“Would you like the fine weave of the rough weave?” that is always a difficult one as they are both superb products!
Sisal grows abundantly in parts of Kenya particularly the Eastern province. Basket weaving has been a strong aspect of the province’s inhabitants livelihoods through the years. The basic basket is made from hand-processed sisal. This is a locally grown crop and is easily accessible. Women do most of the weaving in the dry season and one is more likely to weave more when all the ‘serious’ work is done. By serious we mean farming. It is an area that is prone to droughts and food is hard to come by. They mostly rely on the annual cycle of rains to ensure food security.
Timing is of great importance if one is to work with the women as the gaps created by farming cannot be helped. Here lies the challenge of properly commercialising the process whilst still keeping it local and a key source of alternative livelihood for the women. Currently they are woven by women in self-help groups who rely on the extra money to subsidise their incomes.
Kipenzi kiondo is found in various major craft outlets in Nairobi. in the UK we sell through Africa House
The kiondo is very versatile and long lasting. A bag presented as a gift to someone will be found in good condition years later. They also a multi use items for everything from holding magazines, toys, kitchen utensils – cutlery and bits, fruit and veg, – they hold just about anything. The reason they are different from other hold-alls is that they are all individually handwoven and have the wonderful texture of sisal. Colour can also be applied using natural or synthetic dyes. They are also fun items to re-purpose and offer endless decorating possibilities. They also make great handbags and unusual laptop bags.
Here, I have a series of bags that are part of my range. I have worked from a workshop I set up at the back of my house with three artisans to produce the lines. The decoration is also very natural and material based. I have borrowed from cultures such as the Kikuyu, Kamba and Maasai for inspiration fro decorating the bags. To get the really bright colours, I have had to use synthetic dyes.