Adam Withey founded Banana Box in 1991 to empower people and bring about positive and sustainable change by collaborating with craftspeople to make handmade products. These products are then sold online or at Banana Box's shops in Nairobi. Seeing the need to offer additional support to marginalized artisans, Adam set up Uhunzi to incubate businesses owned and operated by women and refugees from across East Africa.
Tell me about yourself?
I am a third-generation Kenyan of British descent, brought up in Tigoni, an area best known for its tea plantations, forests, and hills on the edge of Kenya's Rift Valley. My family were farmers initially, then in the 1950s, my Grandparents started a school, and my father followed in their footsteps; he was always very passionate about education and the impact that our small school could have on future generations of Kenyan children as they went out into the world shaped and molded by their experiences and learning. I grew up surrounded by farmland and children from all over East African who came to learn at our family's school.
My Mother was an artist, actress, and craftswoman; she was fascinated by African art, history, and culture. My father loved building and restoration; between them, there was always so much going on, new and exciting projects, and so many places from which their children could draw inspiration.
How did you learn your craft / what inspired you to start?
In my early teens, I developed an interest in welding and fabrication. After graduating high school, I signed up for several welding courses with a company in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. This led to casting and creating products from recycled scrap metal and then to working with several different recycled and upcycled materials creating art and other products. Later this grew from a hobby into a small business named Uhunzi (Swahili for blacksmith). The company has evolved, and we have produced awards for the United Nations, including The Champions of the Earth Award and Green Star Award, which have been presented worldwide and to some well-known figures, including one of my heroes Sir David Attenborough! We have also created several local awards, including the Kenya Tourism Award and the Eco Warrior Award, and designed and built medals for Oxfam.
What about your craft empowers you?
Working with people from different backgrounds and parts of the country, learning from them, and teaching new skills. I love creativity and ingenuity. Kenyans are so practical and able to adapt or create things from whatever is available to them. I love seeing this and being able to channel this energy and be part of the creative process.
Three words to describe how you feel when exercising/sharing your craft with others?
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced while creating your craft/practice?
It is time-consuming and often very labor-intensive. Many of our customers don’t realize or understand what goes into making many of our pieces and the time and energy they take. Each of our products is made by hand, making each piece unique. We often get orders or requests at the last minute that we cannot do because the timeframe that we are given is too short.
How do you live Ubuntu in your own life?
Kenya is a melting pot of tribes and cultures; there is so much inspiration drawn from our everyday life experiences and the people we meet and interact with. My creative energy comes from these interactions. I love sharing my knowledge and experiences, too, as it is always rewarding to see others draw inspiration from you and to be able to share and develop those ideas further or spark new creativity.
At Ubuntu Life, we love style and encourage people to wear items that inspire them or make them feel confident. What are your favorite two items in your wardrobe that make you feel confident and/or the best version of yourself?
I am casual and relaxed. I love my worn soft Kenyan Kikois [traditional Swahili cloth wrap) and old t-shirts, and I love to be barefoot. That is when I can let go and truly be me.
If you had a soundtrack for your life, what would be your theme song?
Redemption Song by Bob Marley. I especially love the line “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” — it speaks volumes for me. The mind is powerful and needs to set itself free from the dictates of modern society. Don’t be the person that others want you to be, be the person that YOU want to be. Always question who you are, what you are doing with your life, and what you want to do. Be inspired; live the dream!
Finishing these sentences...
"I can't wait to…
travel, explore and see new places"
"When nobody is around I...
lie on the grass and listen to nature
"My favorite way to show LOVE is
with a handmade gift, inspired by or created for the person to whom I want to present it."