This week we would like to introduce you to one of our newest TOMS Marketplace partners Kicheko Goods. Kicheko is a socially conscious brand that designs and makes distinct pieces that invest in education. Each purchase of a Kicheko Goods product sends one child in eastern Congo to school for one month. Read on for the full Q&A in the words of the founder Sarah Bayot.
TOMS: How did the idea for Kicheko come about?
Kicheko: I began making jewelry in 2012, primarily simple and functional pieces like fabric covered studs. Since I wore my earrings on a daily basis, friends and coworkers began asking to buy pairs and I found myself after work and on weekends fulfilling orders. The business didn’t have a name at the time, but I was keen on dedicating a portion of the proceeds to help with community development efforts in DR Congo. Once I honed in on this model, my friends served as my focus group to vet names and the consensus landed on Kicheko, a Swahili word describing smiling/laughter.
TOMS: Can you tell us more about Kicheko’s mission?
Kicheko: I have worked with a locally led community in eastern Congo for five years and in 2014, I helped the community raise funds to construct a primary school called Mango Tree. What we discovered is that most families can afford to pay school fees for at least some months out of the full academic year. However, for the remaining months when they cannot afford school fees, their kids fall behind and that gap in their education causes them to repeat the same grade the next year. We seek to eliminate the education gaps by providing student scholarships to supplement the costs of attending school.
To date, Mango Tree educates over 200 students and we are excited to expand our partnerships in the next couple years so we can extend opportunities to more students.
TOMS: Why is giving back through business so important to you?
Kicheko: We are committed to building a company that sees aesthetic and impact as equal partners. Education strikes a chord in me because it’s such an empowering vehicle. Our kids in Congo also have helped me realize the transformative effects education can have on a young mind, in a social group, in a community, in a village and beyond. These kids value learning so much and do not take it for granted. In Congo, there are so many things that can change from day to day. However, one thing that cannot be taken away is education. Once you have it, you have it for life.
TOMS: What is something that’s surprised you as a social good business owner?
Kicheko: Something that has surprised me is that while there are tomes of advice on building and running a business, the “special sauce” is actually something very personal and unique to each business. That special sauce is the personal journey of discovering the field, medium and social issues you care enough about to want to create something because the status quo is not quite enough. You also learn so much about yourself during this process. But if you care strongly about something, you are willing to continually learn and grow, you celebrate the wins and take moments to enjoy the milestones with others—it’s an amazing process. There’s nothing quite like it.
TOMS: What inspired the products we’re featuring in TOMS Marketplace this holiday season?
Kicheko: One of the staple materials I work with is natural stone, particularly quartz. All of the pieces are made of druzy quartz interpreted in various forms. I love quartz because it’s a prolific mineral found in the earth’s continental crust. Trace amounts of minerals, gases or liquids that combine with the crystal create these beautiful colors and effects on the mineral’s structure. I enjoy sourcing pieces that represent these unique relationships in nature taking place.
TOMS: What Kicheko piece are you most excited about sharing with the TOMS community?
Kicheko: I am most excited about the druzy studs collection. It’s a line of beautiful pieces that can dress up a t-shirt and jeans outfit, but also rock with a dressier ensemble. The druzy effect radiates uniquely depending on the natural or artificial light levels. The blue midnight and purple aura are deep and gorgeous colorways for adventurous color lovers, while the gold and rose gold are perfect for a classic, elegant look.