Guest blogger Katy Leakey explains why this new collection of serveware is so unique.
“My husband is proud of me, and we discuss as a family what we will spend on and how much we will work. It is good we support each other. There isn’t just one person with the stress of providing for the family now.”
“We use money to create projects and help each other out. We work together to benefit the community.”
These are direct words from the men and women in rural East Africa whose lives have been positively impacted by Fair Trade work opportunity through The Leakey Collection.
In 2001, a terrible drought persisted for several years and brought devastation to the pasture lands. The livelihood of the Maasai disappeared as their cattle died.
The men had to drive the few remaining cattle hundreds of miles away in search of better grazing while the women looked desperately for ways to feed, clothe, and educate their children and obtain medical supplies.
My husband Philip and I live among the Maasai in East Africa and founded The Leakey Collection, because we wanted to provide our neighbors with work opportunities. We came up with an imaginative idea to turn a readily available, sustainable resource — grass — into beautiful pieces of jewelry using the excellent beading abilities of the Maasai women. Mobile work stations were set up so the women could bring their babies and toddlers with them and work when they chose. As word passed through the Maasai community, women started walking as much as two hours each way to have their first chance to earn money.
After seeing the benefits of family income, the Maasai men also wanted to join in the entrepreneurial opportunities, and their talent for carving was put to good use. East Africa’s fallen Acacia trees are customarily burned for firewood, but The Leakey Collection developed new processes enabling us to bring this rarely used hardwood to a new life. In fact, this wood is so hard that it can’t even be cut with a chainsaw!
We had to design and custom build our own lathes for turning bowls and rehabilitate hardened metals into chisels because conventional woodworking tools became dull or broke in mere hours.
Each piece is hand-turned from a solid piece of wood into a variety of stunning salad bowls and servers, platters and trays. Each piece, from the bowls to servers, involves up to 25 skilled artisans and is three months in the making; the fallen wood is formed into a blank, then partially shaped and boiled.
It is then put into our drying chamber for 30 days, after which it’s shaped again, soaked in our special oil mixture which fixes the wood, and then back to the drying chamber for another 30 days. One last shaping, sanding, and then 30 more days to cure, is followed by a treatment of food-safe luxury oils.
The final step is to brand the bottom with the artisans code telling from where each piece of wood originated and whose talented hands nurtured it along every step of the way.