Facts: The Company
The Leakey Collection was founded in 2002 by Katy and Philip Leakey.
Philip and Katy Leakey live in the rural bush of the Rift Valley in Kenya, among the Maasai.
The Leakey Collection is a company that designs contemporary products, which are hand made by the Maasai women and men of Kenya in the categories of interior home and fashion accessories.
The Leakey Collection offers employment opportunity to over 1200 Kenyans depending on the time of year.
Zulugrass and Zuluwood are products of The Leakey Collection.
The Leakey Collection also designs a line of Passementerie, (fringe and trims), which is distributed by Samuel and Sons in New York and is available at selected Holly Hunt and Kneedler-Fauchere show rooms around the United States.
Assembly of products for The Leakey Collection - Kenya is in a non-factory setting. Women work under the acacia trees at mobile, work sites which can provide work opportunity where ever work is needed in the Rift Valley.
Work sites are set up only when invited into a community by Maasai women and elders. When a community no longer wants a work site it would be dismantled and moved. This happened once in 4 years.
The Leakey Collection currently has a waiting list of communities that have requested work stations, which will open as demand for products increases.
Work sites spans over 150 miles in the Rift Valley.
All materials used by The Leakey Collection are environmentally sustainable. In 2002 The Leakey Collection won the Environment Conscious award from the Association of Makers and Exporters of Gifts and Allied Articles of Kenya for its innovative use and management of natural materials.
The Leakey Collection uses only fallen dead wood from environmentally sustainable areas in its wood products.
The environmentally sustainable harvest of the grass also works to preserve a wet land since the communities no longer burn the grass, which cattle do not eat, to make room for the plentiful grass that cattle do eat.
Facts : The product - Zulugrass
The concept of Zulugrass sold by the single strand to design your own jewelry is the combined creation of Katy and Philip Leakey.
Each piece of Zulugrass is designed by Katy and Philip Leakey and assembled by the Maasai women of Kenya.
Zulugrass is a design your own jewelry that can be worn in a variety of ways; necklaces choker or long, bracelets, belts, anklets, hair-ties, and is also used creatively as gifts with other applications.
Zulugrass is jewelry made from grass beads dyed with textile dyes and mixed with hand blown Czech glass beads and Japanese glass beads and strung on elastic that was invented for the movie Spiderman.
The grass is harvested by hand, blade by blade from tall stands, and cut by hand, bead by bead. The grass grows with a hole in it and is hard and durable, often used in the furniture industry because of its strength.
Zulugrass is water proof, salt water and fresh, colorfast, and long lasting, the elastic has a memory of over 6 years and still going even if warn every day, sun, shower, pool or ocean and tied in any number of ways from day to day.
The grass takes the dye in such a way as to reflect a deep luminescence and vibrant color.
The Leakey Collection uses only the highest quality glass beads available in the world, those of Czech Republic and Japan, which are renowned for reflecting the most striking rays of pure color.
Zulugrass was born out of a need: by the end of the devastating drought in Kenya around 2001 the Leakey's were supporting as many as 100 Maasai families by giving them money for food, school fees, medical expenses and housing. This was not sustainable for either party. The men had left the women and children behind as they had to take the surviving cattle far up country in search of grazing land. The men had been away for as long as two years. Philip Leakey came up with the idea to create jewelry made from grass. At first the designs were rather traditional and the Leakey's found too small a market to do much good for the Maasai as the line was considered too "ethnic" by the western market. It was then that Katy Leakey came up with the modification of the single strand on elastic as a design your own jewelry system and the contemporary and global Zulugrass Jewelry with the Zulugirl logo was born.
Zulugrass is currently sold in over 20 countries world wide and growing
Facts: Product - Zuluwood
All wood used to make any wooden products are collected from fallen wood of sustainable species such as varieties of acacia, and utilizes environmental sustainable methods of planning and collection.
All wood is hand tooled and burnished; there is no wax, lacquer or varnish used on any of the wood beads or wooden products.
Facts: The Maasai
A proud, nomadic, pastoral tribe many of whom are still living by their ancient traditions in East Africa.
Maasai culture is 800 years old.
The Maasai are cattle herders and believe that God entrusted them the responsibility to look after all the cattle of the world.
The majority of the financial income for a Maasai family comes from trading cattle and is under the sole control of the men.
The Maasai speak the dialect of Maa.
Maasai translates as The People of Maa.
There are about 1/2 million Maasai living in East Africa today with ¼ million living in Kenya.
The Maasai culture is now heavily influenced by Christianity since missionaries moved into their territories dating as far back as the eighteen hundreds.
Current pressures on the Maasai culture are a combination of environmental, cultural and financial. It is difficult for many young Maasai men to find work in their communities outside of cattle herding, which is not always economically sufficient for families with modern demands of education and medical expenses and is not necessarily appealing to a young educated generation. Many are migrating to the urban areas in search of work, leaving behind a culture struggling to survive.
Many families in arid regions struggle financially and during dry seasons the hardships can be profound.
Traditionally Maasai women do not earn an income and they work hard around the home. In the beginning the Leakey's struggled to bring the work to the women but the men who remained in the communities kicked against the women's new founded economic independence. Gradually the men came to realize the tremendous financial help the women were bringing to their families and now they enthusiastically embrace their wives and daughters ability to earn an income.
The women use the income for everything from the basics of food, education fees, and medical expenses, to improving their life styles such as buying their own herds of goats, purchasing land and starting their own businesses.
Changes due directly to this business opportunity in most communities.
Communities become more stable financially and politically.
Small service businesses begin to flourish as there is money to spend locally.
The men have developed more appreciation for the work that women do, both at home and earning an income.
The men have progressed through several stages in just a matter of years; first, afraid of what would happen when a woman becomes financially independent, second, appreciating her efforts and rewards, third, wanting to improve their own financial situation once they see the advancement of their wives and daughters.
Communities become more environmentally aware.
The women are now seeking advice on ways to invest their money.
Facts: The Founders - Philip Leakey and Katy Leakey
Philip Leakey is the third and youngest son of paleo-anthropologists Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey.
Philip Leakey was a Member of Parliament in Kenya for 15 years, a Deputy Member of the Cabinet for 14 years and a Member of Cabinet for 1 year.
Philip is known in Kenya for his dedication towards improving conditions for all Kenyan's with particular attention to the areas of business opportunity and the environment.
Katy Leakey is an artist and a designer. Her interest as an artist has been to connect diverse cultures through understanding one another's motivations.
Katy Leakey spent time studying ancient cultures in the unexplored areas of the Amazon of Peru and Ecuador before moving to Africa in 2001.
In 1964 Allen and Helen O'Brien along with Katy Leakey's parents, Robert and Evelyn Moodey and three others, co-founded the L.S.B. Leakey foundation.
Although Katy knew Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey since 1963 she had not met Philip until 1984. In 2000 the two struck up a transcontinental relationship, which culminated in marriage, September of 2001 under a large acacia tree in the Maasai Mara game reserve.
A Sampling of Stories
First pay day
The women are paid in cash and on the first pay day our manager took the envelopes labeled with each woman's name. At the end of reading each name many envelopes were left unclaimed and many women openly disgruntled. A community elder was called in to sort out the problem. As it turned out, in Maasai culture, a person's name is a description of where they fit into the complex structure of families within clans over a period of 800 years. Rather like a painting, each rendition differs from the last. It took over 3 weeks and the community of elders to sort out which envelopes belonged to what women since few of them could remember the precise description they gave each day they came to work. Numbers were assigned along with names.
One woman's enterprise
One visionary woman actually paid to come by matatu, (bus), to one of our training sites from a great distance. She quickly became the highest producer. After several weeks she asked us to set up a site in her area. During the process of doing so we learned that her financial investment was aimed at creating work for the poorer clients of her small store who used credit to buy food. She couldn't turn her back on them but needed her bills paid as many were in arrears more than two years. The work station was a success and she succeeded, all her neighbors paid their outstanding debts within two months and in just 8 months she earned enough money to buy a plot of land in town and build her own store. She is an inspiration to everyone.
The people of Kenya have produced in a non-factory setting in Kenya's bush:
600 million beads.
5.5 miles of fringe.
Over 1200 jobs have been created.
Over 10,000 people are supported by the work generated from assembling Zulugrass and other Leakey Collection products.