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Sefte Sister: Elaine Berndes

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When we met Elaine, the founder of kushukuru, we knew we had met our next Sefte Sister. After spending time in Kenya, Elaine's dream of kushukuru was born - a luxury decor company created from the one-of-a-kind beadwork of women from the Maasai tribe in 15 villages in Kenya - creating jobs and reinvesting her profits in the education of girls in remote Kenya. We knew we had to bring kushukuru to our own Sefte sisters - so we are doing just that through our limited edition collaboration. Shop the kushukuru Lamu collection here, and read on to learn more about this special person. 

 

 

Tell us why you are drawn to Sefte Living?   

There’s a soulfulness to Sefte that I find refreshing and inspiring. The scarves, pillows and throws are gorgeous and comforting while having meaning and purpose.  Moreover, when female entrepreneurs like Sarah and Jenn make an effort to develop an initiative like Sefte Sisters which shines light on other female entrepreneurs, I take notice. Sefte isn’t solely about beautiful things, it’s about wellness and happiness and supporting other women. THAT I admire.


How did you get started doing what you do?

The seed was planted back in 2014 when I was a non-profit executive and found myself seated next to President George W. Bush. I don’t care what your political leanings are, when you are seated next to a US President, you take it all in. Our conversation evolved from urban education in America to one in which he underscored the importance of global citizenship and responsibility. He spoke with such conviction about the importance of people getting what they need to not only survive, but to thrive. His words stayed with me for a long time. In 2016 I took a self-imposed sabbatical and wound up lost in the sub-sahara. A Maasai warrior led me back to a “road”, but not before a stop in his village. I was welcomed by Maasai ladies adorned in layers of stunning beads, color and textiles. The beauty and craftsmanship of the pieces and the centuries of history...well, I just wanted to bring this little corner of the globe into homes of explorers like myself. My idea remained a dream for two years while I sketched in a notebook and continued to travel to East and West Africa where I led three USAID funded projects in the agribusiness and microfinance sectors. I wanted to better understand different cultures within Africa, the attitudes towards women and work, the challenges of working in environments lacking infrastructure. Along the way I met people who understood my vision and wanted to help me bring it to life. When you put a clear vision into the universe, the ball starts rolling!

What’s something special that sets your company apart?  

kushukuru pieces find their origins in the cradle of mankind. Literally. The origins of ostrich egg shell beads goes back 40,000 years and the craft of beading goes back centuries in Maasai culture. Our pieces are not only beautiful to look at, to touch and feel; they are cultural artifacts. Due to a multitude of factors, these handicrafts may not be around in the coming century. We want to get them into people’s homes because we want the stories and craft of the Maasai beaders to live on forever.

What keeps you going every day, either in your craft or going about life?

IMPACT. Our partner, The Maa Trust, engages 494 women in households with 9386 family members. Through beading, women are being economically empowered and thousands more girls are able to go to school. The ability to buy solar panels, gas cookers and water tanks means women don’t have to fight elephants and lions to reach water and firewood deep in the bush. It’s no fun being charged by an elephant, trust me!

Where do you seek sanctuary - to dream, meditate, be creative or just find me time?

The African bush.  Nature lends itself to introspection and encourages us to dream. It catalyzes creativity unlike anywhere else I have found. Lying awake there at night, I have learned to tell the victorious roar of a lioness calling males for dinner, the squeal of a baboon sensing a leopard, the cackle of a hyena when scavenging a kill, the never-ending, high-pitched echo of a wildebeest, the loud rip and chomp of an elephant and the more subtle chew of a zebra. Believe it or not, it’s a meditative and relaxing song throughout the night.


What do you do to try to remain present and slow down?

I walk. I walk and listen to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations..to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now or A New Earth...to Gabby Bernstein or Abraham Hicks. Each reminds me to be present, to be open, to enjoy the ride. I’ve learned by slowing down, by being present, being open, the universe conspires to ensure you live your purpose and fills you with happiness, taking you on a path you never even knew existed.

 

Where do you find inspiration for your work and for your life?

Everywhere. In colorful images and meaningful quotes, in solitary quiet moments and in the many acts of kindness we don’t see. There’s such a small percentage of crappy people in the world who get a lot of attention, but there are billions of lovely “invisible” people. We just don’t know them personally. Each of them is living a life in which they are doing much more good than harm. Knowing that inspires me.

Do you have any special rituals for making time with family or friends?

My whole life I loved gathering for a meal with family and/or friends. The stories, the food, the wine, the laughs. It brings me joy.


What’s your favorite Sefte product?

That’s easy; the Paya Jewelry Pouch. Dare I admit that until I ordered it, I was flying my jewelry around the globe in Ziploc bags? I mean, plastic bags are not even legal in certain parts of the world! I could have been detained. As a girl who relishes a statement necklace and other rare finds, I am always picking up new pieces on my travels. Now all these gorgeous pieces have a warm safe home in my suitcase! I love it!

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