I was recently ogling, as I do, some bracelets made from banana trees (a true Chagga girl am I!). It was then that I discovered Mikuti, a socially active company that creates unique pieces of jewelry, as well as an income for people living in the Meru District of Tanzania. I had the opportunity to interview the project's founder, Erika Freund.
What's your passion?
I think I’m passionate about a variety of things, but 2 things I’m drawn to the most are creating and people. I think naturally I tend to see possibility in environments that one may not realize is there. That’s where the ‘creating’ part comes in. Creating something from an idea is a real challenge, but I enjoy hurdles and challenges, even when I want to throw in towel and say I give up, it’s just too hard. There’s something about being committed to an idea and seeing it through the creative process that warms my heart. Whether it be a piece of jewelry or trying to start a company, the personal, internal experience, and the individuals that enter your path, make it all worth it.
That leads me to people. Aside from my family and friends, who mean the world to me, I’m intrigued by different cultures, countries, lifestyles and how we’re inter-connected, similar, and different at the same time. I’ve lived in different countries and in different cities in the US and, with my social work background, have worked with a variety of people. At the end of the day, people want to feel connected to each other and want opportunities and access to a good, healthy life for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, this perspective is lost within the infrastructure of the world.
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
Both managing the communication with East Africa and figuring out ways to communicate and build relationships through language barriers.
How have you dealt with/overcome it?
The 2 biggest strengths I have with these obstacles are technology and my Master’s in Social Work. Technology really allows us to communicate with anyone anywhere and my Master’s has really taught me how to engage people, and how to think creatively when working with individuals through challenges. And the fact that I just don’t give up helps too.
What has your greatest achievement been?
My greatest achievement with Mikuti has been ‘not giving up’ and holding onto that mentality. Finding alternative solutions when needed and not letting the set-backs actually set Mikuti back. I always try to take set-backs and use them as a tool to propel us forward.
Where will you be in 10 years?
Hopefully running a really successful company, that has since expanded into textiles. A dream of mine is to start a non-profit arm in the U.S. that targets female youth, giving them an opportunity to be a part of a company, exposing them to entrepreneurship, business, design, and development work.
How does Africa inspire you?
There are so many things that inspired me in Tanzania, from the Masai women and how they bead their jewelry, to the church choirs that I love to go listen to on Sundays during a 3-hour service; from the fresh fruits and vegetables to the sight of women cropping in these beautiful kangas. I’m always very visually stimulated when I’m there, which probably helps a lot when designing jewelry and picking out colors. I think I’m also inspired by the challenges that I face personally there, whether it be a language or cultural barrier or just navigating through the different villages I’ve worked in.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Just that I really try to stay cognizant and aware of the privileges I’ve had, being able to travel to Tanzania and start this company. I’m always really mindful of what that means for the individuals I work with.
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
We are incredibly excited to launch this line. We’ve worked so hard to really put hints of Tanzania in every piece.
Images courtesy of Mikuti