Kaleidoscope Beauty celebrates our differences — and similarities
From within a nation that feels so divided, it can be hard to imagine someone going out of their way to find beauty in the unfamiliar. But if you ask Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge, founder and director of Kaleidoscope Beauty, there is a whole lot of beauty in the world, especially in the places we sometimes forget to look.
From her base in London, Thuku-Benzinge directs a team of nine artisans based in Kenya. She recruits skilled young people from Kiberia, the largest urban slum in Africa (the third largest in the world) and Baba Dogo, both slums on the edge of Nairobi, Kenya. Her mission is to bring economic opportunities to these areas while giving young artists some credit within the fashion community.
Thuku-Benzinge spoke to us about her experiences, challenges and triumphs within her emerging business. Here is what she had to share.
Tell me about your background. How have your experiences shaped the way you approach Kaleidoscope Beauty?
Being British-born and of both Kenyan and Rwandan heritage, I’ve always had a very strong affinity with my East African roots and had a desire to amalgamate all my worlds. Kaleidoscope Beauty has enabled me to do just that as an ethically-driven business … using original East African designs and putting a contemporary spin on jewelry for our customers.
From a professional perspective, up until last May, I was working in the IT industry, closely aligned to the sales side of the business. My experience definitely gave me an insight into the importance of the sales funnel and listening to the customer, which have been transferable skills I utilize with the brand.
What is the mission of Kaleidoscope Beauty?
[We are] an ethically-driven business, keen to empower, work with and enrich the communities in which our jewelry is made. Our mission is to alleviate multi-generational poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa in a sustainable way through creativity.
The artisans making our pieces are youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, hoping to turn their lives around, developing new skills that will keep them away from the biggest threats to young men and women in slum areas — the prospects of a life of crime.
That’s the reason I love KB and our community; by purchasing our jewelry, customers are not just buying an aesthetically-pleasing piece of jewelry, they are supporting the dreams of those artisans that dare to change the cards life has dealt them and, in turn, their family’s future.
What does the name of the brand signify?
Ultimately, the brand is all about showcasing the beauty of Africa. Yes, in our jewelry, but this goes beyond that to the creatives, photographers, make up artists and beautiful scenery throughout, too. The concept of a kaleidoscope is to show how multifaceted the continent is in all its beauty.
Who are your artisans, and how did you get connected with that community?
My artisans are young men and women from disenfranchised communities in Sub-Saharan African slums. The two slums I currently work with are Baba Dogo and Kibera.
I got connected through networking while on the ground in Kenya. My Aunty Angie is always amazing when it comes to making contacts in Kenya — an absolute gem. She tends to point me in the right direction, and I go from there, meeting people, visiting artisans, seeing the products, visiting the workshop, etc.
Do the craftsmen design the pieces in addition to making them?
Some of our pieces are existing designs from the craftsmen and women; sometimes we add a contemporary twist to meet the needs of our customers, and sometimes they’re completely new designs I come up with.
How does KB give back to the communities that are involved in the jewelry-making process?
The positive social impact created by Kaleidoscope Beauty is job creation and an opportunity for young men and women to develop skills that enable them to earn a legitimate income and escape the life of crime that typically awaits someone in their shoes.
Having spoken to and interviewed some of the artisans myself, there has been a tangible impact. One example is Dennis, the young man featured in the company mission video. Since working, Dennis has left a life of crime behind to create an income that, in turn, has enabled him to start a business of his own and contribute to him pursuing his dreams of a career in acting.
Do your collections rotate based on the artisan(s) who are making the pieces? Would you consider your pieces “limited-edition?”
Typically, we release three collections a year. For the first year, collections rotated based on demand, as I figured out what items sell well and which ones don’t. Since then, it’s been a more collaborative approach with my artisans, experimenting with new designs, materials, etc. Moving forward, I’m looking into a limited edition-approach.
How does sustainability play into your mission?
Sustainability is a huge part of the business. All of our pieces are ethically sourced, and we use up-cycled materials where possible. As a scuba diver, I’m conscious of the effects we have on the planet as humans, so I try my best to stay mindful of this with the business too.
What does “beauty” mean to you? How have you explored the concept of beauty in all of the places that you’ve lived/traveled?
Beauty is everywhere, and to me, it shines through when we are the most honest versions of ourselves. Beauty is in how you treat others as well as yourself. In it’s purest form, beauty is honest and goes beyond the surface.
Through my various trips to various countries across the globe, I’m always inspired by the beauty in nature. Whether it’s the pristine beaches, green forestry full of life or safari across the savannah. It’s in the rich cultures of the native people, the connections built between us when we interact. It’s in our differences and similarities.
How do you hope people feel when they wear KB?
I hope people feel a sense of pride and joy when they wear KB for a number of reasons. Firstly, through their purchase, they’re supporting communities most likely in a different continent to the one they’re in, which is a very beautiful experience. Secondly, because they’re showcasing designs which are inspired from such a rich continent and giving credit where it is due, which isn’t always the case in fashion.
Find out more about Kaleidoscope Beauty at kaleidoscopebeauty.co.uk and @kaleidoscopebeautyltd on Instagram.