When I was a little girl, my favourite store in my home city Pietarsaari (in Finland) was definitely Karibu. It was a small cottage full of crafts from Africa. I loved its fragrance and colours. I bought all the gift items from there, or I often went just to watch and admire. I loved wood carved giraffe figures, soapstone statues, colourful bags, clothes and fabrics. The ideology was that all the money would go directly to the people who produced items without any intermediaries. Karibu has been closed for many years now, and I just have good memories left from there.
Now I am in Amman. When I stepped downstairs to Nelly Nkwosseu’s home, it was as if I had returned to the atmosphere of my childhood. The bottom floor of Nelly’s home is, however, bright and spacious, far from the little cottage, but the colours and scents are the same. And ideology she possesses.
Nelly Nkwosseu was originally a tax inspector from the French Ministry of Economy. But her husband travelled to southern Sudan to work for Unicef. Nelly left her job and travelled around Africa.
– I was fascinated by African craftsmanship. I thought that all the world should see them. I started shipping jewellery and sandals made by Kenyan women to Paris and selling them there.
After a phase in Africa, Nelly´s husband´s job led them to Jordan. After moving to Amman, Nelly began to feel that she should continue the work she started in Kenya.
Now Nelly designs jewellery and bags, and Kenyan women implement what she designs. All materials are local Kenyan materials; Leather straps, sisal fibre, bone structures and brass. In Kenya, she employs about fifty women.
Although the bags are Nelly’s design, they are made using traditional methods.
-Women are really skilled, Nelly praises. They collect the sisal, colour it and weave it into bags. Everything is done by traditional methods, respecting nature. There are only five different colour shades of nature. No chemicals are used in the products, so for example, bright red or blue is not seen in the bags.
Kotiam also promotes the situation of girls in Kenya. For every bag she sells, she gives a packet of washable sanitary pads to the girls of village community.
In small villages in Kenya menstruation is hardly talked about, and it can be a complete shock for girls. Available sanitary pads may not be very good or hygienic. Without proper pads, girls will have to be out of school every month, Nelly thinks.
By buying one bag you will help keep a girl in school by providing her a kit of reusable pads produced by the Kenyan social enterprise Pad Heaven. The kit contains 6 washable pads, 3 panties and a brochure on menstruation and puberty.
A UNESCO report estimates that 1 in 10 girls in Africa does not attend school during menstruation. That is equal to 20% of their school time in one year. In Kenya this happens for 5 million girls each month.
Nelly’s parents are from Cameroon, but Nelly herself was born in France.
– My company name Kotiam is Banganté language. It is one of the 42 tribal languages in Cameroon. It means “my precious”. My husband use to call me with this name.
-Even within the same village, all residents do not understand each other, Nelly explains the versatility of languages in Cameroon. By stroke of luck I met in France a man who speaks the same language as my father, Nelly laughs.
Nelly’s shop has so charming and enchantingly beautiful items. In addition to Nelly’s own Kotiam products, she has also been collecting other Kenyan artworks. She wants to highlight the artistic skills of Kenyan artists and craftsmen. The most interesting objects are handmade clay heads. They describe the typical facial features of different Kenyan tribes.
Beside jewellery and bags you can find candle lanterns made of soapstone, animal figurines and angels made from banana tree leaves, paper rolled necklaces, beaded mirrors, Masai tribal paintings…
If you like Nelly´s products, contact her in Facebook or Instagram: