Saturday, March 01, 2008


With this being the first day of March, the signs of spring are upon us. Daylight savings time begins next Sunday, spring officially starts with the vernal equinox on March 20, and Easter Sunday is March 23. Spring means that it’s coming time to lighten up your wardrobe and makeup.

The fashion magazines say that safari looks will be big this year. For me, safari looks are a perennial. In addition to the bush jacket-inspired looks, I enjoy wearing necklaces and other accessories made of wood, horn, seeds, and other natural elements. I have several pieces by Zulugrass, which features beads that are cut from grass and dyed. In particular, I love the subtle gradations of color to be found in Zulugrass pieces.

Philip and Katy Leakey founded Zulugrass to provide work for Maasai women in Kenya during a severe drought that forced their men to travel longer distances to graze their cattle. Recently, Kenya has been afflicted by civil unrest and violence in the wake of presidential elections. After I bought my latest Zulugrass piece, I wrote to the company and asked if their workers had been adversely affected by the recent civil unrest and violence. I was told that Zulugrass artisans have not been directly affected by the violence; however, more and more people are seeking work through Zulugrass, given that tourism has plummeted due to prospective tourists' fear of violence. I was then asked if I would like to interview Katy by phone while she was in the United States.

Katy and I discussed the founding of Zulugrass. Her husband Philip is a scion of the storied Leakey family that has done pioneering research into the forerunners of homo sapiens. Katy said that Philip has an intimate and all-encompassing knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Rift Valley in Kenya and that he had the idea for fashioning jewelry from grass. Katy, an artist and designer, designed the first pieces of Zulugrass - grass beads and crystal beads strung on elastic bands. These strands can be combined and worn in many different ways. Philip and Katy then set up mobile work stations where the women, who are experts at beading, can string the jewelry.

The Leakey Collection has expanded to included wood and even porcelain fired and shaped by the Maasai women. In addition to necklaces, bracelets, and other accessories, The Leakey Collection is now marketing decorative trims for the home.

I asked Katy how the rest of us can support their efforts to create work opportunities for the Maasai. Buy the products. You may find stores and websites that sell Zulugrass via its website. You may occasionally find Zulugrass from authorized vendors on eBay. The company is seeking additional vendors to broaden its markets and create opportunities for more people. If you are a vendor or know someone who would be interested in selling Zulugrass and related products, you are invited to contact the company.

In addition, revive tourism in Kenya. The places in the Rift Valley where tourists go were not affected by the recent violence. Moreover, violence had subsided while talks between political rivals were underway (they have since come to a power-sharing agreement). The dropoff in tourism has had a cascading effect through the rest of the economy.

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