Art Safi Self Help Group, Kisii
Zuri Design started buying soapstone from the Charles Ombasa and his cousins’ business in 2003. The cousins are from Kisii which is in the western highlands of Kenya. Kisii is the region where most of the world’s supply of soapstone originates.
Kisii is the region where most of the world’s supply of soapstone originates. Despite the area being one of the world’s largest producers of soapstone and home to the best soapstone artisans and carvers, it is extremely poor. There are very few cars here and no electricity apart from in a few places such as shops. Most of the children walk barefoot and the poverty is obvious when you visit any of the villages surrounding Kisii. Most people who live here live a subsistence lifestyle (i.e. just enough to survive and buy basics such as food, water and some clothing) growing their own food and keeping chickens, cows and goats. Soapstone provides an income for many people but often the work is not paid well.
Our orders are managed by Charles Ombasa of Art Safi. Art Safi works with a number of highly skilled carvers and artists. We ensure that the prices we pay are reviewed annually and we pay on average 25% above the local market wholesale price.
Originally there were 9 member of the group but that grew to 25 in 2008, with 16 in Kisii and 9 based in Nairobi, due to large orders being placed by Zuri Design. There are now 17 members.
Zuri Design has worked continuously with this group to formalise their self help group structure and to encourage the group to distribute shares so that committed members have a real chance to increase their standard of living by working with the group. We pay 75% of order value upfront and ensure that the balance is paid on time. Often the soapstone workers are taken advantage of by buyers who can make them wait three months and more before they are paid.
“A Word From Helen!
Our biggest selling range is soapstone. It is a beautiful and tactile stone. The skill of the carvers and artisans is incredible especially when you see first hand the hand held tools used. When I visit Kisii I am struck by the poverty despite it exporting so much soapstone around the world. The middlemen are making profits while the producers struggle. That’s why buying fair trade soapstone is vital to bringing about change in this industry. There are a number of large organisations which work in Kisii and since we started working in this area over 10 years ago there has been great progress made thanks to fair trade. More and more fair trade soapstone groups are being established. Its essential we keep supporting this group and its products so that the progress made continues and the lives of soapstone producers improves with prices paid reflecting the skill and workmanship as well as man hours involved. Our aim is to bring you the latest and highest quality soapstone products available so you can supply your customers with unique soapstone which brings a positive impact to communities in Kisii.