One Bead at a Time

Sidai Designs provides sustainable employment and new skills to Maasai women in Tanzania

What does a graphic designer and a Maasai warrior have in common? A passion for helping underserved communities like the Maasai. After numerous discussion, brainstorming sessions, and visiting several communities, Sidai Designs cofounders Eszter Rabin and Emanuel Melubo Laizer launched in 2011 a small workshop in Arusha, Tanzania with the clear mission to help Maasai women with the power traditional craft: beaded jewelry.

The company’s goal behind the design-led craft is to make beaded jewelry based on traditional Maasai beading techniques. To appeal to a more global and more sophisticated audience, Sidai incorporates contemporary aesthetics to the classic motifs of the jewelry. The various pieces are made from new and recycled materials, but also with beads made and imported from the Czech Republic or Japan. The women make these items by using the glass beads and thread salvaged from old grain bags. The neckaces, bracelets and earrings are enhanced with recycled metal beads, old canisters and yoghurt pots to create the boning, and finished with luxury soft leather and sterling silver to create simple, elegant fastenings.

Traditionally, Maasai women learn beading from a young age. These skills are passed down from generation-to-generation, which include many techniques to create the different style of jewelry worn according to special occasions within their communities. Sidai Designs takes these existing skill sets and train the women extensively on quality and design.

The company employs women who have left their villages, and are seeking employment opportunities in urban areas. For the most part, the women are illiterate and don’t speak the national language, making their quest for work difficult. Designing and making the jewelry helps create sustainable jobs that provide Maasai women with fair wages. The jewelry is sold both locally and internationally with the profits going directly to the women’s education.  In addition to teaching new craft techniques in beading and quality control, Sidai Designs offer a number of benefits including paid vacation and health care for the employees as well as for their children. 

The welfare of Maasai women lives deep in the hearts of Rabin and Laizer. To further benefit the women, the co-founders launched a charitable arm: Sidai Maasai Women Organization. Through this entity, the women are able to benefit from various programs, including legal rights, health, HIV/AIDS, hygiene and literacy.

Sidai Designs will be exhibiting at Artisan Resource at NY NOW at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan from February 1-4 2015. The company will exhibit their 2015 line of jewelry.

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