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Sidai Designs – For-profit business with a social mission: the Maasai women in Tanzania

This way of production can lead to an increase in support for smaller businesses and producers, creating a cycle in which one benefits from the other to succeed

Sidai Designs: a social enterprise based in Arusha, Tanzania

A for-profit business with a social mission: to encourage independence among the Maasai women – also known as Mamas – by preserving the traditional techniques of beading of the Maasai tribe. Sidai Designs employs around 120 Maasai women as beaders. Ms. Rebecca Moore: «Indigenous craftsmanship provides a sustainable livelihood for the artisans and can be used as a catalyst for social change». The Maasai has a patriarchal structure which means that women are not given much power in decision-making processes. «Often, and traditionally, Maasai boys will get educated while Maasai girls don’t have access to it», says Dani Yannoulis, who runs their sales. «When husbands die, women don’t know their rights so the husband’s family will come and take everything that they own because the women haven’t been educated on it». The Sidai Centre is incorporated into Sidai Designs and focuses on social programs and workshops to help these women obtain education and skills which can then be transferred into their daily lives. In addition to the lack of education, the familial structure differs from that of Western cultures. «The structure includes one husband who will have several wives. Each wife has their own boma – their family home – and her own children. As co-wives pass away, the other wives become responsible for their children. Some of our older women have raised nineteen children alone so there is a lot of pressure, burden and nothing to make that easier».

Sidai Centre’s social programs and workshops

The Maasai women are hired as beaders and create jewelry to then be sold through retail and wholesale directly through Sidai Designs. Sidai tries to divide the work equally among the women to ensure an efficient workload. «They have a different skillset or technique that they are specialized in», says Moore. Sidai provides the women with all the necessary material to make their jewelry, which are then sold to the enterprise during weekly market days. «The idea is that there are no expenses for the women», explains Yannoulis. «When Maasai women create products, they have to buy the materials, upfront expenses and then they have to try to move that product. Often they can’t because it is of a similar quality to the person selling next to them». Sidai designs imports its silver and gold to add value to the jewelry so the women can demand more for their pieces, ensuring a more sustainable income. Unlike other local beaders in Tanzania who mostly use Chinese beads, Sidai tries to elevate their designs by using Czech and Japanese beads which are more regular in shape, to create more sophisticated and refined jewelry pieces. Moore says, «We’ve remained true to our identity. The beadwork of the Maasai tribe in Tanzania is predominantly white. It’s not bold and bright like that of the Kenyan tribe. We try to remain with the identity of the Tanzanian tribe and try to honor and stand for who we are as a brand and the women we work with».

Beader Eliza Powell

Maasai women’s beadwork

The thread used to make the jewelry is locally salvaged from old plastic grain sacks and spun together by hand which gives new life to old materials. The business model of Sidai designs ensures that women obtain employment through a stable and independent income which can aid the economy of the country. «Artisanal work is the second biggest employer, after agriculture, in the developing world», explains Moore. «women that we work with are now taxpayers so their money now goes into the economy». The value of artisanal production has always been recognized, yet remains to be considered as the first choice in everyday consumption. While many people find the concept of a handcrafted item to be more appealing, mass production continues to prevail, readily available and cheaper option. The biggest benefit of keeping this practice alive is employment creation. According to Sidai designs, it is a way for these semi-nomadic tribes to work and generate income without forcing urbanization and disrupting their identity. It is a celebration of their tribe and culture, encouraging a new generation of beaders to ensure preservation. The stigma around technology and its impact in the world of artisans and craftsmanship, can be reevaluated. In this generation, technological advancements can help companies and organizations all over to become more effective, without eradicating entire cultural traditions, such as Maasai beading. «For a brand like ours, it helps to refine our processes», says Moore. «We have a silversmith workshop which we have introduced and in which we trained the first three Maasai women silversmiths that we know of anywhere amongst the Maasai communities. Using technology and machinery to elevate what we do is helpful». Adds Yannoulis, «The whole idea of this business is combining the old with the new and mixing materials that require technology. Adding silver and introducing that technology means that we can sell the pieces at a higher price and demand more for the women. We can get them invested in learning new skills and progressing further in their craft».

Sidai Designs supporting smaller business and producers

The concept is to not grow too much as to resort to mass-production, and artisanal brands can expand in many other ways. Their production can incorporate that of other local artisans. This way of production can lead to an increase in support for smaller businesses and producers, creating a cycle in which one benefits from the other to succeed. «There is a group of Maasai women that have set up a tannery», says Moore. «It’s an all natural tannery and we are developing products in collaboration with them where we are using locally sourced leather and making a series of new wall hangings which can support the local community. We also work with another group of artisans who are disabled and they blow glass for us. They make these glass vessels which we then bead around so the whole collaboration element extends beyond our company. We look outside to see what other organizations we can support. This can give other groups access to a market». The opportunities which arise from this are numerous. It breaks down preconceived ideas and opinions about people with different cultures and beliefs. Communities work to support each other and the members of the different tribes to aim for a more ethical and financially stable country. «In Tanzania there are over 100 tribes», says Moore. «It helps to break down barriers when you have that collaboration and community spirit. When you partner with other organizations, you might partner with someone from another tribe so they share their experience from a cultural level, showing that tribes can coexist».

Sidai Designs

Is a social enterprise that collaborates with Maasai women in Tanzania to create handcrafted and traditional homeware and jewelry pieces. They aim to provide economic opportunity for Maasai women and girls by training them to produce high quality beaded designs using the traditional techniques of their tribe. Through the Sidai Centre, they provide these women with social programs to further their education and empower them to become more respected in their tribe. 

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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