As a child of 3 years, I already dreamed of Africa.
It took me 38 years, to finally get there. At that time, I had a university degree in clinical psycholgy and was working happily as a Psychotherapist and Trainer. Africa and its people touched something deep inside me. In 1990, I packed 2 suitcases to live in Kenya.
How did I become a jewellery designer and entrepreneur?
Always interested in art, I organized small exhibitions for Kenyan artists. One painter of batik wall hangings gave me a pair of earrings as thank you, AshantiDolls carved from wood. This is a an old magic fertility symbol, for me it represents female creativity. I asked him, if these could be done in bone, too, as this entails more magic, and he introduced me to Samson Andhoga, one of the best bone artists in Kenya.
So thats how it started: I organized his production of cowbone beads – white, black and black/white batik – creating structured offers in shape and colour. And went to Germany to market these at beads shops.
Next step: I started to design necklaces, earrings and brooches. I found some buyers, but Samson could not cope with timely production and running a proper manufacture.
In 1992, I decided to open my own workshop, introducing Cowhorn as another fascinating material. Robert Muigai, a talented local artist working on Cowhorn helped to built that up, starting with 3 employees. One year later, my sister Francoise (FRANCOISE IBERL – SCHMUCK) started her wholesale company, marketing our products at international order fairs (for retail shops only) in Germany. Thats when we got moving!
I had always designed and done my own garments, some jewellery, bags, furniture, decorated and painted my apartments. I realized, I have an eye for unusual graphic design, my sister Francoise, a professional photographer, joined in…..and we became a household name for beads and jewellery, cowbone and cowhorn worked on high quality level, beautiful and unique.
Working with Kenyan garment designers for local and international fashion shows challenged my ability to invent and construct dramatic accessories, leading to new ideas for the ready to wear market. The workshop grew to be a real small manufacture, now organized by Sophia Wangare, who was one of the first craftswomen at MARO designs. The decision to work with single mothers lead to a reliable and smart team. Proper office administration had to be established, now in the capable hands of Zena Anyango.
I joined my sister at the International Order Fairs for retailers in Düsseldorf CPD), Munich (INHORGENTA) and Frankfurt TENDENCE, AMBIENTE). We moved to fairs in Paris (Bijorhca) and had a representant at Fairs in Copenhagen. The Kenyan market (very international) helped to keep close contact with end-customers and their tastes.
Right now, we are closely working with Japanese entrepreneurs, initiated by our representant, Yoko Seki, to venture into that market.