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Meet the Maker: Sarah Bayot of Kicheko

Photo of Sarah Bayot, maker and founder of Kicheko.

When did Kicheko begin and where are you based? How did you get started with jewelry making?

Kicheko Goods is a for-people and for-profit jewelry brand based in Washington DC. We became a business in January of 2014. Since I was a bitty, I have had a creative bent and was always interested in creating different things. I took several art classes and dove into various crafting projects. In 2012, I started jewelry making with a group of young women who met weekly to craft and make different projects. One of the projects we made was fabric covered button earrings. Around the same time, I was learning how to sew and I saw all of these possibilities for the earrings combining fabrics, pattern and materials. I started making a lot of them and then friends asked to buy the earrings. A friend of mine who is a full-time singer/songwriter asked me to make a specific collection for her tour. Then my home church put in an order for 500 pairs for Mother's Day! A light bulb clicked at that moment that the beginnings of a business were here, something was here. At that point, I picked the name for the business, Kicheko, which means “smile/laughter” in Swahili, made a website, and started the online shop. From internships and research during college, I was interested in socially responsible businesses. For a number of years, I have worked with a local community in eastern Congo on orphan care capacity building and education visiting them every year. I felt this was the right avenue to continue sharing the stories from Congo while helping support their education efforts through the evolving collection of jewelry.

How did you come up with the name, Kicheko?

Kicheko is a Swahili word that describes smile and laughter. I started the company very much intertwined with my work with a community in eastern Congo to help expand their orphan care capacity and education efforts. Learning more about Congo, you read a lot of negative press about the current realities and the country’s future prospects. There are just so many issues, it can be paralyzing. In the 5 years that I've traveled to Congo, what has surprised me is was how ordinary and joyous life can be. The people that we have met crave ordinary days - to go about their businesses, educate their kids, have enough to eat, drink clean water, go to work, and be together. It's such a communal culture. The moments I experienced were wonderfully ordinary and beautiful and I just remember hearing so distinctly these true bouts of laughter when the kids would make each other laugh, or just genuine smiles when you'd be going throughout the community and talking with them. It was so profound and yet very simple. I think I take that for granted a lot - what a smile can do, what laughter can do for yourself, for other people. It’s so cathartic and something everyone needs regardless of age, race, culture, religion. I wanted Kicheko to help fight for these beautifully, ordinary moments and share a different narrative. Education is such a key vehicle to building up a community and a country. I love that this is what Kicheko can be about - creating beautiful and unique jewelry that helps give access to quality education.

What is your favorite part about being a creative in your city?

It's interesting because DC is more known as the capital city and the seat of political power. However, the creative industry in the district is growing. There's definitely an influx of young people and along with that, creatives from different walks are making their mark here. One of my favorite aspects of working as a creative in this city is that there is this openness and receptivity to it from other creatives and from locals. It’s been really fun to discover the creative and startup side of the city and to see the district in a new light.

Any favorite spots?

I love Rock Creek Park in the Adams Morgan area. There are meandering paths that are great to go for a walk, a jog or take a nap on a blanket underneath a tree. I love Georgetown Waterfront Park - it’s so great for picnics and to hang by the water. Walking along 14th St with Dolcezza gelato or sorbetto is also a favorite - the street is so dynamic now. Tryst is a favorite to meet with friends for coffee or work out of during the week. 

Where do you draw inspiration from when creating your jewelry?

It's definitely a mix. I'm such a city girl. I've always been drawn to the city, but there's something about nature and rural areas that pull me in. As I get older, I’m drawn to that more and more. There is definitely an element of earthiness in Kicheko’s designs that incorporates natural elements. I also have an eclectic sense of style that seeks freedom but respects discpline. I design under the parameters of mixed materials, simple forms, unique silhouettes, translatable everyday wear that plays and challenges. I’m sure the design process will evolve but the earthiness of nature, the edginess of the city and plays with mixed materials are my main guidelines under which I take in and filter inspiration through travels, exploring the district, reading magazines, studying art, putting on my headphones and sketching.

What have you been most recently inspired by?

The Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library in southeast DC is a beautiful piece of architecture that reimagines what public libraries can be. The reflective windows mirror back the surrounding foliage and neighborhood while playing with creative light shapes in the interior. It’s so worth a visit! We photographed one of our models for our upcoming lookbook there and it was such a juxtaposition having a building like this in our backyard. At certain angles, you don’t know where the trees end and the library begins.

What is your vision for the future of Kicheko? Where do you see your collection growing?

I envision Kicheko to be a vibrant, creative and positive brand that expands into more products and grows into a lifestyle brand. As a maker it's very satisfying to learn new tools and skills. I would like to expand my own skill set in creating products that come from my creative voice, work in tandem with other designers and makers to create unique product that speak to our joined aesthetics. I find the collaboration process really, really fascinating. I would love for Kicheko’s designs to be in independent boutiques, socially conscious retailers, and also hybrid spaces that combine things like food, drink, retail and a live creative component like art or music.

What does your daily routine typically look like?

I feel this is still forming. When you're working and creating independently, there is no one to tell you what's important that day. Autonomy is glorious. But discipline and focus helps you not go off the rails. You have to discern that. Sometimes there's a lot pulling at your attention, so I've really had to incorporate a morning routine to orient my day and understand what is priority. Usually I'll have breakfast and do that. Running a couple of times a week helps me gain clarity. When I go into the studio, I’ll make a pot of coffee and respond to emails first and then look at what's coming down the line during that week or that day. The day will be composed of a mix of making, designing, sketching, product shoots, updating the website, setting up meetings, etc.

What is currently on your playlist of songs?

  • Kye Kye
  • Brooke Fraser
  • Mayer Hawthorne
  • Hillsong’s Touch the Sky
  • Beach House
  • The Heavy
  • Ed Sheeran

When you look through a kaleidoscope, what do you feel?

I feel like I am in one of those old, historic cathedrals in Europe. It reminds me of stained glass. It also makes me feel trippy. I feel like I'm in a stained glass bubble.

Lastly, what inspired the design for this collaboration?

I love statement pieces that can be chameleons in the sense of playing with subtlety and translating to different kinds of styles, outfits and silhouettes while remaining strong, anchoring pieces themselves. Creating a really unique piece drove the feel of the collaboration. As a creative yourself, I was excited to see what made your eyes light up when playing with different designs, texture, cord and rope. Over the course of our collaboration, we wanted to create a beautiful summery element and nautical elements are strong and intricate. Functionally, they keep a person in place whether a person is rock climbing or tethering a boat in the water. Yet, they are beautiful at the same time. I think the Nanga hits both elements of beauty and function.

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