November 2021

You can't always push the little guys around!

BLOG / You can't always push the little guys around!

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Building a brand that is positioned to serve and impact lives for the betterment of their communities is not without its daily challenges.  It is part of the DNA, the grit, the passion, and the heart that separates a social enterprise from a typical business.  When Jeremiah and I started Ubuntu Life 20 years ago we didn’t necessarily have the clarity or the vocabulary of how we would structure our social impact business, but we were doing something much more important than crafting our language.  We were birthing the passion, grit and values through the intentionality of how we formed our friendship.    

Zane:  As a 23 year old Texas kid experiencing Kenya for the first time there were many aspects of being raised as an American that would have been easy for me to have approached Jeremiah with a solution based mindset to solve the many problems that Jeremiah was dealing with as a community leader in his hometown of Maai Mahiu.  

Jeremiah:  And at the same time, as a 33 year old Kenyan pastor who was raised in poverty and who was serving orphaned children living in poverty, it would have been easy for me to have approached Zane as an “American solution” via access to capital and resources to solve some of my headaches.

However, for whatever reason those 20 years ago, neither of us did what we had been programmed culturally to do. Instead, we approached one another with an openness of heart and mind to learn, to connect, and simply to share our lives for this unspecified period of time that has now evolved into 20 years of friendship and partnership.

Our friendship has become the root system of the Ubuntu Life culture and how we still work with the community, with our fellow team members, donors, investors, partners, suppliers, etc to this day. At Ubuntu we establish all relationships with this simple methodology that formed our friendship all those years ago...not a hand out, not a hand up, but eye to eye with a handshake that no matter our difference in skin color, no matter our difference in socioeconomic status, no matter our difference in nationality...we each have as much to learn from the other to reach our full potential as fellow human beings.

JeremiahAs a Kenyan, I can attest to the fact that it is this eye to eye, handshake approach that separates Ubuntu Life from most other social impact organizations that we encounter.  It is what countless volunteers, partners, and visitors that have visited us from abroad have shared time and again what they love about Ubuntu Life. People who especially visit us here on our land in Maai Mahiu, Kenya are struck by the ownership that permeates our entire organization from those who have been with the company for over a decade to those who have been with us for just a few years. They walk away feeling that this company is truly owned, operated, and loved by the very people that make it happen every single day.

Zane:  I would also add that by the nature of how we run our business and serve our team, the products we make are simply a manifestation of these same values that Jeremiah shared. Each product is designed, sourced, and crafted with that same level of care and intentionality as we treat one another. As a result we hope our customers feel that intrinsic value as they put on a pair of our Lamu Mules, or carry one of our Kuba Weekender Bags, or staring down at one of our hand-beaded LOVE bracelets on your wrist.   With all of that background in mind, you can understand the heartache and frustration that was felt across our entire company when we learned about the latest product release by Gucci that is a direct copy of our custom beaded bracelets. 

With all of that background in mind, you can understand the heartache and frustration that was felt across our entire company when we learned about the latest product release by Gucci that is a direct copy of our custom beaded bracelets. 

A few years back when we first launched our beaded LOVE bracelet we did a collaboration at Colette during Paris Fashion Week in 2015.  It was here that the Creative Director of Gucci, Alessandro Michele, purchased one of our beaded light blue AMOUR bracelets that we made especially for this installation at Colette.  After seeing Alessandro post wearing this bracelet several times on Instagram we reached out to members of his team, including his assistant, in hopes that we could strike a meaningful relationship between high fashion and social impact. In our email to the Gucci team, we sampled up several beaded GUCCI bracelets so that they could see the quality for themselves. This email was sent to the Gucci team in early 2020 at the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic.

As you can imagine, we never heard back from this email. Instead, we saw the release of Gucci's very own beaded bracelets mimicking a combination of Alessandro's AMOUR and the beaded GUCCI samples that we shared with them just over a year ago. It's shocking to have something like this happen. As a social enterprise, you would hope that big businesses like Gucci would prefer to support and collaborate with small businesses like Ubuntu Life rather than ripping us off and taking our ideas, our very blood, sweat, and tears.

As our friends, customers, and Tribe members we ask you to please share this story.  Please share this blog far and wide with as many PR and news outlets as possible so that at the very least Gucci has to recognize that you can't always push the little guys around. We are here to stand with our makers, our Kenya mums, and Maasai artisans who fight for their existence. Please stand with us and our entire Ubuntu Life team.  Help join our fight as we seek to be recognized for our handcrafted bracelets in Kenya and not letting a big corporation like Gucci rip off the beautiful impact being created by our incredible Maker Mums.  We need your voice.  UBUNTU!   

Thank you,

Jeremiah Kuria & Zane Wilemon Co-Founders of Ubuntu Life

Capetown Blue LOVE Bracelet

gold love bracelet

Gold LOVE Bracelet

red love bracelet

Red LOVE Bracelet

cobalt love bracelet

Cobalt LOVE Bracelet



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