2000 - 2022
From a one-way ticket to Kenya to an unlikely friendship, empowered employment, beautiful handcrafted products, a thriving social enterprise, and a new state-of-the-art Children’s Wellness Centre, this is the story of how Ubuntu Life came to be.
2000 - 2001
It all started when our Co-Founder & CEO, Zane Wilemon, purchased a one-way ticket to Kenya in search of the meaning of life. It was there that he met our other Co-Founder, Jeremiah Kuria. The two forged a powerful friendship as they shared life and talked about faith, development and purpose. These conversations led to standing lunches every Thursday where they began to brainstorm on ways to serve the local community, especially those living on the margins of society.
This was the age before cell phones, so when Jeremiah dropped Zane off approximately 50 miles from a tarmac road equipped with only two jerry cans of clean drinking water, the adventure began. That week was both eye opening for Zane, but also the beginning of community building with the Maasai that continues to this day.
It was Zane’s immersion with the Maasai community combined with Jeremiahs and Zanes Thursday conversations that quickly morphed into the shared vision that would become Ubuntu’s focus: creating opportunities that empower the local Maai Mahiu community, but exactly what opportunities was not yet clear. Larger community ties began to form that eventually led to numerous development projects, such as constructing local schools, churches and hosting annual medical clinics.
Zane returned to Kenya multiple times with friends to build a school, listen to stories from the local community, establishing lasting friendships, and founded Comfort the Children (CTC) International, a non-profit created to serve the people of Maai Mahiu, and offer medical and educational services to children in the region with special needs.
After working alongside the disabled community for two years, CTC International developed the only school for children with special needs in the Rift Valley region.
CTC International launches our L.I.F.E. Line products providing empowered employment for mothers in Maai Mahiu. With their children away at school, these Mums were looking for something meaningful to do for work. In a 15x15 foot rented room in Maai Mahiu filled with manual Singer sewing machines, the nine original Maker Mums were trained on sewing and launched their first 500 handcrafted L.I.F.E. tote bags.
2009 - 2011
CTC International partnered with Kansas State University and Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture after purchasing 11 acres of land on the outskirts of Maai Mahiu to develop a community centre with the residents of Maai Mahiu. This same year, after receiving his Master’s degree in the US, Jeremiah returned to Maai Mahiu as CTC International’s Kenyan Director. On these 11 acres, CTC International began to rehabilitate the land planting thousands of native trees, plants and shrubs envisioning what would someday become the Ubuntu Life Campus.
Ubuntu began working with a group of Maasai craftswomen in the Ngong Hills. These women, the Maasai Maker Mums, create beautiful beadwork in their spare time under acacia trees, chatting with their neighbors. Ubuntu provides them with access to income in a way that is supportive of their culture and lifestyle. By December, their creations were available in Whole Foods Markets globally. Coffee sleeves and reusable canvas bags made by our Maker Mums and beaded bracelets made by our Maasai Maker Mums became available in Whole Foods stores across the US, Canada & the UK.
We launched Cafe Ubuntu with the support of Whole Foods Market. Our Maker Mums soon began producing more sophisticated products that allowed Ubuntu to earn more revenue and pay higher wages.
In under two years, Ubuntu’s Maasai Maker Mums produced over 13,440 bracelets. That is approx 22,289,000 beads!! In partnership with the Maasai Maker Mums, Ubuntu launches the Original LOVE Bracelet. Later that year we establish a strong partnership with American Eagle Outfitters and the LOVE bracelet is launched globally.
Ubuntu constructs our second building on the Ubuntu Life Campus, our Maker Studio. This two story structure is home to our Maker Mums and Maker Men who handcraft our bags, shoes and bracelets.
Ubuntu teams up with Zazzle to debut the signature orange and blue beaded tab on an all-new product line, including totes, wallets, and key chains. This design component reflects Ubuntu’s close relationship with the community of Maasai Maker Mums. Orange represents the deep orange and red soil found across Kenya, and the blue represents the traditional blue color used on most homes and businesses. Both of these colors are reminders to our Ubuntu team and wider community and customers of our commitment to Kenya and our mission of providing empowerment opportunities to the local community.
Ubuntu partnered with (RED), a nonprofit organization that collaborates with the world's top brands to create products and experiences that fund the fight against AIDS. Starting with the Original red LOVE bracelet in 2016 and every December since, we’ve turned our favorite products (RED) and the proceeds go to the Global Fund to support their fight against HIV and AIDS.
Ubuntu’s first shoe, the Afridrille – made in collaboration with Zazzle Heart – was launched on Kickstarter, and Ubuntu officially became the home of the African espadrille. Simultaneously we rebranded from CTC International to Ubuntu Life. The African philosophy of UBUNTU had always been a core value of the company so when going through the rebranding process we decided to lead with our greatest value as a reminder to all of us that we are interconnected, equal parts of the global community.
After years of being one 501c3 nonprofit entity, we transitioned our social enterprise, the fashion retail arm, into a for-profit business. This took years to accomplish as we wanted to ensure the connection between our enterprise arm and our foundation arm remained strong.Ubuntu Life PBC, a public benefit corporation, creates beautiful handmade products for sale in Kenya and internationally, providing members of our community with sustainable empowered employment. The Ubuntu Life Foundation retains our original 501c3 nonprofit status with it’s focus on providing pediatric health and education opportunities for children with special needs and is the primary impact partner for Ubuntu Life PBC.
In a year when COVID-19 turned our lives upside down, Ubuntu Life PBC stood firm and was fortunate to grow exponentially thanks to the loyal support and love from our customers. We successfully launched our beaded VOTE bracelets ahead of the 2020 US Presidential elections and as a result experienced a surge of growth. This success was quickly followed that Holiday season when Oprah Winfrey selected our Lamu Mules as part of Oprah’s Favorite Things.
Oprah Magazine picks the Summer Pink LOVE Bracelet as a top Valentine's Day Pick. Our best Valentine’s gift to date followed by a healthy COVID-19 recovery year! Ubuntu Life launches our Series A investment round with NFL quarterback Drew Brees and wife Brittany Brees as our lead investor.
Ubuntu experiences a new and exciting collaboration with Kendra Scott as their very first social impact partner. This was a collaboration from concept to design to launch both online and in all 114 retail locations in the United States for Valentines Day followed by Mothers Day.
Our brand new, state-of-the-art Children’s Wellness Centre opens on the Ubuntu Life campus in Maai Mahiu. Operated by the Ubuntu Life Foundation, the centre offers children with special needs and their families throughout the region medical and education services, and hosts medical clinics to provide care for the local Maai Mahiu community.