Meet & Greet: Heshima Kenya & The Maisha Collective

an interview with Emily S., Sales & Strategic Partnerships Coordinator

We were recently introduced to the beyond-gorgeous scarves over at The Maisha Collective. Like all good ethical products, they come with a wonderful story which we wanted to share with you! Have a read, hear Emily's favorite picks, and learn a little about the work they're supporting in Kenya. 

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So The Maisha Collective is the social enterprise of Heshima Kenya (we have more questions on that later!). What made you want to launch accessories production?
The story of our social enterprise, The Maisha Collective, begins with a young woman named Dahabo. At age 14, Dahabo fled to Kenya from her native Somalia. In 2009, Dahabo enrolled in our Girls' Empowerment Project. Recognizing her potential, we sponsored Dahabo in a training program to learn the centuries-old process of resist dyeing fabrics. She was excited to bring her knowledge back to Heshima and to teach her peers this traditional East African craft. Through her leadership and passion, The Maisha Collective has grown into an artisan collective of over 100 young refugee women with a diverse product range. Her designs are still used on scarves sold today. 

And how does The Maisha Collective give back?
The Maisha Collective is an established social enterprise that fosters leadership and business management skills through the design and production of unique hand-dyed fabrics and textiles. Here, participants gain life-long entrepreneurial business and marketing skills that develop their confidence and prepare them for future independence. Beyond economic empowerment, the Maisha Collective provides an opportunity for artisans to express themselves and share their art with the world. The process of hand-dying the fabrics and creating community through their work can be very therapeutic. Additionally, 100% of the revenue is reinvested into Heshima Kenya's programs and the savings of Maisha Collective members.

So about Heshima Kenya. Your mission statement is really unique! Can you elaborate a little more on what you do?
Heshima Kenya specializes in identifying and protecting unaccompanied and separated young refugee women and their children living in Kenya. Our shelter, education, and community outreach services, coupled with local resources and the refugee community, empower this population to live healthy lives. By providing resources for long-term support, refugee girls and young women become catalysts for strengthening networks creating sustainable change within the local and global communities.

How do you identify the people who need help?
Heshima Kenya is a Child Protection Implementing Partner to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) under the mandate of identifying and protecting unaccompanied refugee minors. We receive referrals from the UNHCR offices in Nairobi. We are also connected to the community and often receive referrals through our community outreach programs and satellite offices across Nairobi, other organizations like Refuge Point and Medicins Sans Frontières, as well as girls currently enrolled in Heshima’s programs.  

What kind of services and programs are you involved in?
We provide safety and shelter for our most vulnerable participants, deliver a multi-disciplinary education program for students of diverse levels, support economic empowerment through our scarf-making social enterprise, provide childcare, accompany our participants to legal and medical appointments and work within the refugee community in Kenya to identify, protect, and fight for the rights of the most vulnerable.

What's your favorite item? What do you wear the most? 
As of late, my favorite scarf is the Starburst Marigold & Moss. I think it’s the perfect subtle transition piece for fall, and pairs really well with our Mirielle earrings! However, my favorite part about the scarves in general – and reason why I’m caught wearing one six out of seven days in a week – is because the fabric gets softer with time, so they become both an ethical fashion statement and a cozy wardrobe staple! We also just branched out into the menswear category with a black & white bow tie in our Angie pattern, which was created in partnership with the artisans at Angelo Igitego in Rwanda, and I’d be lying if I told you it’s not one of my favorite collaborations that we’ve done.

Talk to us about the production process! Who makes them? How do you source the materials? How does dying work? 
The scarves are all hand-dyed and designed by our Maisha Collective members in Nairobi. We source the raw materials locally from vendors in the refugee community that we’ve become partners with over the years. The resist-dyeing process is much like that of tie-and-dye, as the girls fold/roll/bunch up the fabric and tie it according to the pattern. The fabric is then dyed, rinsed, and hung up to dry. This is repeated to add more colors if necessary. After the fabric is dry, the girls cut, sew, and tassle the fabric to create the finished scarves that you see on our site! This video details a little bit more about the process. 

Any unusual ways you've seen these voluminous, gorgeous scarves worn? Styling tips?
To support our efforts in Nairobi, every year we host a Fashion Challenge, which we are currently in the process of planning now. The event celebrates and supports refugee girls and young women in Nairobi, highlighting their work in the Maisha Collective. Competing designers will receive two Maisha Collective scarves and are challenged to create a runway look and the designs are presented at the event. Our designers always surprise us with their innovative use of the fabric in dresses, skirts, and even accessories. Check out the event video here. 

Our team has a scarf-styling tutorial video in the works, so be on the lookout for that for more ideas on how to wear our scarves! 

How can people get more involved with your mission?
There are so many ways you can help support Heshima Kenya and the refugees we serve! You can host a Scarf Social, lace up your running shoes and Hustle for Heshima, start a book club on refugee and girls’ rights, create a birthday campaign and/or simply tweet or post about us on social media. Learn more about getting involved here