RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Freund’s background isn’t in fashion design but rather social work, which helps because she understands the complexity of running a business that puts people and planet first while still generating a profit. Social work was also what led her to Tanzania, since it was on a trip with the nonprofit group Edu-Care that she met the Arusha women who made the bangles. Freund couldn’t speak Kiswahili, so she relied on body language to communicate her intent. “There was a shared sense of humor that kept us alive,” she tells Ecouterre.
Working with natural materials means respecting the seasonal cycle of rains and high temperatures.
Subsequent trips taught Freund more than she ever imagined. Working with natural materials, for one, means respecting the seasonal cycle of rains and high temperatures. Banana bark is pliable and easy to work with when damp but virtually impossible to manipulate during the dry season.
Those limitations turned to opportunity, however, as Freund sought out skilled metalworkers to turn recycled aluminum into a series of bracelets and necklaces. Embellished with Czech glass beads using traditional Masaai techniques, the designs are sophisticated yet warm. “I love the colors,” Freund says. “They look so vibrant in the dusty areas where [the Masaai] live.”
Mikuti’s latest collection includes beaded recycled-aluminum bracelets in 17 colors and a variety of shapes.
But although expanding her U.S. customer base is a goal, Freund also thinks it important for the jewelry to be admired on its native soil. She facilitated a meeting between the women and Made in Africa, a boutique located in Dar-Es-Salaam. “It’s great that they still have their traditions but are able to live in the context of where they are,” she says. “The women now have direct contact with the store and are in complete control of delivering their products and setting prices.”
Mikuti’s latest collection includes recycled-aluminum bracelets in 17 colors and a variety of shapes. Plus, there’s a price point for everyone, with pieces that range from $15 to $135. More important, a fair share of the profits returns to the artisans who made them, creating economic avenues that play a vital role in sustainable development.