Mikuti: Handmade in Kenya, Loved Around the World
Inspired by the stunning landscapes of the Swahili Coast and fueled by a desire to explore the world and the possibilities that lie within, Erika Freund spent four years traveling throughout Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda before launching accessory brand Mikuti.
Mikuti, meaning dried leaf in Kiswahili, is a nod to the brand’s beginning; bangles of dried banana bark made while Erika was living in Tanzania. Back in New York, Erika kept getting attention and compliments on those reminders of her time on the continent. It sparked an ‘a-ha’ moment that led to the creation of the business. Mikuti marries Erika’s creativity with her desire to create respectable jobs for some of the East Africa’s most skilled artisans. Erika recalls,
I started working throughout East Africa in 2009 and during that time there wasn’t the saturation you see now; It was very untouched. One of the main reasons I started my brand Mikuti was because I wanted to see if I could create a platform to highlight the area in way that wasn’t being done.
Through the evolution of the brand, materials have shifted from banana bark and aluminum to statement pieces in brass and silver. Each piece is handmade in Kenya and Mikuti is committed to ethical sourcing and production, with a mindful and transparent supply chain. Looking back to when she started, Erika shares:
Artisan skill was swept under the rug by the cosmetic issues of poverty, it wasn’t being highlighted. It was the “us” and “them” model, I wanted to create a ‘we” model. I think I fell in the love with the challenges it brought me personally; the challenges of being an entrepreneur, starting a self-funded brand in a industry I wasn’t familiar with, and developing sourcing and design systems in a place faraway from everything that was familiar. It made me push my boundaries in ways I never knew was possible. And, as I got more invested in my brand and realized this is something I’m truly committing to, I became equally as invested in truly planting deep roots there. Now, I can’t imagine working anywhere else or with anyone else, as I have an incredible team who brings my designs to life.
Mikuti has been featured in Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week, Mara Hoffman’s Resort Swim Show at MB Miami Fashion, London’s Fashion Week, The Hub of African Fashion Week in Addis, Ethiopia, and Swahili Fashion Week in Tanzania. As well as many notable fashion Magazines, such as Vogue Germany, and W Magazine.
Want to learn more? Erika Freund will be joining an evening of conversation on sustainability with seven other esteemed fashion brands at the EcoSessions: Fashion x Africa mini-conference on May 2 from 7-10 pm at FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre. Admission is free and open to all, register here. #fashionxAfrica