Owners Mari Martikainen and Minna Impiö founded Mifuko in 2009. Mifuko sells designer baskets, bags and small interior decoration products. First products were produced by artisans in Kenya, but they are now expanding to other countries such as Tanzania and Ghana as well. All in all, they provide work directly for over 750 women and to over 900 people if those involved indirectly are counted for. All their artisans live in rural areas, where employment opportunities for uneducated women are non-existent. Products are sold all over the world in small boutiques and online stores.
Hanken School of Economics
Mifuko´s business idea responds to the global challenges of meaningful employment of uneducated women in poorer countries in Africa. At the same time, Mifuko wants to be environmentally and socially aware in their production by using as much local and sustainable raw materials as possible. Simultaneously, through Mifuko Trust, they tackle climate change, fight hunger, and secure clean water through rainwater collection tanks.
Both owners, Mari Martikainen and Minna Impiö, are Master of Arts by education and Finnish designers by profession. They have studied together and known each other for over 25 years.
Owner Mari Martikainen:
“When Minna moved to Kenya with her family, I went to visit there. Very soon we realised that there was a lot of opportunities for designers. Many artisans really didn't have any other skills than making something with their hands. But at the same time, there wasn't really any markets for their products. The artisans also had excellent ideas of recycling materials, and their handcrafts were very nice in quality. But mainly everybody was doing the same things, and the products lacked design.”
“The first artisans were found from the local markets when Minna was living there. She was going around the marketplace and seeing all these techniques and materials. And the first Kiondo basket she found in one marketplace. As you went by to ask, like, who has done this and where this is from? And then we got the phone number of Mama Case. Okay, and then we called Mama Case. And that's how it started with one group.”
“The basic idea in Mifuko is to employ as many artisans as possible. First in Kenya, but now also in other countries. So, two designers in Kenya in the year 2009, and that's how it started.”
The direct effect of Mifuko’s business is, of course, the employment and financial independence of over 750 women in Kenia. These women live in rural areas where there is not much work, and their talents as weavers were not appreciated. Many women already sold their creations in local markets, but they lacked original design. By combining their craftmanship and the Nordic design, their baskets can be sold on an international market. By creating job opportunities in rural areas, they also stop the migration to Nairobi, where the standard of living is often meagre.
In the long term, there are many more advantages thanks to Mifuko. The families of the women benefit greatly; they can buy medicines, new school clothes for the children, etc. Mifuko also helps to create self-help groups with around 30 persons per group. They can invest together in little projects that benefit everyone, like buying new crops or seeds. Producing sustainably is also a cornerstone of Mifuko’s mission. They aim to have net-zero emissions in a few years’ time.
Moreover, to help achieve these targets, Mifuko started Mifuko Trust, an NGO that helps tackle different problems, such as creating dry toilets to tackle the hygiene and sanitation problems for girls in rural villages. In addition, chemical-free fertilizer, which is a by-product of these dry-toilets, has been successfully used to increase, for example, corn crops in the villages. Mifuko Trust also undertakes small actions, such as giving every artisan a tree to plant in their yard. By doing so, more than 1000 trees are already planted in Kenya.
Mifuko grew from a start-up with a few artists in 2009 to a brand now sold in over 30 countries. Because Mifuko works in a very sustainable and honest way, they have obtained the World Fairtrade label. This opens many doors for Mifuko since their customer base is very international and design-oriented where they value these aspects. Although the company is based in Finland, over 90% of the products are being sold abroad. They started by selling the products on international markets in France and Germany, but now they also have a partnership with international fashion brand Chloé.
The growth of Mifuko was always very organic, the word about the operations of Mifuko travels fast in Kenya. Because of the better employee wellbeing, a lot of other artisans want to join the project. Overall, more than 900 people work already for Mifuko. The future of the production is also secure; there are already some workshops in Tanzania and plans to extend the operations to Ghana.
Because all materials are sourced locally, the production process and transportation of products is inexpensive, allowing larger margins to go to the people. And if Mifuko transports something, it must be recycled material, for example, leftovers from the textile industry.
Mifuko responds to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: No poverty, ensure healthy lives and well-being, gender equality, clean water and sanitation through their Mifuko Trust, decent work and economic growth, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.
Mifuko has been certified by the World Fair Trade Organization since 2014. By employing uneducated women in rural areas of Africa, Mifuko is fighting against poverty and towards gender equality by enabling them to use the handiwork skills they have. Women are provided all the materials by Mifuko, who arranges the collection of ready-made products. As products are made by hand, raw materials are safe from harmful toxins. All these aspects together contribute to decent work and economic growth opportunities in the rural areas. Through Mifuko Trust, they are currently building ecological dry toilets through their Wash and Grow!, a project that is partly funded via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland as well as private donors.
Responsible consumption and production are secured through sourcing all possible raw materials locally and sustainably. Sisal yarn grows locally in the area, paper yarn is produced in co-operation with a local factory, and leather and vegetable tan are sourced locally as well from surplus items. If something is not possible to source locally, it is a requirement that it is recycled and not transported long distances. Mifuko´s own environmental impact is diminished by offsetting carbon emissions caused by transportation, and raw materials are sustainably sourced.
Mari Martikainen, Co-founder and Co-owner
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Business Website: https://mifuko.com/
Year Founded: 2009
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Mifuko is a Finnish design company and a social enterprise with a World Fair Trade Organization certificate that manufacturers handmade home decor and fashion products. Mifuko's mission is to bring joy to its customers and improve the welfare of women in the rural areas of Kenya.