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From Kenya Slum-Dweller to Entrepreneur

Making a sustainable impact in Kenya has been a dream more than twenty years in the making. When I traveled to Kenya at age 15, I saw poverty for the first time – but I also saw the power of opportunity. While there, I met a woman who used a microcredit loan to launch a thriving fruit stand in the middle of the Kibera slums. The vision of a powerful woman running her own small business inspired me – and ultimately catalyzed the launch of Noonday Collection.

This season, the story comes full circle as we partner with new Artisan Businesses in Kenya to bring you effortless and well-crafted styles. Our Kenya collection features vivid Turkana beads and elegant brass crafted by talented Artisans living in Nairobi.

Noonday Artisans in Kenya

One of our newest Artisan Partners in Kenya is Joseph. Joseph grew up with his mother and two siblings in a Nairobi slum where economic opportunities were scarce.

“It was as if we didn’t exist,” Joseph explains to me as we sit inside his impressive workshop on the edge of the Kibera slums. “There was no water for us, no roof, no sanitation, and no assistance of any kind from the government. We lived like we were in the wilderness.”

Noonday Artisans in Kenya

The homes where Joseph and his neighbors lived were made from paper joined together with water, and they would often catch fire. When disaster would strike, the city’s fire trucks were unable to navigate the densely packed labyrinth of the slum, leaving the inhabitants to fight the fires as best they could with hastily assembled bucket lines.

Joseph’s mother supported her family by manufacturing and selling an illegal moonshine-like liquor. “At that time women were known only as property,” Joseph explains. “Many of my neighbors were single mothers who did not have any other way to support their children. They had been divorced and left with no inheritance, so they came to Nairobi from the country to find new opportunities. But when they arrived, the opportunities were nowhere to be found. ”

For most of Joseph’s childhood, his mother couldn’t afford to send him and his siblings to school. Instead of attending classes, the children spent their days acting as lookouts for their mother and her friends, running to warn them when the police approached.

Off and on as he grew up, Joseph’s mother would sometimes have enough money to send him to school for short periods. “Even though the amount you had to pay was very little, it was a lot at that time for our parents,” Joseph remembers. “My older brother was never able to go to school, but my mom sent me when she could.”

For Joseph and his family, survival was the primary goal for each day in the slum. But one day, Joseph’s life changed for good. A nun who was working in the slum as part of a Catholic non-profit saw his potential and singled him out to receive metalworking training.

Noonday Artisans in Kenya

“The non-profit began its work in the slum by giving handouts of food and clothing,” Joseph says. “But they soon realized that giving handouts is not the right way to help people because they will become reliant on you. They decided instead to open skills training workshops, and I was chosen to learn the craft of metalworking.”

Joseph was the first Artisan to be trained in the non-profits metalworking program, and he was soon identified as a bright child. As he learned and grew, it became clear that Joseph had a gift for creating beautiful objects out of brass and other metals.

“The goal of the program was to empower the Artisans being trained to leave the workshop and start businesses of their own,” Joseph explains. “In that way, you not only help yourself rise out of poverty, but your family as well. And because you are employing others in the slum, you are helping them rise up too.”

After ten years working as a trainer in the non-profit’s workshop, Joseph decided to launch his own Artisan Business with friends from the program. “We were well-trained and could make very good items,” Joseph reflects, “but we didn’t know how to market our products.”

Noonday Artisans in Kenya

Without a reliable marketplace for their beautiful pieces, the new business struggled to grow. When they did find buyers, the pay was often low and the orders unreliable. When Joseph learned about the ideas behind fair trade, it was a game-changer for him and his team of hardworking Artisans.

“Fair trade is like a sheltered space away from the rain,” Joseph says. “Working with fair trade buyers like Noonday Collection has empowered us to bring in better prices for our products and has created many opportunities for us. As members of the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization), we have learned the importance of being open and having transparent communication with our partners.”

We first discovered Joseph and his amazing team of Artisans on a scouting trip to Nairobi in 2014. We loved the metal and bead-working heritage of the region and wanted to partner with entrepreneurs who were using their talents to bring others along with them as they rose out of poverty. For over 30 years, Joseph has dedicated himself to using what he has been given to create opportunities for others. Today his metalworking business employs nine Artisans from the slums, four of whom are women.

Noonday Artisans in Kenya

For Noonday, a man like Joseph is a rare treasure. It is because of talented, passionate Artisan Entrepreneurs like him that we are able to make an impact in so many communities around the world. And when it comes to making an impact in Kenya, we’re just getting started.

Noonday Collection in Kenya

Join us in supporting Artisan Entrepreneurs like Joseph by shopping the Spring 2016 Collection, launching February 18!

Meet Jessica Honegger

Jessica is Noonday Collection’s Founder and Chief Dreamer. Jessica spends her days inspiring others to live lives of purpose—from empowering our Ambassadors to be powerful storytellers and stylists, to visiting and encouraging our Artisans partners across the globe. After hours, Jessica can be found relaxing with her husband, dancing with her three children, and enjoying a good book.