If you’ve come across our glorious embroidered motif baskets since we launched the collection in 2019 you might be familiar with the story behind them. We collaborated with British illustrator Jacqueline Colley who designed the playful and popular motifs (rainbows, cacti, a slice of watermelon, a pineapple and a llama) and Kenyan artist Nduta Kariuki who up until very recently hand embroidered every single basket herself, from her workshop in Nairobi.
We told the first chapter of their story through a blog post in 2019. The way that this collection has evolved in directions we couldn’t have imagined (hello, Anthropologie!) is a perfect case study for the somewhat unpredictable, organic growth of an ethical brand. It’s just a wonderful story too, and its one we’ve wanted to share for a while.
The plot began to thicken when our embroidered collection caught the attention of Anthropologie in 2020, who we then worked with to produce three face baskets in Picasso-esque, line-drawing style.
JICHO Embroidered Face Basket £40
These embroidered baskets were designed by Anthropologie, handwoven by a rural weaving group in Kenya and hand embroidered by Nduta. After six months of selling the face baskets exclusively at Anthropologie, we then began to stock these small embroidered baskets online ourselves - and they continue to be very popular.
There then came a point earlier this year when it became clear that the embroidery work was becoming too large a job for one artist alone. We knew that we needed to train more people to embroider, so that we could keep fulfilling our wholesale orders on time and continue to build our capacity to handle more frequent and voluminous basket orders.
Pineapple and Llama Baskets make for funky shelf storage! Image credit: @jacquelinecolley
The extra special thing about these embroidered baskets is that they create work in three different, traditional crafts: weaving, embroidery, and leatherwork. Strengthening our ability to sell greater numbers of these beautifully stitched baskets has brought more sustainable work to an ever-growing collective of artisans in Kenya.
... And they're also creating new opportunities to learn and earn from their new skills. In April this year, Nduta spent eight days training a group of craftspeople to embroider pineapples, rainbows, watermelon slices, llamas and cacti, seashells – as well as the three different faces – onto our handwoven sisal baskets. Nduta continues to embroider baskets for us, but she's now sharing the ever increasing load with her new team.
Work in progress...Nduta (top left) oversees Jane's needlework
New embroiderers Mercy, Caroline, Jane, Veronica and John are no strangers to us at The Basket Room: they are employed by a leather works in Nairobi that we have partnered with for the past three years. Led by the inspiring and entrepreneurial Isabel, this workshop is a hub of creativity and community, and Isabel is devoted to bringing work and new skills to as many local people as she can.
When Isabel set up her own leather works in 2018, The Basket Room was her first client
What began as a leatherworks contract soon became a more dynamic relationship for us and for Isabel, who now oversees a portion of our global logistics whilst managing a team of artisans who carry out leatherwork, embroidery and quality control checks on the baskets. Today, all the Kenyan-made baskets we sell are couriered from their various rural locations to Isabel’s site before being shipped to us in the UK.
Mercy, Caroline, Jane, Veronica and John first got to know our baskets by stitching the leather handles, straps and tabs to them, and hand-stamping the leather tabs with our logo. They still do this work, but now they're stitching yarn as well as leather!
Jane (L) and Mercy stitching leather straps to our KIFALME Wool & Sisal totes
We had a Whatsapp chat with Mercy last week who told us that her favourite designs are the pineapple, watermelon and rainbow baskets, and that the seashell baskets – which she and the team are working on at the moment – are probably the most challenging design to work on. Shell baskets take approximately an hour to embroider per piece, and the team all enjoy the work and learning new skills.
Peris (our production manager based in Gilgil in Kenya) regularly Whatsapps pictures to us in the UK, forwarded from Isabel in Nairobi. These pictures show the women teaching and learning together, practising and supporting one another as they carefully produce basket after beautifully embroidered basket, each one a symbol of progress and of connection.
Shop the full Embroidered Motif Baskets collection here.