In Kenya, those who work in the informal sector—small farmers, mechanics, and artisans for example—are known as jua kali, a Swahili word that means “hot sun.” About 70 percent of the country’s workforce are jua kali, and until recently they had limited access to training, business loans, or connections to larger markets for their goods. The artisans who made these hand-carved napkin rings are part of that sector, and their partnership with National Geographic is the result of recent initiatives to support and grow independent businesses.
Men and women of the eastern Kenya’s Kamba tribe work in a studio in Nairobi’s Gikomba neighborhood, where the income they earn often goes toward their children’s tuition costs. Traditionally men carve and sand the pieces, and women paint and polish them. Many of the artisans work alongside cousins and siblings, and the atmosphere is one of a close-knit family.
Each set contains a zebra, giraffe, elephant, and leopard. Please allow for small variations in each handcrafted piece.