SIANA Creations (from one of the Masaai languages Maa root-words meaning nice, lovely, or blessed, and—because it is refreshing—often used where there is fresh water) was launched in 2016 as an initiative to help single mothers on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, earn a living wage. Leveraging the power of great design, local talent, and an abundant supply of sustainable materials – upcycled cowhorn, bone, recycled newspapers, coffee grounds, aluminum and beads from East and West Africa – international entrepreneur Ingrid van Weenen partnered with jewelry designers MARO-designs and Afrodutch Collections to distribute their lines of uncommon jewelry to the North American market – via private boutiques, museum stores, hotels, catalogues, and cruise lines.
Prior to establishing Siana Creations, Ingrid lived in the center of Kenya as a CUSO/VSO volunteer, where she worked with a local Kenyan NGO to promote the livelihoods of Forest Adjacent communities to generate improved incomes over the conventional agriculture they had always practiced.
Ingrid and the NGO worked with over 800 farmers (primarily women) to grow strawberries, tree tomatoes (also known as tamarillos), and other fruit, such as mangoes. She then set up a factory to produce jams, chutneys, and fruit pulp for the yogurt industry under the brand name Msitu (which means forest in Kiswahili). These products are now sold throughout Kenya at major supermarkets and tourist lodges.
While in Kenya, Ingrid met designers Marie-Rose Iberl, Henriette Oldhoff and RuthJepchirchir at the annual Christmas Fair Market in Nairobi, where she was selling her jams and chutneys. The designers’ goal, like Ingrid’s work with Msitu, was to help empower and provide incomes for women and single mothers by employing them to create beautiful contemporary jewelry from locally sourced and sustainable materials.
Once Ingrid saw these beautiful and original designs, she knew there was an opportunity to share the beauty of these unique pieces with women in America. And so the partnerships began.
Some of the earliest organizations to feature Siana Creations products in the U.S. include the boutique The Phoenix, The Phillips Collection, and The Textile Museum (all in Washington, DC) and the Nasher Museum in Durham, N.C.
Prior to her time in Kenya, Ingrid had a long and successful career in finance and marketing, working at organizations including Citicorp, MasterCard, Harry and David, and AARP. She says she is thrilled to be able to use everything she has learned about money and business to lift up those who are in need. Each piece of jewelry that is purchased helps mothers and their children, and the more that is purchased, the more mothers that are employed.
Relevant Facts About Kenya
• 42% of the population live below the poverty line
• 6 in 10 women are likely to be single mothers by the time they reach age 45
• 3 in 10 girls become pregnant before the age of 18
• Women prefer to remain single as men abandon traditional family roles
• Kenyan women provide 80% of the country’s farm labor, yet own only 1% of farm land
Income-generating opportunities are critical to the empowerment of women and for improving their childrens’ health and education.