Mikuti Jewelry Seen At Mara Hoffman Swim 2012 Show
In July, we offered you the scoop on the hair and makeup looks create for the tribal-flavored Mara Hoffman Swim 2012 Show, with textured French braids and bright orange designs painted atop models' foreheads to recall sacred blessings. We were left wondering, however, what company or designer was behind the jewelry donned by the bikini-, one piece-, and caftan-clad catwalkers. And now, our burning question has been answered, as we've been fortuitously introduced to Mikuti, the socially active brand behind the beaded bangles, fabric-covered bead necklaces, and woven cuffs seen on the Mara Hoffman runway.
The brand's history dates back to 2009, when founder Erika Freund spent a summer volunteering for an NGO in Tanzania. While there, she marveled at the beauty of the East Africa landsape and the colorful wares created by local artisans using materials like banana tree leaves and vibrant, printed textiles. Upon her return to Brooklyn, New York, Freund often donned a woven banana tree bangle (much like the ones pictured second from top) and countless strangers showered her with compliments, asking where they, too, could acquire such a piece. Ever the savvy entrepreneur, Freund recognized an opportunity whereby she could create a market for the women of East Africa to sell their goods, thereby helping them to enrich their own lives and financially empower themselves.
Hoping to merge her love of fashion with her philanthropic drive, Freund created a business model whereby she would employ local women to craft jewelry pieces using sustainable materials like banana bark and banana leaves, kanga-like textiles woven in Tanzania factories, and 100% recycled aluminum cast from airplane wings, cans, and car parts.
With the help if the NGO Edu-Care, which aims to improve the standard of living within the Meru community, Freund met many of the women who would eventually craft Mikuti pieces. Since 1010, Mikuti has also been working with Shanga, a workshop on the outskirts of Arusha, that employs an estimated 34 physically challenged adults. All the proceeds from the Mikuti products sold in the Shanga gift store benefit "Pink Balloon," a program that supports the directors and teachers of special needs programs in the most impoverished areas of Tanzania.
Given that the Mara Hoffman show incorporated tribal influences in the most respectful of manners (rather than the gimmick-y, sometimes exploitative ways in which designers can ostensibly usurp the social norms of Third World communities), the designer's partnership with Mikuti, itself a socially and environmentally responsible brand, seemed like the perfect marriage both aesthetically and philosophically.
One of our favorite Mikuti pieces seen in the Mara Hoffman show is the Flamingo Malikia Necklace ($70 at Mikuti.com), a 10-foot-long piece crafted using coffee wood beads and wrapped in Tanzanian wax fabric using a knotting technique. The versatile piece can be twisted and layered and worn as a necklace, wrapped around the waist, or draped over the shoulders in a sling-like form.
Those who can't resist beaded pieces, meanwhile, will love the Mikuti Musa Bangles ($95 each at Mikuti.com), handmade, double-notch bracelets made from recycled aluminum and glass Czech beads in colors like white, yellow, periwinkle,orange green, pearlized pink, pearlized gold, pearlized violet, pearlized champagne, and turquoise.
But, for us, the showstopper is the Mikuti Novet Cuff ($50 at Mikuti.com), a 3"-tall bracelet made of woven banana bark, each row so precisely coiled as to give the final piece a beautiful structure and composition. The plant's natural beige, brown, ecru, and black tones, meanwhile, create a beautiful spectrum of color without the need to rely on artificial dyes.
For more information on the brand and to check out additional pieces, visit Mikuti.com