Many people know about Many Hands Marketplace Kazuri West but few know who the people behind the scenes are! Lincoln, California-based Paulette Walther is the founder of the Kazuri West. She has been a crafter all her life including the making and painting of ceramics and jewelry making.
What led her to open Kazuri West? She explained, ” I was planning to retire early, and yet I needed to do something meaningful.” Then one fateful day back in 2004, she admired a friend’s Kazuri necklace. Paulette said, “It was not so much what I saw; it’s how the Kazuri necklace made me feel. The beauty of the beads enveloped my heart with the warm embrace of the women’s hands that made them. Not only were the beads ceramic and beautiful, Kazuri creates opportunities and hope for underprivileged women.
Kazuri provides free health care, help with savings plans for the education of their children, and ongoing training about HIV/AIDs, malaria, and birth control. With staggering unemployment rates, one job holder often supports 12-15 members of their extended family. Kazuri has been at the forefront of a social movement that’s changing the way we do business globally. What could be more meaningful than that?”
Paulette didn’t embark on her business because she needed a job. But because she really wanted to make a difference. What started as a semi-retirement project snowballed into a full business. People loved the beads and the story behind Kazuri. Paulette was approached by others at bead shows and that led to the distribution system they have today. Paulette was delighted, “Ever since I became involved, so many magical things have happened. Women empowering women – beads paying it forward. These beads literally change lives.”
As time went by, Kazuri West took on more artisanal lines. The Samunnat Nepal polymer clay collective for example helps women rise above domestic violence. Kazuri West also supports individual artisans by selling the texture stamps of Helen Breil, a Canadian polymer clay artisan and the Global Craft Tools of the Australian artisan, Cynthia Tinapple. In fact, Paulette has taken on other handmade crafts from around the world so much so that she is in the process of changing over the name from the original Kazuri West to Many Hands Marketplace.
Paulette’s husband, Tom, has not only been a supportive spouse but he actively helps in the business so much so that their friends nicknamed him “Bead Boy”! Melanie is the third and vital member of the team.
Paulette has many stories about her business experiences. Perhaps the highlight was during their first trip out to Kenya to visit the Kazuri factory. She said, “Africa is the most beautiful and most heartbreaking country I have been to. We saw the Kibera slums and it was heartbreaking.” Then they went to Kazuri.
“It was amazing to see how dedicated Kazuri owners are to helping raise women out of poverty. We witnessed how well the women are treated, the daycare, the health offices for them, the showers for the women, the 4 tea breaks they give the women daily so they can rest their eyes. They bus the ladies to and from the slums where they live and the owner buys the ladies personal hygiene products out of her own pocket. The kindness just goes on and on there. “
She noticed how happy the women were. They hummed and sung while they worked. All that touched her deeply and she has never forgotten it.
The team works very hard. Paulette typically puts in 60 hour weeks. But whenever doubts arise, she reminds herself that what they do makes a difference. Retirement is not a replacement for the sense of worth she gets from doing what she does.
Paulette is right when she says there are increasing numbers of individuals and social businesses which launch initiatives to do social good globally. She adds, ” I believe we are witnessing a global humanitarian movement of historic proportions. Incredible numbers of people are filled with compassion for our global neighbors and for the earth. Thousands upon thousands of grass-roots movements are engaging in progressive causes, and are adding up to create an irresistible force that can renew and restore social justice and ecological health. It’s happening everywhere you look.
With all the bad news we hear every day, this social movement is what is “going right” in our world and is driving a new way of doing commerce. Just thinking that I am a part of this new way of doing business brings me great joy and satisfaction. “