The Maasai are a pastoral group of people that live in the magnificent Great Rift Valley of Kenya and Tanzania. A tall, proud, and graceful people adorned in colorful clothing and ornaments, the Maasai still keep their traditions intact - herding cattle and living off the land as modernization changes the world around them.
A terrible drought that ended in 2001 lasted several years and devastated pasture lands. The Maasai's livelihood disappeared as their cattle died. The men had to drive the few remaining cattle hundreds of miles away to search for better grazing and it became evident that the women desperately needed a way to obtain medical supplies, and to feed, clothe, and educate their children.
Philip and Katy Leakey, who live among the Maasai in the Kenyan bush, wanted to help their neighbors and to provide work opportunities without changing their culture. They came up with an imaginative idea that would utilize the excellent beading abilities of the Maasai women, and it used grass, an available sustainable resource, as the primary element.
Soon the women were harvesting grass, one blade at a time. The long grass was dried and cut into bead-size pieces and dyed lovely hues - blues, greens, reds, yellows, pinks, purples, earth and natural tones - which were then strung into necklaces and bracelets. The Leakeys added brilliant Czech glass beads to their designs, mixing them wit the soft luster of the grass beads and giving sparkle and a contemporary flair to the jewelry. Zulugrass was born.
In short order, the women learned that they could bring their babies and toddlers with them and they would be paid by the piece as they chose to work. As word passed through the Maasai community, women started walking as much as two hours each way to have their first chance to earn money. Now over 400 hundred Maasai women are making Zulugrass while continuing to lead their lives in their traditional life style, and they can use their income to better their lives as they wish. Some have been able to reunite their families after earning enough to purchase cattle to restock herds and one woman has bought her own goat herd.
Philip and Katy Leakey's inspiration gave birth to Zulugrass - the beautiful jewelry handcrafted by experts, the Maasai women of Kenya. Zulugrass continues to provide much needed and desired opportunity for these wonderful women and their families.