In Kenyan Maasai culture, women are responsible for most of the hard work, including collecting water, tending to children and running the household, while only men were traditionally working outside the home. Until recently, women had little financial or social autonomy, even though according to Jewelry Designer Kessa Laxton, the women are “incredibly resourceful, and they know how to make a lot happen with a little. They always think, ‘what do I have at my disposal, and how do I make it work?’ They come up with incredible results.”
Empowering women to work not only helps them contribute to their families financially but also allows them to be included in the decision-making within the family and the larger community. What has sparked the recent change empowering these women to find work? Rather, who is sparking the change? The newest Brand We Love ME to WE.
ME to WE is driven by the belief that economic opportunities are the best way to break the cycle of poverty and therefore works as a social enterprise. ME to WE Artisan pieces are beautifully handcrafted by more than 1,400 women in Kenya using the traditional skills passed down through generations. Each piece celebrates heritage art forms and provides artisans with income and the empowerment to become respected voices in the community. Every dollar a mother, or Mama, earns goes straight to her household, children and community.
“Artisans is a true partnership between ME to WE and the Mamas; it’s been a process of building an incredible team, made possible by so many amazing people in Kenya and Toronto,” says Roxanne Joyal, founder of ME to WE Artisans. However, it’s not all work and no play. According to Laxton, “the Mamas will burst into song at times, there’s always a ton of laughter. Our design process is a wonderful cross-cultural exchange of women working together to create beautiful things.”
In addition to financial independence, working with ME to WE also provides the Mamas with a creative outlet as well as an escape. “When we come here to bead and gather, we share ideas. We outgrow stress, forget our worries and focus on our work,” says ME to WE Artisan Mama Susan. Allowing the women to work together also creates a sense of camaraderie and community. Mama Toti loves working with her sister, because she’s “able to teach her, and learn from her. Together, we can teach our brothers and sisters, and our children, too.”
Wondering how you can get involved? With ME to WE’s Track Your Impact tool, you can see where your social impact is delivered each time you make a purchase. The code generated from each purchase connects the dots directly to the community you help empower.
So what’s next for ME to WE Artisans? They are excited to expand to Ecuador and empower even more women to share their cultural traditions with the world. In the remote indigenous communities in Ecuador’s Andes and Amazon regions, there are limited opportunities to earn an income, with many families living on less than $2 a day. This program empowers women to earn a sustainable income close to home. Each woman also gains access to entrepreneurship workshops, small business training and mentorship from expert local artisans.
Shop ME to WE, and style with purpose with one-of-a-kind handmade pieces. When you wear ME to WE, you make a statement heard around the world.
WRITTEN BY NURAIN ALICHARAN