Nashipai: Bold, Socially Conscious Jewelry | Interview with Founder, Jenny Behrens


 

Nashipai : (nai-she-pie)

/n/ ever happy


Nashipai means “ever happy” in Maasai, the language of the Maasai people, a semi-nomadic and pastoral tribe in Kenya and Tanzania. Nashipai is the name that was given to founder Jenny Behrens by the Maasai women.




 




Press play for audio interview. Complete interview transcript below.



 



In the Entonent community in Kenya, 57% of people experience extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 per day. For each piece of jewelry that the Maasai women make, they will earn two to three times the base hourly wage and be able to invest their earnings as they see fit back into their family and community. With a focus on the Maasai women, they can spur economic progress within their community. According to the UN, when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men.



Interview Transcript with Nashipai Founder, Jenny Behrens and

AMIDST Editor, Jessica Pfohl Paisley


Jessica Pfohl Paisley:[00:00:00] Thank you so much for being here today. My name is Jessica Pfohl Paisley, and I am the editor and founder of Amidst magazine. We're here with Jenny Behrens and she is the founder of Nashipai, an organization that really focuses on socially conscious jewelry. I'm really excited to hear today and explain a little bit about her business. As most of you know, Amidst is focused on supporting creatives that are based in the Midwest, talking about where the Midwest meets, art, beauty, culture, design, fashion, film, music, photography, and kind of all things creative. I love how this ties into several of our categories and our goal telling these stories or helping share these stories and giving this platform is to expand the definition of what the Midwest experience is. There's so many things happening. There's so many things going on and we're really excited to hear from Jenny today. .


Jenny Behrens: Hi everyone. My name is Jenny Behrens and I'm super excited to be here today. Just a little bit about myself, I'm originally from Wisconsin, so I am definitely a Midwestern girl born and [00:01:00] raised. I actually have lived abroad a lot in my life. I lived in Spain for about eight years, in Ecuador for a year, and then they moved back to the Midwest and I got a full-time job at a nonprofit and we organized language and cultural immersion programs abroad. That's what brought me into this opportunity of traveling to Kenya, meeting the women in Kenya and led me to the whole project with Nashipai.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: That's really amazing. I know when I attended Fashion Week Minnesota, that's how we get a chance to connect and coming across some of your jewelry or some of the pieces that you've curated. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the specialty pieces, I know they were in the fashion show, which was really cool to have some of the pieces produced by the women and just a little bit of the background on all of that.


Jenny Behrens: When we first started Nashipai, we really want to stay true to the Maasai women in their culture and really working with the women on different designs that are true to who they are and how they bead and so we have a lot of traditional Maasai pieces. If you look on our webpage, a lot of Maasai colors are the primary colors. They're [00:02:00] very bold colors, very bright colors, so you're gonna get a lot of blue, green, orange, red, white and black, and those are the main color sources. When we went into fashion week, we really wanted to work alongside the designers to really complement their designs. But at the same time, they really wanted to complement their designs as well, so we actually worked alongside the women and we incorporated a lot of gold which is also like a bead that is used not so much in the, in the Maasai tribe, but also in other tribes in Kenya, they use it as a sign of prosperity and wealth. We incorporated a lot of those designs and actually the goal of their cuff was designed originally by one of our main beaders who's out of Nairobi. She had that design and then we went off that inspiration of our beaded, gold cuff for the other items. Arianne really worked, the designer, really worked, made some sketches and things and Mercy, who is very talented, that made those come alive and we were able to incorporate [00:03:00] it. Still being true to beading, which is part of the Maasai culture, but also adding in different contemporary flares and stuff for those pieces made for fashion week. That's how our design process usually goes. The women send me different designs that they have for earrings and we look them over and see what would be something that we feel that customers here in consumers here would want to wear and enjoy wearing. We have a lot of bold pieces, but we also have some more minimal pieces because we understand that everyone who wants to wear bold, like these are black dangling. They're bold in the sense or a statement because they're longer, but at the same time, they're black and so they can go with all of your clothes at the same time. We have a variety of designs and we're working on how to incorporate more things as well as we go along, but we also want to stay true to the Maasai women. We're also working, I'm talking about designs, we're actually starting to work with brass. The women are actually learning how to hammer brass, polish the brass and they're learning a new trade. Brass is actually really [00:04:00] common in Kenya and in a sense there's a lot of metal work, but it's not usually seen as a woman's trade. We're actually having some brass workers work with the women and teach them how to do that hammering and those other skillsets because it's always good to learn new trades. That is also something that we see here in the U.S., it's just quite trendy to have the hammered brass pieces as well.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: I didn't realize that the collaborative process was so entwined with working with the designer on each end for the fashion show, and then behind the scenes, having your designers in Kenya being able to do that, so that's really exciting to hear too, that there's that communication happening to put something together that works for a unified look overall.


Jenny Behrens: I was just going to explain a little bit, I don't know if you want me to go into a little bit of the background of how we work with the women and how they actually get the beads and all of that kind of process.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: Yes, please. I was going to ask about that sourcing and then if you could explain how you work with them on raising the income base and all of that.


Jenny Behrens: First we formed [00:05:00] the women's cooperative. It's called the Nashipai Women's Cooperative in Kenya, so everyone knows Nashipai is actually the Maasai name that the women gave me when I was living with them in Kenya and it means ever happy. They say that I smile a lot and so I took the name graciously and I love it. That's where the whole the name comes for the organization as well. They actually have the Nashipai Women's Cooperative in Kenya and they live in a very, very rural village on the border of Tanzania and when you wake up, you can see Mount Kilimanjaro. It's just, it's absolutely gorgeous but there is a lack of infrastructure in the sense of roads and accessibility to get from Nairobi to that community. The women are natural entrepreneurs themselves and they want to sell their jewelry. They have this natural talent to bead but the issue is there's no access to a market. The closest market could be, for example, there's a local safari that's about an hour and a half away, but even to commute an hour and a half to sell your goods is not feasible or possible for the women to do daily because of the transportation.[00:06:00] Then to get to Nairobi, it's about four and a half hours, so that's not feasible as well. There's not tourism, there's no one really going into the village and really us working with the women in the cooperative allows them to have access to a market here in the United States. Once we formed the cooperative with the women there, we actually have a point person, Mercy who's also an artisan in Nairobi and she actually does all of our purchasing of the beads and the tools, then we use a carrier service to send them to the women in Entonent. What we really wanted to do that anyone that's part of the Nashipai cooperative, that there's no barrier to access for them to be part of that. Even barriers to access could be the cost of buying the materials to make the bracelet. Even though that's minimal for us, 20 cents, maybe to a dollar or whatever, it would cost to make something, that would be something that would inhibit them from joining and being able to work for us. The women are provided with all the beads, all the material and some of the trainings. The women are natural beaders, it's part of their culture and [00:07:00] tradition, but there's certain things such as making an item adjustable, right? A lot of times they will sew on their bracelets in the sense that they're actually finishing on their wrists and wear that bracelet until it falls off. Working through those things, like how you do find finishing for something to be sold or how everything has to, even though it's handmade and everything's a little bit different, that it should have the general same pattern. We really work through that and so all the supplies and everything is provided, and then when I place the order, all the women bead together. The president of Nashipai, she has an area where they can all be together, so they bead in community and then the women are paid per piece that they complete, that passes the quality inspection. We don't have to sell the piece for the women to be paid and anything that I purchase from them they're being paid for. Also, I do a lot of research with the Living Wage Coalition and the minimum wage standards in Kenya to make sure that we are paying the women per hour, the minimum that has been researched [00:08:00] by the Living Wage Coalition and at least three times the rate of minimum wage per hour per piece. If we know, for example, one piece, like a bangle, takes so long to make, we're making sure that they're paid three times the minimum wage per hour of what that like average takes to make that piece of jewelry. We're really hoping that right now we're working with approximately 15 artisans and as we expand that that can become more and more of a full-time wage. A lot of the women work in other areas in the village, such as like an agriculture or other odds and end jobs. This is really allowing them to supplement their income and we're hoping as we grow, the women will be able to then have this be more of their full-time position and then they able to have a living wage, complete living wage and support their families. Most of the women use the money or have expressed to me that they're using the money to pay for school fees for their children or just to cover the [00:09:00] basic cost of living. The women are able to use the money as they see fit. It's just their salary and their wage. There's a lot of studies, and one that was done by the UN that says that when you pay women, they actually keep 90% of their income within the family and within the community. We know that employing and partnering with women in Kenya is allowing for that community to grow and become enriched because of that, because they will keep that money within the family and support their family.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: That's absolutely amazing. Just to know that kind of information and what the impact that it's having, that's just fascinating. I love stories like this. You know, we always talk about as the magazine, we really like to interview cool people doing cool things, but also important things. How long has the company been up and going and the co-operative?


Jenny Behrens: The company officially launched a year ago, so November 13th. I actually went to Kenya in June, 2019 and when I was there, the women had asked if I would help them, start to look for ways to sell their joy abroad and start a market. That's when I decided that I should just start this business to [00:10:00] provide them with this market. That process started almost right away and so we started working in forming the cooperative with the women almost a year before we launched and we already started working on designs and training and things before that. The women have been receiving payments from Nashipai for almost about two years, but it's actually launching and being in businesses about for one year.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: That's amazing. I love stories like this. To understand, looking at how you talk about your business on your website, partnering alongside these talented entrepreneurs, handmade pieces, colorful jewelry, and things that people want to wear. I know for myself personally, knowing that pieces are ethically sourced and people that are being paid a fair living wage is really, really important. I think that, the more awareness that comes out of that and how people are becoming more socially conscious, it's really an important story to tell and knowing that you can have an impact halfway around the world is also really huge, too.


Jenny Behrens: Yeah and I think really what we [00:11:00] want to emphasize to at Nashipai, that it's a partnership with the women. It's not a charity, it's not helping or assisting, they are actually fully employed with us. They're their own entrepreneurs and we are in partnership together. I talk to the president of Nashipai, Jenipher and then Mercy, who's in Nairobi, we talk daily all the time, and then we have meetings with the women as well. There's constant communication and constant delegation and if they think, this isn't fair or this is this, we are constantly talking about that and in communication and more of a community together. It's important, not just for me to say yes, they're paid fair wages, we're actually working on becoming a fair trade certified. You have to be one year in business, so we're working on getting that certification so that we have that outside source looking into our process, looking into what we're paying, interviewing the women as well, and just verifying from an outside source that what we are doing is the fair trade standard. I understand that there [00:12:00] could be people who would say they're doing something and not do it so we want to make sure that everyone understands that there is something also besides me backing it up, that we've actually been certified. That's really important for us to be very transparent in what we do and what we're paying the women and be transparent in all of our policies.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: I appreciate you saying that and clarifying the kind of language that you use, that it's not a charity, it's not a program where you're assisting them. Without them, you wouldn't have a product to be selling and so it is truly, clearly a partnership that they're just as much as involved in as you are.


Jenny Behrens: We both mutually need each other for this to function. A lot of times people say, "Oh, you're helping them so much", but they're also helping me because this is a social enterprise and so it's also my business. It's also the brand and my livelihood as well. In a sense, we're building up to that and so we work together to make this mission possible. The mission is really to support women and entrepreneurship, I would say more [00:13:00] helping or donating or a charity. Mutually beneficial is the relationship for sure.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: Thank you for sharing all of that. Is there anything else that you, that we haven't discussed that you want to make sure that that you share about your organization, about the cooperative?


Jenny Behrens: I think the one other thing, is we do a donation of menstrual products. The women and I discuss what's another way that they want us to give back to their community and what would they see that would be something that would be beneficial for their community and they decided menstrual products. In the world, 500 million people, suffer from period poverty, which means they either lack access or can't afford products, or they don't have a bathroom area to do what they need to do, why they have their period or even like waste management or facilities and all these different components. In Kenya it's about 65% of women can not afford or do not have access to menstrual products. Even in the U.S.,It's one in four women, it is a problem that affects women or anyone who menstruates worldwide. We actually are partnering with [00:14:00] Days for Girls, they have invented a reusable pad that's made out of cloth. We donate a kit cost about $10 and we actually are buying our kits from a local sewing enterprise outside of Nairobi. The coolest thing about Days for Girls is they have a social enterprise where they train women in countries where people are buying Days for Girls kits, they open their own sewing enterprise. We're really supporting another business in Kenya that's comprised of women, so we buy our kitsthere. When the kit is delivered, Jenipher the president of Nashipai cooperative, does an educational training on , the menstruation cycle and how it's not something to be ashamed of and how we should end the stigma. 3% of all sales go back to that donation of menstrual products, you can actually buy a kit for $10 and that will be donated directly back into the community. The great thing is a kit can actually last up to three years. When I dug in and did more research, because I didn't understand, even in the U.S. [00:15:00] that women and menstruators suffer from period poverty here in the U.S. It's not just in developing countries, but it's actually affects women and menstruators worldwide and so I think it has definitely opened my eyes to what was going on.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: That's amazing. I know on a local level, I've worked with organizations like the Red Basket Project and others that work with people that are in need of menstruation products. It's a basic need and some people don't think of it like that. And to have that conversation, to have that awareness, it's just another one of those conversations about it's important to end the stigma, like you were saying, and to not be ashamed of it and know that these are again, basic need products. Thank you so much for not only doing it, but sharing that with us and I really am excited to help support that.


Jenny Behrens: Thanks. It's I think it's a great addition to what we're doing and definitely needed. I think a lot of people for me, from a place of privilege where I was just always able to go to Target and buy what I needed. I didn't realize from that place of [00:16:00] privilege that there was such a need for it. The women allowed me to even open up my eyes even more and learn a lot more about it as well, so I'm really grateful. They've opened my eyes to many different things from living with them and I've learned so much from them as well. I'm just grateful too, that I learned a lot and we're kind of learning together and that we're able to support the whole community. Right now we are just starting, as we grow, more and more beaders will be able to join us and artisans, but it is nice to be able to support everyone in the community as well.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: One more question for you before we end was, you know, how did you end up there? What was the decision to go there in June of 2019? If you don't mind me asking?


Jenny Behrens: Oh, no, of course. My full-time job, we organize language and cultural immersion programs, so actually was traveling with the group from St. Paul. We were there on a community driven project to build a health clinic. We were living in the community for about three weeks and we were helping them, alongside them, build a health [00:17:00] clinic. That's just really when I formed a relationship with a women, especially with Jenipher and with Happiness, who are the president and the vice-president and they are very, very entrepreneurial. They were like, we have a group of women, then we had an official meeting the last day and they came with all of their Maasai jewelry on and really just presented the quality of work that they can do, and if there's any way that we could help them sell their jewelry and I was like, well, this is amazing. It was really great because I was able to form a relationship with them, we drank tea, we would go to church together, we work together. I would have really wished to have gone back sooner, but hopefully this next summer I'll be able to go back, but with technology and everything, even though they're in a remote village, Jenipher has a smartphone, so I'm able to talk to Jenipher and we're able to communicate and we're still able to work and have a supply chain. It's just crazy when you really think about it, how remote they are that we can actually talk [00:18:00] and figure it out.


Jessica Pfohl Paisley: Thank you so much for being here with us today. I really love starting the foundation of the conversation around the jewelry, but also the process that you take, the meaning behind it, and then the additional supportive ways that you collaborate with the women, it was just amazing to hear. Thank you so much for being here with us today and we look forward to continue to follow the story.


Jenny Behrens: Yeah, I'm excited. Thank you for so much for having me. It was great.





Jenny Behrens is a Midwest creative and founder of Nashipai.

Follow their story on social media @mynashipai and https://www.mynashipai.com/.