistent solid colors but it is difficult and time consuming when you have to flip through hundreds of magazines to find for instance, all the pages that have a significant portion of red, or blue, or whatever the color is you are seeking.
(This necklace is a perfect example of how paper and ceramic can join to present elegance and beauty.)
In a sense, we are racing against time to bring new products to the market. We feel confident that we can help Imani find success through U.S. sales but, because losses at Imani continue to mount, because funding that subsidizes the good work Imani is doing is getting more difficult to find, the race is on to help Imani Workshops become sustainable.