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March 15, 2012



by Erin Wilkinson Hartung

There are 7 identified women’s groups across Zanzibar that need help with developing markets for their handmade jewelry. The women live below the poverty level at less than $4 a day income and they have difficulty feeding their children. Village life often means no running water or electricity.

Mother-of-pearl jewelry production and Mabe half pearl farming offer opportunities for the women to become entrepreneurs and independent. The women have potential to make three times their regular income selling these products to tourists. However, each group has unique marketing challenges.

For instance, the Chaza Mali Kikungwi group uses cardboard cutouts covered in plastic to sell pearls so they do not receive a worthy price. Tourists and high-end boutiques dismiss them as low quality.

While the Cha Zamkombozi group members live far from Stone Town. This is an issue because many of the women have no direct access to or cannot afford transportation, and some husbands do not allow them to visit town.

I am working with IMS students to find ways to establish relationships with hotels and create displays for retail shops on the island. The primary customers are tourists and the local market should be explored. Solutions need to be simple, cost effective, and take up limited space. In the few places the jewelry is sold, it gets lost with the plastic imitations from China or becomes non-descript.

Some fun, alternative packaging and display concepts are being created. The Swahili Tree of Wisdom, based on the popularity of the Baobab tree in the area, is being tested in the museum retail shop, a hotel jewelry show and airport gift shop. Several will be designed for a trade show in Dar es Salaam next month.

Swahili Tree of Wisdom: Ask a question, gain wisdom, support women’s groups and the environment, purchase locally made shellcraft jewelry and Mabe pearls.      

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mar 15 2012

    When I was doing the craft fair circuit with my jewelry I used embroidery hoops covered with burlap as a display. I still have some and would be happy to send them to you if it would be helpful!


  2. leila
    Apr 1 2013


    Would you be able to give me details of these projects

    I own an African jewellery business in the UK and I am interested in supplying jewellery from TZand will be travelling there in Aug, thanks



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