An interview with Jimani Collections: creating a sustainable solution to poverty in Kenya

At the International Development Journal, we strive to expose important and empowering development projects to our readers. We had the privilege of getting to know more about Jimani Collections, a company focused on creating a sustainable solution to poverty in Kenya. 

How was Jimani Collections started and why it was started?

Before Jimani Collections was officially created, it started with our founder, Jennifer Bentley, who grew up in Kenya. She had been teaching jewellery classes in Nairobi and, one day after teaching, she saw women and children huddled around piles of trash, searching for scrap metal to sell for food. Jen’s training course was the main source of income for many of these women, and many more desperately wished to become a part of her classes to better support their families. Jen knew that she was providing a valuable opportunity for a number of women and wanted to extend this even further through an official brand. In conjunction with my interest in social enterprises and seeing a need to change the way we buy products, Jen, myself, and our team in Kenya created Jimani Collections.

How do you believe you are contributing to development?

The foundation of Jimani Collections focuses on creating a sustainable solution to poverty. We aim to equip women with the skills necessary to create their own businesses in the future, through both education and design, and we take great pride in supporting these women throughout their lives. By providing steady salaries to the women we employ and the artisans we work with, we’re able to create opportunity and improve the lives of countless families. We hope to spread this same business model throughout the world in years to come.

Do you have any inspiring stories about the visible impact of your work on an individual or a community?

From more easily providing food for their families to creating a solid community in our workshop, there are so many large (and small) ways in which our brand is impacting others. The most inspiring story, for me, has been that of our manager in Kenya, Eunice. She is incredibly driven and a natural leader, and she has been a large part of building our brand. Eunice has two children and small girl named Ruth who she found abandoned on the side of a road several years ago. Before Jimani Collections, her family would, often, go without food – her and her husband did not have a job to pay for expenses. In her own words, “Because of Jimani Collections, we no longer lack food, my children have nice clothes to wear, I am able to pay the house rent, and, whenever my mother is in need, I am able to send to her money. There is a huge difference between the Eunice of today and that of when I started.”

There are so many women we have been able to empower through Jimani Collections, and Eunice’s story is one that really speaks out to me.

How did you expand to the US?

Both Jen and I are very familiar with the markets in the US – I grew up here, and Jen is now based here. We’ve been able to reach out to different markets as I’m based in Chicago and she’s based in Dallas, and we’ve found a way to coordinate inventory and sourcing from Kenya to the US. Jen is able to travel back to Nairobi about once a year, giving more insight into the creation process and preparing for new products with our women. Quality control is very important, especially when selling to markets in the US and Europe, and it has been a main focus throughout our process. Aside from the US, we’ve also had quite a bit of interest from markets in Europe, which is outstanding and is an area we’d really like to focus on in the coming year.

How widespread do you believe the impact of Jimani Collections is?

Our impact goes beyond the 6 women we currently employ – investing in women means investing in their families and communities. I like to say there is a multiplier effect in action, leading not only to increased salaries and a better quality of life, but also benefits for the community in terms of more businesses, better-educated families, and, overall, more prosperous communities. Although we currently work with a relatively small group of women and artisans, we know this impact is spreading to large groups and, the more we expand, the more of a lasting impact Jimani Collections can have on communities around the world.

Why is the empowerment of women important to the company?

Women have an untapped potential and, simultaneously, a significant ability to influence their community. During a trip to India, I remember a mother pushing her four children towards myself and a group of friends, telling her kids to beg for pencils for school. From such a young age, these children were taught that begging was a way of life, a way to get by. This dependency was heartbreaking – it felt like a vicious cycle that felt impossible to break yet, ultimately, started with the parents.

Women have the ability to greatly influence their families and, in turn, empower generations of driven and intelligent individuals. Focusing on women and the contributions they can make to their communities have since been at the centre of Jimani Collections.

Finally, what are the plans for the future of the company and what is the end goal?

We have quite a few exciting plans in the works for the coming year – we’re planning on expanding our product ranges, including new skills for our women, along with a more robust business program, providing formal education for our women in the areas of entrepreneurship, finance, and general business administration. We hope to add a few more women to our team in Kenya, along with scaling our business in terms of inventory. Lastly, we have a project in the works with an artisan group in South America, and we really look forward to providing a limited edition collection to our customers.

Ultimately, our end goal is to equip our women with versatile and valuable skills that they can use outside of Jimani Collections to create their own sustainable businesses. Through more formal and organized courses, along with guided support once our women leave our brand, we hope to see all of our graduates become successful entrepreneurs within their community.

Interview with Stephanie Stanton – Director of Marketing and Business Development at Jimani Collections
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