It is a very, very long way, in every way imaginable, from the villages of rural Kenya to the pavilion at Lord’s cricket ground.
Yet it was here that Stuart Squire’s beaded Kenyan belt (in MCC colours) drew admiring comments. In fact the belt was so universally admired and envied, Stuart began to wonder whether the market for these beautifully crafted Maasai belts could sustain a business. It turned out it could.
Stuart, now a teacher at one of England’s best known prep schools, spent three years teaching at a school in a fairly remote part of Kenya. He learned about Maasai beadwork there. “Beading is a centuries old decorative skill, practiced only by women. The colours and patterns the women achieve are rich in meaning. Red signifies blood, bravery, and unity. White represents health, peace, and purity. Blue is the color of the sky and represents energy, and green is the color of grass, which signifies the land and production.”
Manyatta belts are beaded by Maasai “mamas” in Kenya who are steeped in these traditions, and whose techniques have changed little in centuries, handed on from mother to daughter. The leather is also Kenyan, as is the recycled brass buckle. The beading is done painstakingly and takes a long time: there are more than 4,000 beads on every belt. It’s a highly social activity and one that brings communities of women together. The belts are strung by hand in the manyattas (homesteads), not in factories. Every time someone orders, more money ends up in the hands of women who have few other opportunities to earn.
The way the belts are made means there is no great push to make them by the thousands, or even the hundreds. Modern technology is at the heart of how Manyatta talks to its suppliers – by WhatsApp – but the manufacture is very traditional.
“If a small club wants just a handful belts, or a large one wants to mark a significant moment, we can fulfil those orders at a similar cost.”
Tradition plays a big part at Manyatta, and not just in Kenya.
“I supply belts to fifteen regiments, clubs and associations, in their colours. With ties falling out of fashion a belt is a brilliant and practical way of showing membership or affiliation. I suppose our belts are helping to uphold traditions in the UK and in Africa – just in very different ways.” The new school tie is not a tie at all. It’s a Manyatta belt.