So what is Zinj all about? Their slogan is “a contemporary take on traditional East African beadwork” and with that, their brand essence is to create ultra-contemporary products that pay homage to location, culture and East African tradition. Their specialty is beadwork, which is their iconic element consistent in all their products. Seeking to achieve high standards so as to compete in a global market, their products are all handmade using traditional methods and craftsmanship. “We never forget where we live and work,” Amanda states.
Zinj Design seeks to enthuse contemporary yet traditional elements in their products. “I think the new African woman wants to look great, to look cool, modern and probably urban. She also wants to say ‘this is me’ and ‘these are my roots,’” explains Amanda. With a Zinj Design bag, the new African woman is certain to feel both in touch with the modern world and yet tied to home.
At Zinj, they strive to create beautiful and unusual pieces that are unique and timeless. They only use local materials and every single aspect is handmade, often using very basic tools. “We have learned over time that African ingenuity is often the simplest and most lasting solution to a problem, hence our Kikoi linings are made on a 60 year old treadle machine.” Their hand-stitchers have fashioned paper clips into needles and all their brass belt buckles and handbag clips are cast by hand in sand molds after melting down Kenyan scrap metal and extracting the brass. Despite the difficult conditions they work with, it does not diminish the quality of the product but in fact enhances it.
“So much painstaking attention is paid to every aspect of our product quality that we can offer an unconditional, lifetime guarantee on everything.”
Their latest collection goes even further back into local, traditional aesthetics making use of even more traditional materials such as ostrich egg, horn, shells, seed pods, dried grass and glass beads. Inspired by African cave paintings and anthropological discovery’s such as the fossilized skull dating back 1.75 million years, Zinjanthropus in Tanzania in 1959. Fun fact, Zinj stems from the medieval term used to refer to the Southeast African region inhabited by Bantu speaking people transliterated from Zanj. The eclectically inspired collection is fittingly dubbed “Origins” and will be launching this September 2015.
“One of our central goals at Zinj Design is to have a truly Kenyan product and to that end we strive to source all materials locally which we are very proud of,” states Amanda. Initially, the brass handbag clips and belt buckles were sourced from the UK or India but now they are able to produce these locally from recycled brass resulting in the creation of 8 more jobs in brass casting. The leather, of high quality, and Kikoys, which make up the handbag lining are entirely sourced in Kenya. With regard to the glass beads, however, Amanda expounds on the fact that “they are actually made in the Czech Republic but their distribution has always been an important – and traditional – part of the Kenyan economy.” The only components sourced outside Kenya are the good quality brass zippers, which Amanda clarifies, are not available locally.
Here is what is important to associate the brand with: fashion house and a community. Starting out with a fundi working from their veranda to currently employing 60 people, every design, creative and production problem was faced as a team. Additionally, every successful product has been a result of “an extraordinary collaboration between us, the designers, and the people who actually do the handiwork,” Amanda explains. The beaders bring with them the traditional craftsmanship working in tandem with the whole team to collaboratively solve production problems together. It is this collaboration and sense of community that lends to the precision, consistency, characteristics and idiosyncratic style of a Zinj product.
A Zinj design is a product of not only community and fashion but also their surroundings. Takaungu, the ocean, shells, baobab trees, the local people, kangas, savannah, wildlife and Kenya as a whole are the primary sources of inspiration for Amanda and Jesse when designing a product by impassioning one or more of these elements.
Given the current economic climate and tourism industry in Kenya, Amanda notes that despite the losses incurred, export sales have risen with Zinj Design being able to maintain and even increase overall output. Their current strategy is to invest in online retail sales and expand in that regard. Presently, their website is under construction as a means to re-vamp and keep with the latest technical standards of online trading.
Zinj Design is not simply about creating beautiful products but also job creation. This forms their creative inspiration with Amanda adding thus: “we strongly support the notion of ‘Trade not Aid’ and we feel first-hand, everyday, the difference employment makes to local families around us.” So whilst their aim is to create a successful fashion brand, they also simultaneously strive to continually create jobs, expand the ‘community of artisans’ and by so doing, become socially and economically successful and responsible. Social entrepreneurship is a growing force where business meets community development and Zinj Design is doing just that.
What we love most about this brand and Amanda’s background is the intricate blend of artistic traditions, historical appreciation of African traditions and craftsmanship in their products. From the historical significance of the name Zinj to the latest collection dubbed Origins, Amanda has successfully created a brand that remains historically relevant, traditionally infused and contemporarily designed. Parting shot from Amanda: “Work very hard and, creatively, be true to yourself.”
*Images courtesy and copyrighted to ©ZinjDesign