It was October 2012 and Jeffrey Kimathi says the “artisan weavers” were creating “immaculate Baobab baskets”. This was the start of his Buyu luggage and accessories line currently distributed via boutiques and online retailers.
“I met the weavers in local village markets not too far from where they live and learned about the process and how long it took an entire group of women to weave the baskets. I saw an opportunity to create an impact and let the work of their own hands uplift women from a marginalised way of life. I partnered with them to give their craft a transformation and design direction that could preserve their indigenous tradition.”Kimathi
His response was to create naturally dyed leather goods, form bespoke bags to iPad pouches for contemporary journey-makers. The intention was to take those products to a global market and turnaround the economic challenges which “cripple the community”. At the same time, it ensures a “vehicle out of poverty” by creating contemporary travel accessories and luggage from their hand woven fibre.
Kimathi’s business model also takes a different view on profiteering.
“What if profit was not the end goal of business but the means by which a greater goal were achieved? Buyu is a social business; profits are a means to increase social impact and carry out our mission sustainably”says Kimathi
“Unlike traditional non-profits or charities, one of our core goals is self-sufficiency. Fifty percent of the profit from our sales is put back into purchasing raw material from the hands of local women’s groups that harvest, weave and dye our Baobab fabric that builds the core of our luggage. “Our competitive advantage in the market place is the uniqueness of this African hand crafted and sustainably harvested fabric and material. It is in its robust, rugged, weatherproof and natural state. It has one-of-a-kind design patterns, all organically dyed,” says Kimathi.
“The Baobab tree is known to live for thousands of years. This strength and durability lends to the fibre that we use for your luggage and we offer a lifetime guarantee on our luggage.”
Kimathi wants to establish Buyu along the lines of global luggage manufacturers, citing Bottega Veneta, Brunello Cucinelli or an “African Louis Vuitton” as its future.
To view the luggage: log on to www.buyucollection.com
interview by Yazeed Kamaldien for Style Africa