When you read the story of how Mifuko was started by Mari Martikainen & Minna Impio, you can’t help but smile and be inspired in equal measures. These two finnish designers, having both studied Textile Design and Art at the University of Art & Design in Helsinki, came to set up Mifuko when Minna was living in Kenya. Their passion for design translated into creating a business that not only creates great products but it enables women in rural villages outside of Nairobi to earn a living while using their traditional skills.
In their own words, it all began when:
“Early in 2009 a long and bumpy road brought us, Minna and Mari, from Nairobi metropolis to Kenyan countryside. The road was dry and big clouds of red dust rose under the car tires. It was a hot day. Finally we reached our destination and stopped under a huge mango tree. In the shade of the tree there was a group of merry ladies waiting for us, all dressed in purple.
Very soon we were engaged in a spirited and lively conversation with the ladies, discussing farming and handicrafts – and negotiating and making plans for the very first collection of Mifuko Kiondo baskets. Eventually, when all was agreed, the newly established co-operation was sealed with a shared feast of delicious fresh mangos and singing songs in the Kamba language with hands joined.”
Minna & Mari, Co-founders of Mifuko
So what is a Kiondo Basket? The Kiondo baskets are created by handweaving sisal and food grade plastic and the making of these baskets is a traditional Kenyan handicraft. The Kiondo baskets made specifically for Mifuko are created by women’s self help groups in rural villages in the Machakos county, near Nairobi, most of the women are normally employed as farmers. They weave the kiondos all year round, but most of the craft work is done during the dry seasons, when they have more time to concentrate on basket making. Making a living as a farmer for the women in Machakos can be very difficult, especially during times of serious drought or crop failure, handweaving the kiondos brings them financial security by providing an important additional income.
We caught up with Minna & Mari to find out more about the business they started, kiondo baskets and their future plans for Mifuko.
Can you tell us all about how you both started Mifuko?
Mifuko was founded in 2009 by us, two Finnish designers Minna and Mari. At that time I lived in Kenya with my family and Mari was living in Finland, together we developed the idea of a design company operating between Finland and Kenya – combining Kenyan traditional handcraft techniques with Finnish design language, and that is how Mifuko’s story began.
What does Mifuko mean?
Mifuko means pocket in Swahili.
Where are you based & why?
Mifuko works between both Kenya & Finland. We (Minna and Mari) meet and work together with the artisans in Kenya regularly every few months. For all of us working in Mifuko means a creative and enjoyable co-operation between different countries and cultures.
It must be great to see the results of the work you do with the women in rural Kenya who make the Kiondo baskets? Can you tell us a little more about how it all works?
Baskets are handmade in Kenya by women’s self help groups in rural villages. There isn’t a lot of money invested – materials and skilled hands are all that is needed. Traditional skill is passed on to the younger generation. For increased income artisans have an opportunity to invest in their gardens, ensure their children’s education and plan for the future.
Can you describe a typical working day for you?
Mifuko consists of just the two of us in Finland, and we therefore do all kinds of things during the day – office work, meetings, packing and designing, whatever needs to be done. We also travel to Kenya to work with the ladies and to exhibitions to meet customers. We love that our work is so versatile.
What is the most exciting thing that has happened since you started Mifuko?
It has been amazing to discover so many people who like our baskets and want to be part of the story. It is always wonderful to meet the self help groups, who are weaving Mifuko baskets in rural Kenya.
Who, where and what inspires you?
Nature, art and beautiful places inspire us. In Kenya, Wangari Maathai has done a great and brave things, also many writers and thinkers inspires us. We also love the contrast of colourful Kenya and clear and calm Finland.
Tell us what you love to do when you are not working?
We both have families and we enjoy doing just basic everyday life things, especially cooking and gardening!
If you could visit anywhere in the world where would you go?
What can we expect in the future from Mifuko?
We are working to build a village house in rural Kenya, we hope that this dream comes true soon. Mifuko will grow and employ more artisans in Kenya and other African countries.
Mifuko Kiondo baskets are handwoven of sisal and food grade plastic. Kiondos come in four sizes and in a variety of colors and distinctive Mifuko stripe patterns. Some styles are available with leather handles or straps. These clever baskets are great for many uses and will happily store toys, firewood, magazines, towels, kitchen utensils or clothes.
To see the full range of Kiondo baskets available on Such & Such, click here.
A huge thank you to Minna & Mari for taking the time to answer our Q&A and for sharing all their brilliant photography with us.