In Her Words / A Message from our Artisan Partners in Kenya

In Her Words - A letter from Melissa Shepherd

Dear Ibu Allies,
My name is Melissa Shepherd and I am the general manager for Kenana Knitters Ltd. in Kenya. I am so excited to tell you more about what we do. I have been at Kenana Knitters since May 2020—the height of the pandemic—and have been very lucky to have found this work in such a difficult time. The organization was founded in 1998 by Patricia “Paddy” Nightingale to help rural women find a much needed form of income using their spinning and knitting skills. We support over 300 knitters as well as over 200 spinners who hand spin the wool into yarn.

Our Products are made from beautiful local, organic, natural fibers, supporting our local farmers. We use both AZO-free dyes and natural plant dyes from plants grown in the area which add vibrant and colorful depth to designs.

Kenana Knitters dyeing practices.

Newly spun yarn to be turned into skein. Natural pigments found in organic materials such as flowers and cabbage are used for dyes.

I love my work here, as we touch the lives of the knitters, not just through meaningful income but through our other community projects, such as literacy classes and health and wellbeing clinics which are offered for free. One knitter came to us with terrible oedema—she was not able to walk, and was also suffering from problems with her eyes, struggling to see. Now, thanks to the knitters we have been able to get her the medical attention that she needs, and she is able to walk and dance. She has glasses so she can see, and best of all, she has income that means she is able to help her family pay for her grandchildren to attend school.

I am so proud to be working with these amazing women, who have shown such impressive growth that we have been able to promote from within the team over the past two years, and bring better opportunities to more artisans. Since January, we have taken on 20 new knitters!

Kenana Knitters

Kenana Knitter artisans mapping out knitting patterns and sculpting naturally dyed yarns. Knitted Zebra toy, and an artisan's visiting child.

We have a profit-sharing policy, where any profits we make are given back to the knitters in December. One year, Paddy asked the knitters what they planned to do with their bonuses. A knitter, who is now our head of production, said that she was going to buy a bicycle. At this time, this was unusual as women, culturally, would never ride a bicycle. After the bonuses were paid, Paddy asked if the knitter had bought the bicycle, and she had bought two—one for each of her brothers who would take her to work each morning, and then during the day would work as boda-boda—a rural taxi—taking people from points A to B on their bikes. So now, not only was she earning, but her brothers had the opportunity to bring in an income as well.

We are grateful to Ibu for providing a marketplace where the creations of our knitters can be sold. Every order we receive allows more women to have positive and life changing opportunities like the ones I shared above. Thank you for supporting the women of rural Kenya—we hope their adorable and cuddly creations bring you much joy!

With gratitude,
Melissa Shepherd
General Manager, Kenana Knitters Ltd.

Kenana Knitters products