Pretty steps out of Africa

Kavitha Srinivasa | Updated on March 10, 2011




When he is not guiding Italian tourists in Kenya's coastal region of MBealindi, Anderson Nyale, 25, uses his beadwork skills to embellish footwear that is sold in faraway Bangalore, Hyderabad and California. The additional income of Kshs 15,000 (about Rs 8,000) every month helps Nyale meet his household expenses and educate his family.

“Kenya is home to talented bead-workers, who belong to the Giriama and Samburu tribe,” says Azu Mohamed, the woman responsible for bringing this exquisite beaded footwear to Bangalore. A second-generation Asian-Kenyan from Nairobi, Azu married an Indian and moved to Bangalore ten years ago.

During one of her visits home to Nairobi, her brother gave her the idea of introducing trendy African footwear in India. Azu brought over about 10 pairs and displayed them at the Kahawa Gallery for Design, an art and craft store in Bangalore. Soon, she discovered she had a potential business on her hand. Besides the growing demand locally, she had orders from other cities in India as well as places in Europe. She then formally launched the footwear brand and called it AZU's. “Kenyan footwear is hand-stitched. The uppers are made of pure leather, with a rubber sole for comfort. These are embellished with high-quality glass beads from Czechoslovakia. The men's footwear is a combo of suede uppers and a car tyre sole,” Azu says.

If you're wondering about the car tyre, Azu explains that the choice is driven purely by the comfort factor. “In times past, it is believed that Africans made footwear out of car tyres, and this practice continues in some parts of the continent,” she explains.

Initially she sourced the beadwork footwear only from the Giriama tribal women, but as demand increased she also roped in the tribal men for the work. Communication with the craftspeople was never a problem as Azu knows the local Kiswahili language. Many of the ideas for the footwear come from the craftspeople and they produce the beadwork in striking colours of silver, black and gold.

The workforce has grown to 20, which includes eight bead-workers. The bead-workers receive daily wages, depending on the number of pairs they complete each day. The working conditions are also flexible, with the option of working either at the factory and or from home.

The brand brings out six new designs every quarter. Occasionally, some designs are repeated in different colour combinations. “AZU's contributes about 15 per cent to Kahawa's annual income. The footwear is also retailed at Anshu Studio in California and Also Boutique in Hyderabad,” says Azu.

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Published on March 10, 2011
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