Beadwork is a skill developed in Kenya by the Maasai community, known for their brilliantly colored designs. The Maasai tribe is distinctive for its nomadic existence throughout East Africa, and for their colorful and unique adornment worn by women and men alike. Soko works with a Maasai women’s group to source many of our beaded pieces.
The Maasai pride themselves in the beauty of their trademark, colorful designs which signify the colors of those things they see in their day to day life:
Red - unity and family
White - peace, purity, and light
Blue - energy, water and the sky
Orange - warmth and the sun
Yellow – sand and hide
Green - health and land, or grass
Black - represents the people and the struggles they must endure
Beyond these color associations, there is an entire language behind the color and pattern of beadwork. Women use beads to communicate whether they are available for marriage, already married and how many children they have!
Beads are stitched onto leather or hammered into wood in bold patterns. Traditionally, beading was the exclusive economic activity of women and every girl in the community grew up learning the important skill of beading. As the market for these beautiful beaded products has grown, men have become involved in the trade as well.
The culture of bead work is extremely social, with most work being done in families or groups of close-knit women. Sitting under a tree, these humble artisans chat, gossip, and laugh as their hands deftly pick beads from their laps.
Soko artisans create gorgeous modern designs from their traditional design heritage - King David and Wamaitha, as well as the Namaiyana Women’s Collective make bold and beautiful jewelry that’s easy to wear, whether we’re in Nairobi or New York!