Meaning "smile/laughter," Kicheko is a socially conscious brand that designs, finds and makes distinctive pieces that invest in children's education in the Congo.
Kicheko, meaning "smile/laughter" in Swahili, is a socially conscious brand that designs and makes beautiful pieces that invest in education in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Studying the Congo in 2008 during my M.A. International Affairs & Development at George Washington University, my heart broke at the injustices and untapped potential for this country to thrive. Leading a missions team in 2011, I traveled to the eastern Congo and began a multi-organizational partnership with a locally-led organization that provides holistic care for orphaned children and primary education through Mango Tree School. My husband and I have traveled to Congo every summer since that initial journey and our lives have been forever changed by our experiences growing in relationship with the Congolese.
I began making jewelry in 2012. Through a series of events - friends purchasing earrings, a singer-songwriter commissioning an exclusive collection of earrings, my church ordering 500 pairs of Kicheko Goods for Mother's Day, I felt a distinct nudge (you can say calling) to pursue this full-time. In 2014, Kicheko became an official D.C.-based socially conscious small business. The vision for Kicheko is to realize tangible impact for the students of Mango Tree School by providing scholarships for each student to attend school. The business environment spurs towards innovation, excellence, and risk. The fashion and art world spurs towards authenticity, beauty and creativity. The opportunity for business and fashion/art to combine forces through jewelry for a cause is incredibly exciting and is what gets me up in the morning. It is my hope that our products and shared stories bring a smile to your face and light to your life.
Organic and unrushed, the design process begins with a sketch, followed by a meticulous process sourcing the right fabrics and findings, after which the making magic happens in our D.C. studio. Concepts for individual pieces and small batch collections are inspired by travels, print publications, creative conversations and both the built and natural environment. Kicheko's aesthetic communicates an unfinished elegance, sophisticated earthiness and playful simplicity with bold notes.
Our staple ingredients are metal, wood and fabric. Other favorite materials include natural stones, deer tine, and leather. Fabrics are sourced from DC, NY, LA, and Africa (Congo, Tanzania and Kenya). All other materials are sourced from USA suppliers, Australia, Greece, South Korea and China.
Each product type is debuted in batches of 10-20 units. Once made available online and through pop up shops, Kicheko evaluates customer response and collects feedback. Depending on the product's resonance and popularity, the decision will be made to remake and restock. This small-scale design model allows for freedom to create dynamic pieces and small batch collections.
How It Works
Kicheko donates a percentage of proceeds from all sales towards a scholarship fund that grants students access to quality, consistent and safe education in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently, Kicheko is working with Mango Tree School, a primary school based in Uvira that educates over 200 primary-level students in the South Kivu province who cannot afford school fees and other costs associated with attending school. In 2013, proceeds from Kicheko were used to provide school fees and supplies for children who have been orphaned by the conflict. In 2014, proceeds from Kicheko were used to help construct a 6-classroom brick school building for the Mango Tree School and provide scholarships for children in the community to attend Mango Tree School.
The future of Kicheko looks bright. At this initial phase of building the business into a sound and sustainable model, we are committed to partnering with Mango Tree School. In the future, we dream of partnering with effective organizations on children's education and women's empowerment. Also, collaborating with artists on collections and providing a marketplace for Congolese-made goods.
When Congo comes up in the news, it most likely centers around longstanding instability, conflict minerals, corruption, lack of infrastructure, or all of the above. Local and international rebels find safe havens in the jungles and mountains of the East. Natural resources and competition for control of minerals in the East also fuel the conflict. Some cite the conflict in the Congo being one of the the deadliest since World War II, with an estimated 5 million dead as a result. Gender-based violence is used as a tactic of war threatening the fabric of families and stability of communities. While all of this goes on and diplomatic efforts strive to stem the tide, children are marginalized, undernourished and under-resourced - their future hanging in the balance.
What We Experienced
The odds against Congo can be overwhelming but they are not the whole story. For 5 years, I have traveled with a dedicated team of peers with diverse experiences in medical, business, construction, financial, management, educational, and advocacy fields. Each year, we realize that hope can be made tangible and that resilience is in all of us.
We've seen the ascending tall hills that surround Uvira, walked on the volcanic rock in Goma, heard about the rain forests to the north and marveled at the stillness of Lake Tanganyika. The landscapes are breathtaking and it is easy to see how this country is endowed with so much and all the potential that exists. The beauty also extends to the people we have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know throughout the years. From the heartfelt greetings, incredible hospitality and deep conversations despite language barriers, we have learned so much about what truly matters in life and what makes a life.
We have come to know Congolese pastors with true father's hearts who started a center to raise children orphaned by the conflict. We have come to know the beautiful and strong women who run the center and are adopted mothers to the children. We have witnessed the close knit and communal spirit of these communities despite forces trying to tear them apart. It is a country of paradox and a distressed history but it is also very much a country of hope and beauty.
In my travels, it has been uplifting to see their perseverance and experience their joy. Even in the midst of poverty, sickness, and the looming threat of instability - they hold fast to God, community and to hope. Their smiles and laughter pierce my Western jadedness and has been healing medicine and catharsis. The sweetness of this simple yet profound fact is something that I wish to pay forward with Kicheko - that the products, stories and collaborations bring a smile to your face and light to your life. What I've learned from my relationship with this Congolese community is that we need each other to grow, transform, and to realize our full potential. There is complication in community but more so, there is beauty and life.