In Rwanda inzuki means bee, and Teta Isibo is the queen bee of Inzuki Designs. The company initially started as a hobby for Isibo that evolved into a part-time venture in 2010, and becoming a full-time business in 2012 that’s been busy buzzing since it opened its doors.
Educated in the United Kingdom with a professional background in urban planning, Isibo always had a creative bent and fascination with design. “As a child I would get in trouble for destroying my mother’s treasured accessories to make what I believed were better pieces. I was always thinking up new designs but never considered that I would end up in this industry, I always thought it was just a hobby,” Isibo wrote in an email to HAND/EYE.
During her visits back home to Africa, she would bring back to the UK jewelry and craft that became her personal fashion trademark. “I however realized that throughout the years there was never much evolution in the design of local handcrafts; it was always the same things being sold. When I moved back home in 2006, I worked with the Mayor of Kigali’s office as an urban planner. There was a social department that taught women how to weave baskets. I met one of their weavers and gave her a design of earrings to make for me because I was bored by all the designs in the market. She made it, I loved it, my friends loved it and from there my interest in design and hand-made just kept growing and growing.”
And from that moment, Isibo’s hobby of designing pieces for herself became a side business. Finally in 2012, she made the leap to launch the Inzuki Designs and make it her full-time job, making it her mission to promote and sell contemporary African products on a global platform through retail, wholesale and ecommerce. The company currently employs 86 artisans. Among the employees a handful have been practicing their traditional artisan skills since a young age, but others were trained in government and NGO programs that were developed soon after the genocide in 1994, providing people with skills that would help them end the cycle of poverty. “These artisans although well-trained and greatly talented did not necessarily have the innovation to improve on their products or a good platform to sell them. At Inzuki Designs we work with artisans that have great potential and willingness to evolve their skills. We select artisans based on their skills in their craft but most importantly their willingness to learn and explore new ways of cultivating their craft and improving the quality and consistency of their products. These artisans use their skills to transform our design concepts into unique, bold and stylish pieces.”
The design concepts start with an idea. Isibo’s inspiration is sparked by different elements including a blend of people, places, things and times, but also colors, textures, shapes and patterns. “I love to blend traditional and modern, local and global, so if I see something interesting in one category I’ll look for a way to add the other category.”
Once the design is visualized, she determines what raw materials and technique is best suited for the new product. “If I have an idea for a type of necklace I want, I will have to decide whether to use beads or grass and from there which beading or weaving technique to use. After this we will decide which group of artisans to give the new design to, based on their skills. I will work on a sample with one skilled artisan from the group. Once we get it right we will also try out different color schemes and patterns and decide on which work best. One we decide on color/pattern and size ranges we will then work on matching pieces e.g. earrings and bracelets. By this point the rest of the group is already learning how to do the new design and we will then place an initial order of a certain number of pieces. This same process generally applies to how we make our collections as well.”
Inzuki’s products are made from locally sourced materials, including sisal and palm leaf. The woven jewelry is made by applying traditional basket weaving styles. The company also makes beaded jewelry made from glass beads and seed beads with crochet beading as the main technique used for the jewelry.
Jewelry can be purchased in the Inzuki boutique in Rwanda and in Uganda, but the company also sells products at different expos and events around the world. Retail and wholesale buyers will get a chance to view Inzuki Designs products from February 1-4 at NY NOW's Artisan Resource that will be held at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.
For more information, please visit www.inzukidesigns.com.