Kibarisho is a 43-year-old Maasai woman working at Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB), where beads are not only a form of beauty, but also an important part of their culture. Today, these beads are used to make money.
As a young girl, Kibarisho dreamed of being a businesswoman but that seemed like a mirage. She got married when she was 13 and in her 30 years of marriage, she has borne 7 children.
“I wanted to be financially independent so much that I used to buy sugar and flour and sell them at a higher price to get some profit. Then I got into making bead products,” Kibarisho said.
Her skills and passion have helped her earn a living. Kibarisho is one of the best beaders who make bead products for Basecamp Maasai Brand, a handicraft business that harnesses the rich beading tradition to improve the livelihoods of the women in the Mara region.
The BMB program run by Basecamp Explorer Kenya began 18 years ago. The money from BMB has certainly elevated Kibarisho financially — she had no income before she began beading for profit. Kibarisho uses the money from the beading business to educate her 7 children ages between 9 and 23.
At first, when we started using laptops as a form of getting our prototypes right, most women were scared as they thought the level of literacy can hinder them from accessing the laptops. However, during Covid-time we switched to online marketing and the women were able to comfortably use the laptop to copy designs. Beading those elaborate colorful collars and necklaces that women wear is a skill every young girl must learn and learn well before she can marry.
“If you get married and you cannot make your own bead necklaces and other accessories, then you are considered less than … Well, someone who is not married,” Kibarisho Sayialel explained.
“Your in-laws and the people from your community will frown at you, wondering how you have been raised you. And most of the time, mothers would be blamed for not sharing the cultural practice with their daughters”
Now, these beautiful accessories have more than cultural meaning — they are a means through which the ladies at Basecamp Maasai Brand make money. “Our beaded items have become a valuable commodity that not only proves I’m well versed in my culture but also means I can empower myself and my family financially,” she said.
BMB ladies doing beadwork
While the business is working for Kibarisho and all the 160 women at Basecamp Maasai Brand, digital literacy has been and still is a big deterrent to beading business. The ladies have resulted to using Etsy, Pinterest and social media where they get their inspiration from.
And as for social media pages like Facebook, they are using it as a marketing tool for the products the Maasai ladies make at BMB. Most of their followers will inquire about a certain design and make orders for purchase resulting in increased sales.