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 Handmade kenyan beaded leather dog collars,  dog collars

Mary Shaw Coulson MBE of Restart Africa

 

 

The Handmade Dog Collar Company
by Jackie Marvell

In 2015  my partner Adam and I were invited to Kenya to stay with an old school friend of mine. Some 30 years ago in the mid 1980's my friend and I had been at school together and we had remained great friends through the years despite living 1000's of miles apart.
Adam and I knew it was going to be a trip of a lifetime, but we had no idea at the time how much it was going to change our lives.

At the head of my friends family is her mother, Mrs Mary Shaw Coulson, an extraordinary and inspirational lady, who in December 2016 was awarded an M.B.E for her services of improving the welfare, health and education of disadvantaged children in Kenya.
In 2007 amidst great political unrest in Kenya, Mary Coulson had been concerned by the growing number of homeless children that were appearing on the streets of Gilgil. Abandoned, orphaned or driven out of their homes by poverty and violence the street children were at risk of starvation, abuse and drugs, and with  no hope of receiving any kind of education and no access to medical or health services. Mary took six small abandoned children under her wing and gave them shelter. This was the begining of the childrens charity Restart Africa.

 

Over the next few years Mary worked tirelessly to raise money to build a dedicated centre for rescued children. The project included a school with a dormitory, nursery, playground, library, music room, and a dining hall.
In the garden they have built a vegetable garden to grow their own food and in the last few years they have inherited a few animals including a goat and a beautiful brown African cow.

In the last 10 years the charity has rescued thousands of children and given them an education, health, stability and love. The centre relies on donations  from all over the world and from local enterprises within the community but this is always a struggle. Thankfully there is a volunteer program to help run the centre, many of whom are British gap year students. 

Adam and I flew out to Kenya in October 2015. Within a few days of arriving Mary had invited us to visit the Restart Centre to meet some of the children. Immediately we were struck by their laughter, giggles and smiles. There were 110 children at the centre of all different ages, from tiny babies through to teenagers. With each introduction we learned of the horrific experiences and the cruelty that they had endured. Every week more children arrived at the centre, this was not a problem that was going to go away any time soon. I knew at that point I wanted to help, but I had no idea how or even what I was going to do...

 
 dog collars, Handmade kenyan beaded leather dog collars

The Sanata Women’s Group (SWG)
In 2009 Mary Coulson had come across four Massai women making beaded jewellery under a tree, amazed by their skills she found them a room in an old social club on the edge of the town, somewhere they could work and have access to fresh water, food and shade.

Women in the community and surrounding areas were invited to join the group and share their different skills, beading, sewing, machining, and fabric printing. Mary's idea was to empower the women by giving them new skills so they would always be able to earn a living and provide for their families and children. The end result would be that less children would end up on the streets and more children would be able to go to school.

The group quickly became established and chose the name The Sanata Women’s Group, Sanata from the Latin word Sanatus, which means healing. In 2007/08 there had been post election violence and just as the children had suffered, so too did many of the women. The newly founded group now offered support for the women that joined and they would often sing together while they beaded to give encourageent to each other and give thanks for being saved.

Gradually as the group grew larger, the women started creating enough beautiful beaded sandals, bags and jewellery to sell at craft fairs and become self sufficient.

Ethical Fashion soon noticed their work and commissioned the women to make jewellery and bags for London designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Sass and Bide. They were now not only providing income for themselves they were also able to make a small profit. This profit could now go back to the community and help fund some of the services for the children at Restart Africa.

A few days after our visit to the Restart Charity Adam and I were taken to meet the ladies of the Sanata Womens Group.
As soon as I saw their beautiful beadwork, the colours and designs of the jewellery, the belts and bags and the beaded sandals, I knew that this was how I could help.

Back at home in the UK not having any children of my own I had become a dog mother to Dottie, a border cross and Nellie a Frenchie cross.  I spent much of my spare time trying to find unusual and beautiful collars and accessories for them. Looking at the exquisitely beaded belts the ladies were making, I knew that dog collars would look fantastic with these beautiful designs - this is what I had been searching for! and everything that I was about to do, was going to be helping people - lots of people.

Within 18 months I had flown back out to Kenya to spend more time with the women.
I was re introduced to Lilian, a wonderful larger than life character with an infectious laugh and huge smile, she looked after the group and  had been one of the first four women that Mary had found beading under the tree. She had now learned management skills, computer skills and had transformed her life through the group. She also spent her time training new women in the art of beading and machining aswell as leading the spontanious singing in the beading room.

 

 leather dog collars,  dog collars

 leather dog collars,  dog collars

My plan was to create beautiful colourful collars that were different from every other collar coming out of Kenya. All the African dog collars available were traditional designs beaded directly onto strong dark brown leather, they were beautiful but I was determined to bring brighter colours into the designs and also make them softer.
After 2 weeks the first collection of designs and samples were finished, it was a fusion of traditional African designs and Western ideas. The collection needed a name - with the help of the ladies the name MZURI Dog was chosen (it means 'Good dog' in Swahili).
We named some of the collar designs after the women in the group or we used their children's names, so there was a real connnection between the ladies and each of the collars.

The first few batches of designs were beaded onto brightly coloured canvas, the canvas  was then attached to a soft cow hide lining which the Africans call 'Pullap'. They were beautiful, however after living with the canvas collars for a while (Dottie & Nellie were my road testers here) I decided we needed something a little more durable and with an even bigger visual impact .

Several months later back in Kenya, Lilian and I went to search for new beads and to visit tanneries to find coloured leather, we were able to find a few different coloured leathers we could work with and we soon had the second edition of the MZURI Dog Collection.
We now export soft Italian nappa leather out to Kenya because the quality is perfect for the collars. The colours are beautiful and nappa leather is soft enough to be beaded and strong enough to be durable once it is lined.

We have also improved on the design of the collars in several ways, there is more stitching involved and we have introduced different widths and sizing into the range. The smaller sized and medium sized collars have the option of having a smaller buckle so that there is less bulk under smaller chins. We have increased the number of sizes, and we now offer a bespoke design service, anything that is not available in the collection can be made to order.

All the brass hardware, the buckles, O rings and D rings are individually hand made by a very talented metal worker outside Nairobi called Collins, he makes individual molds and casts for each item and then hand polishes everything. The work that he is doing for SWG is enabling his children to go to school as an education has to be paid for in Kenya.

 

 leather dog collars, Handmade kenyan beaded leather dog collars

 leather dog collars, Handmade kenyan beaded leather dog collars

 
Moving forward throughout 2019
We will be offering handmade solid brass jewellery from Kenya, earrings are currently being designed at the moment.
Dottie & Nellie are rigourously testing harnesses at the moment so hopefully before the end of the year they will be available to order.
The Womens group is expanding to cope with the growing Mzuri Dog collection, this means more families are receiving an income and more children are able to go to school.
The children at Restart Africa are all doing well, their football team is growing and their cow has just given birth to her first calf.
We will continue to visit the centre and feedback on the childrens progress, it is always both a humbling and inspiring experience visiting Kenya, and one we will never tire of.

Thank you so much to everyone who has helped us - your support makes such an incredible difference to so many lives, we hope you have many years of enjoyment from your beautiful and very special Mzuri Dog purchases.

Thank you
heart

All our love
Jackie, Adam, Dottie & Nellie
XXX

 

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