Handmade in Kenya: In conversation with Doa
We are thrilled to have Studio Doa’s lovingly handmade Kenyan jewellery as part of our new Thought Living collection. Studio Doa craft eco-friendly clothing and jewellery using ethical practices in a way that is beneficial to the environment, empowering to the community, preserving of traditional skills, and offering long-term sustainable incomes for people in urban and rural low-employment communities.
We caught up with Katie Robertson-Macleod, founder of Studio Doa, to tell us more about their incredible story.
Please give our readers a little intro to Studio Doa and how it all started.
The idea of undertaking Doa was born in Belize where I was space and worlds away from my normal life and began to be able to see it all with perspective.
I have a very creative Aunt who used to live on the same lane as us until I was 6, and would take me to exhibitions in London and taught me crafts. This started my appreciation of art and handmade objects at a quite young age. I wanted my concept to start from that love of an object made with care.
Was setting up Doa what you always wanted to do?
Kenya has always been where I feel most creative, and every time I was there with my family I felt the richness of sensory experiences was something I wanted to explore.
I was always trying to find a way of combining my love of design, with an environment that created a positive contribution to its surroundings. I wanted Doa to become a source of empowerment and creativity for the people wearing and making it. To value craftsmanship and the technique of handmade products rather than anything mass produced, and that offered people pieces full of life, made with love and that were guilt-free at the end of the day.
How did you come to meet and start working with Kenyan artisans?
The wonderful thing about Kenyans in general is their resourcefulness and creativity, they have had a sustainable approach to reusing materials since before it was cool!
They are also incredibly friendly and sharing, I didn’t have to look very far to find very talented jewellers who could bring my designs to life.
It has been a bit harder to find textiles sources in Kenya as since a market called Mitumba has come about which ships second hand clothes from the West and sells them at very affordable prices, the textiles industry has suffered. At the moment we buy deadstock materials and vintage silks from Mitumba and give these fabrics a second life, however we are looking at building up our use of locally grown materials which utilise non-violent, organic and circular methods of production.
Essentially there are so many wonderful artisans and craftspeople across Kenya that you can really start anywhere.
What does a day in the life of yours look like?
Every day is different when you run your own company, and I’m learning it’s all about focus and balance. Realising that you won’t be able to get everything done that day and to try and give your full attention to each job! I am always so hungry to explore both new design, and fabric possibilities within Doa, but also to find the most positive ways of implementing new processes-this keeps me really driven and inspired.
What came first – clothing or jewellery?
The clothing came first, the jewellery and other pieces I want to bring into our collections were thought of after but have a life of their own.
How do you source all of the recycled materials for the jewellery pieces?
The artisans were already in touch with all of the sellers of pre-used metals, and we melt them down and recast or reshape them.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from a multiplicity of art, design, people. I love artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, architect Luis Barragan, ancient African jewellery found in the British Museum, outfits in old films etc.
I also look to my grandmother Carolyn for inspiration, the shapes found in her 60s and 70s wardrobe, her incredibly stylish use of colour and accessories while out in the Kenyan bush.
What’s your favourite piece of jewellery in the current collection?
I love the Obsidian Ring the most, as I hand picked and shaped each piece of Obsidian from the Rift Valley in Kenya before they were put into their encasings.
The idea of wearing this beautiful black Volcanic glass that has so much of Africa’s rich earth heritage in it is very powerful.
How have you been spending the last few months when life has been at home?
I have been here in London working from home in Royal Oak. Aside from work I always try to read, paint, cook, work out or socialise a bit to keep me happy and semi-sane. Now that lockdown has eased a bit I’m loving finding new wild swimming spots around the outside of London.
Is there something you’ve tried lately that you wouldn’t have otherwise done?
Tending to my plants and kombucha as though they were my children.
How, or what do you do, to live more thoughtfully?
My biggest peeve is single use plastic so I always keep a sweet little wallet of metal cutlery, a water bottle, and a Eco coffee cup so as to try and reduce my input.
On a larger scale, with all of the BLM issues currently in need of such urgent attention, I try to give as much thought and action to that movement as I can.
Katie in our Maddalena Organic Cotton Maxi Dress.
Follow Studio Doa @doa____________