Passion Points: Giving Back
Since inception, the Indagare Souk has championed the Shompole Collection, an expertly crafted line of jewelry made by African craftsmen and women and designed by Kenya -based jewelry designer Elizabeth Gilbert. The newest line, the exquisite Elephant Collection, takes the visionary designer’s love for her adopted home in East Africa and her commitment to giving back a step further.
Sold exclusively on the Indagare Souk Web site, the Elephant Collection is crafted in bone, 18-karat gold, and black and white cow horn, and many of the bracelets, cuffs, rings and necklace pendants are embellished with diamonds. Ten percent of all profits from the collection are being donated to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, dedicated to the protection and preservation of Africa’s wilderness, in particular the rehabilitation and rescue of orphaned elephants.
“For the Indagare Souk, we are always seeking beautiful, hand-made things that have a story behind them and a cause that they support,” says Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley. “Liz’s Elephant Collection is more than simply beautiful jewelry. Wearing these pieces means taking part in the preservation of Africa’s wildlife and beauty.” The designer spoke to Indagare about the new collection, the amazing work of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and her favorite places in Africa.
What inspired the Elephant Collection?
The elephant collection had been in my mind from the day I first visited the Sheldrick’s elephant orphanage on the outskirts of Nairobi. It’s a very moving, unique program and once you’ve seen the elephants, you just want to do something. The experience stays with you forever.
Where is the Elephant Collection crafted?
All our jewelry is made in Africa, by Africans. Our goldsmiths are Tanzanian and we also work with Luo, Kikuyu and Samburu carvers. The elephant collection does not involve the Maasai who are primarily beaders, so all of this work is done in Nairobi, away from the village at Shompole.
Where do you source you materials?
I source everything I possibly can in Nairobi. Gold is produced in Kenya and cow horn is also a common local product. We founded the business to create commerce in Kenya, and the more I am able to trade here, the more I feel I am contributing to the local economy.
Is the artisanship behind these products more complex or similar to the other pieces of the Shompole Collection?
The craftsmanship behind the Elephant Collection is more complex than our gold collection and other works. This is because of the unique combination of solid gold and the raw, hand-carved cow horn and bone. The setting of the stones and gold elephant stories is very meticulous on these materials and requires additional reinforcement than, say, setting a diamond in a platform of sold metal. The horn and bone have an organic, wild quality and carry the signature, uneven characteristics of hand-crafted carvings, so they are more challenging to work with.
What are some of your personal favorite pieces of the Elephant Collection?
The Tsavo Nights pendant in black cow horn. It features a tiny orphaned elephant with its new, adopted mother beneath an African moon and a carpet of diamond stars. It’s an iconic image, not only of the success of the Sheldrick program, but of safari, travel, wildlife and Africa itself. Anyone who has spent a night in the African bush can recognize it as something they have felt or experienced. And for those who have yet to visit the great game parks of Kenya, it is a symbol that reminds the wearer of her own part in making the world a better place: for humanity and wildlife alike.
What are the keys to the success of the elephant nursery?
The elephant nursery, situated in Nairobi under the auspices of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, is overseen by Dr. Daphne Sheldrick whose elephant experience spans a lifetime. It is the only program that offers hope for an orphaned elephant fortunate enough to be found alive. It took Daphne twenty-eight years of trial and error to perfect the milk formula and complex husbandry necessary to raise the fragile African elephant infants. Today with financial help of donors and many caring folk world-wide, the Trust is proud to have saved what amounts to a herd: more than sixty orphaned infant calves that would otherwise have perished. Every one of these orphans can look forward to a quality of life in the wild, living free in the 8,000 square miles of protected, pristine wilderness of Tsavo East National Park. Buying a piece of the Elephant Collection is one way to participate and sponsor this amazing program, with ten percent of profits going directly to the Sheldrick Trust.
Do you think there is an overall trend of people waking up to the power they have to do good with their purchases?
We live in a time when both vendors and buyers alike are wise to the incredible opportunities now available to make retail meaningful. It is a win-win scenario that benefits all parties involved. Savvy, discerning buyers are demanding this and driving the retail market into new, more enlightened directions. With an opportunity to buy a beautiful product that makes the world a better place, why consider anything less? The marriage of all these components offers an exciting new landscape in retail and I love that it is all being driven by the consumer.
What are some of your favorite recent travel discoveries?
I just returned from Lamu. August is a great month to visit, and the island offers a variety of beautiful, traditional Swahili houses to rent. Of these, I was so lucky to stay at Dhow House, a large, beautifully designed, seafront house with a courtyard set around a sunken living room, open dining room and infinity pool. The resident chef is an artist! Of all the places I’ve stayed on the Kenya coast, it’s the best house to rent and comes with a private speedboat and captain so you can adventure around the archipelago. A boutique not to miss in Shela is Aman, which carries beautiful embroidered caftans and tunics made from stylish African fabrics, all exactly what you want to wear at the beach and at the bar at Peponi’s.
Is there any other news from Kenya you want to share?
We are working on a new collection from West Africa that will make beautiful gift items in time for Christmas. The designs are from the Akan tribe who reigned the Gold Empire of the Ivory Coast for centuries. The pieces are collector’s items and African classics, all of which will be available at Indagare’s trunk shows in the coming months.
We would also like to include a new collection for charity every year and are looking at the lion conservation program Born Free for 2013. They have a wonderful education program that screens movies about the value of preserving wildlife to audiences in remote villages near the national parks who would otherwise never have access to that information. As with all development, education is the first, most powerful step.
A selection of the Elephant and Shompole collections are available online and the complete collections will be on view at Indagare’s souk events, in Dallas from October 4-5; in Greenwich and in New York City in November. Contact the Indagare Souk for details.
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