About Us

Discover the Natural Elegance of The Leakey Collection

Based in The Rift Valley of Kenya, East Africa, The Leakey Collection founders Katy and Philip Leakey, combine their talents in interior design and the arts with their love of nature to develop stunning handcrafted products for an international market.

Using natural elements such as fallen wood, grass and porcelain, these renowned designers create unique products while protecting the environment and providing economic opportunity to the local communities. Products from The Leakey Collection are sold in stores worldwide. From high fashion jewelry to home interior design accessories and their new line of skin care, The Leakey Collection's natural elegance distinguishes this high end product line as one of the world's premier offerings.

The Leakey Collection is a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation as well as Green America.

The Leakey Collection was founded in 2002 by Katy and Philip Leakey.

Philip Leakey is the third and youngest son of paleo-anthropologists Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey. He was a Member of Parliament in Kenya for 15 years, a Deputy Member of the Cabinet for 14 years, and a Member of the Cabinet for 1 year. Philip is known in Kenya for his dedication towards improving conditions for all Kenyans with particular attention to the areas of business opportunity and the environment.

Katy Leakey is an artist and a designer. Her interest as an artist has been to connect diverse cultures through understanding using art as a vehicle. Katy spent time studying ancient cultures in the unexplored areas of the Amazon of Peru and Ecuador before moving to Africa in 2001. In 1964, Allen and Helen O'Brien along with Katy Leakey's parents, Robert and Evelyn Moodey and three others, co-founded the L.S.B. Leakey foundation, lending a cultural anthropological bent towards Katy's life long work in Art.

The Company

  • The Leakey Collection was founded in 2002 by Katy and Philip Leakey.
  • Philip and Katy Leakey live in the rural bush of the Rift Valley in Kenya, among the Maasai.
  • The Leakey Collection is a company that designs contemporary products, which are hand made by the Maasai women and men of Kenya in the categories of interior home, fashion accessories and skin care.
  • The Leakey Collection offers employment opportunity to over 1400 Kenyans depending on the season.
  • Assembly of products for The Leakey Collection in Kenya is done in a non-factory setting. Women work under the acacia trees at work sites which can provide work opportunity where ever work is needed in the Rift Valley.
  • Work sites are set up only when invited into a community by Maasai women and the elders.
  • Work sites spans over 150 miles in the Rift Valley.
  • All materials used by The Leakey Collection are environmentally sustainable.
  • The Leakey Collection uses only fallen dead wood from environmentally sustainable areas in its wood products.
  • The environmentally sustainable harvest of the grass also works to preserve the wet lands since the communities no longer burn the grass, which cattle do not eat, to make room for the plentiful grass that cattle do eat.
  • Zulugrass and Zuluwood are products of The Leakey Collection.
  • The Leakey Collection also designs a line of Passementerie, (fringe and trims), which is distributed by Samuel and Sons in New York and is available at selected Holly Hunt and Kneedler-Fauchere show rooms around the United States.
  • In 2002, The Leakey Collection won the Environment Conscious award from the Association of Makers and Exporters of Gifts and Allied Articles of Kenya for its innovative use and management of natural materials.
  • In 2008, The Leakey Collection was chosen as one of twelve finalists in the BBC World Challenge; a global contest for companies creating positive, sustainable change for rural people in developing countries.
  • In 2008, Co-founders Philip and Katy Leakey were guest speakers at the World Export and Development Forum in Switzerland for their expertise in the field of Fair Trade.
  • In 2008, The Leakey Collection started a Women’s Health Initiative to train local health care workers that reach out to others in the community and assist in mid-wife childbirth, healing the wounded, and caring for the sick.
  • The Leakey Collection pays for teacher’s salaries in local communities to aid in lowering the student teacher ratio from 80/1 to 45/1 and to improve the quality of education.
  • The Leakey Collection works with community elders to assist and advise on important local issues such as economic growth, identifying opportunities, and assisting schools.

 

The product - Zulugrass

  • The concept of Zulugrass, sold by the single strand to design your own jewelry, is the combined creation of Katy and Philip Leakey.
  • Each piece of Zulugrass is designed by Katy and Philip Leakey and assembled by the Maasai women of Kenya.
  • Zulugrass is a design your own jewelry that can be worn in a variety of ways; necklaces choker or long, bracelets, belts, anklets, hair-ties, and is also used creatively as gifts with other applications.
  • Zulugrass is jewelry made from grass beads dyed with textile dyes and mixed with hand blown Czech glass beads and Japanese glass beads and strung on elastic that was invented for the movie Spiderman.
  • The grass is harvested by hand, blade by blade from tall stands, and cut by hand, bead by bead. The grass grows with a hole in it and is hard and durable, often used in the furniture industry because of its strength.
  • Zulugrass is water proof, salt water and fresh, colorfast, and long lasting, the elastic has a memory of over 6 years and still going even if warn every day, sun, shower, pool or ocean and tied in any number of ways from day to day.
  • The grass takes the dye in such a way as to reflect a deep luminescence and vibrant color.
  • The Leakey Collection uses only the highest quality glass beads available in the world, those of Czech Republic and Japan, which are renowned for reflecting the most striking rays of pure color.
  • There are many different styles of Zulugrass jewelry such as Amani, Mulit-strand necklaces and bracelets, handcrafted porcelain pendants and charms.
  • Zuluwood is a classic line of jewelry hand crafted from fallen wood. Beads of richly hued and lovely grain are strung into necklaces and bracelets. Each precious bead is hand burnished for a gem stone quality.
  • The Interior Home lines of table top products are hand crafted from fallen Acacia Tortillis, an extremely hard wood with deep hues and lovely fine grain. This line includes; bowls, platters, Sushi sets, bread boards, and more.
  • The Skin Care line is based on Marula Oil. This penetrating, light, non-greasy, deeply hydrating and restorative oil has been used for centuries by women in Africa to treat stretch marks, scars, heal burns, and to hydrate the skin- keeping it soft and healthy.
  • Zulugrass was born out of a need. By the end of the devastating drought in Kenya around 2001 the Leakey's were supporting as many as 100 Maasai families by giving them money for food, school fees, medical expenses and housing. This was not sustainable for either party. The men had left the women and children behind as they had to take the surviving cattle far up country in search of grazing land. The men had been away for as long as two years. Philip Leakey came up with the idea to create jewelry made from grass. At first, the designs were rather traditional and the Leakey's found too small a market to do much good for the Maasai as the line was considered too "ethnic" by the western market. It was then that Katy Leakey came up with the modification of the single strand on elastic as a design your own jewelry system and the contemporary and global Zulugrass Jewelry with the Zulugirl logo was born.
  • Zulugrass is currently sold in over 20 countries worldwide and growing.

   

The Maasai

  • A proud, nomadic, pastoral tribe many of whom are still living by their ancient traditions in East Africa.
  • Maasai culture is 800 years old.
  • The Maasai are cattle herders and believe that God entrusted them the responsibility to look after all the cattle of the world.
  • The majority of the financial income for a Maasai family comes from trading cattle and is under the sole control of the men.
  • The Maasai speak the dialect of Maa.
  • “Maasai” translates as “The People of Maa”.
  • There are about a half a million Maasai living in East Africa today with one quarter of a million living in Kenya.
  • The Maasai culture is now heavily influenced by Christianity since missionaries moved into their territories dating as far back as the eighteen hundreds.
  • Current pressures on the Maasai culture are a combination of environmental, cultural and financial. It is difficult for many young Maasai men to find work in their communities outside of cattle herding, which is not always economically sufficient for families with modern demands of education and medical expenses and is not necessarily appealing to a young educated generation. Many are migrating to the urban areas in search of work, leaving behind a culture struggling to survive.
  • Many families in arid regions struggle financially and during dry seasons the hardships can be profound.
  • Traditionally Maasai women do not earn an income and they work hard around the home. In the beginning the Leakey's struggled to bring the work to the women but the men who remained in the communities kicked against the women's new founded economic independence. Gradually the men came to realize the tremendous financial help the women were bringing to their families and now they enthusiastically embrace their wives and daughters ability to earn an income.
  • The women use the income for everything from the basics of food, education fees, and medical expenses, to improving their life styles such as buying their own herds of goats, purchasing land and starting their own businesses.
  • Communities become more stable financially and politically.
  • More children are receiving an education.
  • The general overall health of communities has improved.
  • Small service businesses begin to flourish as there is money to spend locally.
  • The men have developed more appreciation for the work that women do, both at home and earning an income.
  • The men have progressed through several stages in just a matter of years; first, afraid of what would happen when a woman becomes financially independent, second, appreciating her efforts and rewards, third, wanting to improve their own financial situation once they see the advancement of their wives and daughters.
  • Communities become more environmentally aware.
  • The women are now seeking advice on ways to invest their money.

   

The Founders - Philip Leakey and Katy Leakey

  • Philip Leakey is the third and youngest son of paleo-anthropologists Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey.
  • Philip Leakey was a Member of Parliament in Kenya for 15 years, a Deputy Member of the Cabinet for 14 years and a Member of Cabinet for 1 year.
  • Philip is known in Kenya for his dedication towards improving conditions for all Kenyan's with particular attention to the areas of business opportunity and the environment.
  • Katy Leakey is an artist and a designer. Her interest as an artist has been to connect diverse cultures through understanding one another's motivations.
  • Katy Leakey spent time studying ancient cultures in the unexplored areas of the Amazon of Peru and Ecuador before moving to Africa in 2001.
  • In 1964 Allen and Helen O'Brien along with Katy Leakey's parents, Robert and Evelyn Moodey and three others, co-founded the L.S.B. Leakey foundation.
  • Although Katy knew Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey since 1963 she had not met Philip until 1984. In 2000 the two struck up a transcontinental relationship, which culminated in marriage, September of 2001 under a large acacia tree in the Maasai Mara game reserve.

 

A Sampling of Stories

First pay day

The women are paid in cash and on the first pay day our manager took the envelopes labeled with each woman's name. At the end of reading each name many envelopes were left unclaimed and many women openly disgruntled. A community elder was called in to sort out the problem. As it turned out, in Maasai culture, a person's name is a description of where they fit into the complex structure of families within clans over a period of 800 years. Rather like a painting, each rendition differs from the last. It took over 3 weeks and the community of elders to sort out which envelopes belonged to what women since few of them could remember the precise description they gave each day they came to work. From then on, numbers were assigned along with names.

One woman's enterprise

One visionary woman actually paid to come by matatu (bus) to one of our training sites from a great distance. She quickly became the highest producer. After several weeks she asked us to set up a site in her area. During the process of doing so we learned that her financial investment was aimed at creating work for the poorer clients of her small store who used credit to buy food. She couldn't turn her back on them but needed her bills paid as many were in arrears more than two years. The work station was a success. All her neighbors paid their outstanding debts within two months and in just 8 months she earned enough money to buy a plot of land in town and build her own store. She is an inspiration to everyone.

Favorite Statistics

The people of Kenya have produced in a non-factory setting in Kenya's bush:

  • 1500 million beads.
  • 8 miles of fringe.
  • Over 1400 jobs have been created.
  • Over 10,000 people are supported by the work generated from assembling Zulugrass and other products from The Leakey Collection.

Send us the name of a prospective retail outlet you think suitable to carry our line of products and if it results in a sale we will send you free Zulugrass jewelry as a thank you for your valuable help. Every new store helps spread work opportunity. Click here

Send us contacts of organizations working anywhere in the world that are working in the same vein as we are; manufacturing handicrafts for the international market. Click here

See below for further ideas in ways you can get involved. Send us your thoughts. Click here

What We Do

  1. Design beautiful products with innovative use of natural materials for the contemporary global marketplace.
  2. Provide work opportunity through culturally designed enterprise using a unique system of mobile work stations.
  3. Teach sustainable harvesting and treating of natural materials with the purpose of stemming urban migration and expanding business opportunities in rural areas.
  4. Take products to market through out the world in order to provide steady work opportunity to rural communities.
  5. Cross cultural understanding and education between communities in developing countries and developed countries; learn through exchange with rural communities regarding social strength, unique political solutions, character, lost arts, creative problem solving, environmental solutions, and to bring technical training, opportunity and a practical, sustainable bridge to business.
  6. To design a model that can be duplicated in other countries around the world.

Achievements of this System to Date

  1. In four years The Leakey Collection has grown from Katy and Philip Leakey personally supporting over 100 Maasai families with one work site to providing work for over 1000 woman with seven work stations. The work opportunities span over 150 miles in the Rift Valley, Kenya.
  2. Zulugrass jewelry is now sold in over 1200 stores in 20 countries.
  3. The Leakey Collection sets up work sites only when invited and currently has a waiting list of over 6000 Maasai wanting work stations.
  4. The changes witnessed in each of the communities as a direct result of the work include: political stability, a lack of strife, reduced financial stress up to financial stability and investment ability, and women enjoying an enhanced respect from the men.
  5. The general welfare of families, including health and wealth has increased dramatically as women and men are now asking for education on ways to invest their money. With this delivery system, of work opportunity and access to the global market place, vision and planning towards the future has become a reality rather than the frustration of subsistence level living most common in rural areas due to lack of resources, infrastructure, systems and opportunity.
  6. The Youth have become more involved in environmental issues.
  7. Kenya's drought of 2006 ended with the Maasai in some parts of Kenya losing more than half of their cattle; yet, the Maasai with access to nomadic work sites are able to regain their losses in a matter of months rather than five years or more. They experienced no interruption in children's education and family necessities.
  8. The Leakey Collection won the Environment Conscious award from the Association of Makers and Exporters of Gifts and Allied Articles of Kenya in 2002 for its innovative use and management of natural materials.

Current Projects

  1. Working to set up the first hydro-electric plant, clean and ecologically compatible, in Maasai land. The clean, ecologically sound power will benefit future generations as gas, oil and petrol prices continue to rise making it more difficult for outlying areas to compete in any market place yet alone the global one.
  2. Opening more work sites.
  3. Training 450 women and men in a variety of skills and foremanship.
  4. Environmental training for local communities.
  5. Expanding sales outlets to continue the growth of this system of opportunity.

Our Goals

  1. By the end of 2007 to have in place a technical school and training facility to teach environmentally sustainable harvesting of raw materials, skills in handicraft, machine working, managerial skills, foremanship, and basic business education. Looking to partner with an educational facility to train the initial team of teachers and looking for financial assistance.
  2. By mid 2007 to have completed the hydro-electric plant. Looking for financial assistance.
  3. By end of 2007 to have set up a clinic and health education center that trains community members in the basics of health care, safety and rescue, and disease prevention. We are looking for a program that has been tested and can be easily taught to rural communities. Looking to partner with an existing organization that works in this area.

Our Vision

The Leakey Collection dedicates itself to advancing a system of enterprise with access to the global market in rural areas, thus bringing; grassroots capital opportunity, independence by individual effort and re-establishment of natural habitats through an innovative and culturally conscious model that is tested and can be duplicated around the world.

The Leakey Collection™

The Leakey Collection is a Fair Trade design company built on innovative uses of natural materials to create a line of beautiful lifestyle products for the contemporary global marketplace with the purpose of creating employment opportunities for rural Kenyans. Our product lines include naturally elegant interior home accessories, fashion jewelry and accessories, and gift items.

We are dedicated to designing new ways of working with sustainable, natural materials while maintaining environmental and cultural integrity. We have created sound business practices without disturbing cultural, traditional lifestyles. We are committed to creating entrepreneurial and lifelong opportunities for rural Kenyans.

The Leakey Collection is dedicated to uniting the community of caring and concerned people around the world with rural communities in East Africa, using commerce as a vehicle. We hope to enhance people’s lives by creating work opportunity for the Maasai in an environmentally sustainable way.

  • A Fair Trade design company built on innovative uses of natural materials to create a line of high design products for the contemporary global market place.
  • A company dedicated to creating employment opportunities for rural Kenyans.
  • A company dedicated to training and educating people in sound business practices in order to enhance their chance for employment, entrepreneurial opportunities and lifelong opportunities.
  • A company dedicated to designing new ways of working with natural materials while maintaining environmental and cultural integrity.
  • A company dedicated to connecting the community of caring, concerned people around the world, using products and commerce as a vehicle, to rural communities in East Africa working to enhance their lives.




The Maasai are a pastoral group of people that live in the magnificent Great Rift Valley of Kenya and Tanzania. A tall, proud, and graceful people adorned in colorful clothing and ornaments, the Maasai still keep their traditions intact - herding cattle and living off the land- as modernization changes the world around them.

A terrible drought that ended in 2001 lasted several years and devastated pasture lands. The Maasai's livelihood disappeared as their cattle died. The men had to drive the few remaining cattle hundreds of miles away to search for better grazing. It became evident that the women desperately needed a way to obtain medical supplies, and to feed, clothe, and educate their children.

Philip and Katy Leakey, who live among the Maasai in the Kenyan bush, wanted to help their neighbors and to provide them work opportunities without changing their culture. They came up with an imaginative idea to utilize the excellent beading abilities of the Maasai women by using a readily available, sustainable resource- GRASS- as the primary element.

Soon the women were harvesting grass, one blade at a time. The long grass was dried and cut into bead-size pieces and dyed lovely hues which were then strung into necklaces and bracelets. The Leakeys added brilliant Czech glass beads to their designs to give sparkle and a contemporary flair to the jewelry. Zulugrass was born.

In short order, the women learned that they could bring their babies and toddlers with them and they would be paid by the piece as they chose to work. As word passed through the Maasai community, women started walking as much as two hours each way to have their first chance to earn money. Now, over 1400 hundred Maasai women are making Zulugrass, while continuing to lead their lives in their traditional life style.

Philip and Katy Leakey's inspiration gave birth to Zulugrass - the beautiful jewelry handcrafted by experts, the Maasai women of Kenya. Zulugrass continues to provide much needed and desired opportunity for these wonderful women and their families.
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