creative crush: Sarah Bayot

Our August creative crush is Sarah Bayot, founder and designer of Kicheko Goods. I almost cried (out of happiness!) re-reading this because I am so amazed by her work and her dedication to improve access to education for vulnerable populations through design and awareness. I’m honored we were able to lead the last cocktails+craft workshop, together with Printed Wild, last weekend! And I think Sarah has my favorite definition of creativity so far!

Photo by  Jen Eun

Photo by Jen Eun

When did you first discover jewelry making?

In 2012, a group of girlfriends started getting together to make DIY projects and various crafts inspired by pinterest, home decor blogs, etc. We would move on every week from project to project but one of the creations I could not stop making were earring studs covered in different fabrics and leathers. I had all of this fabric laying around my apartment because I was taking sewing classes too. Searching for fabrics was my happy place and I spent way too much time scouting for fabrics but the plus side of these hours-long jaunts was that I was able to turn the remnants and samples into a massive collection of earrings. Since I wore my earrings on a daily basis, my friends and coworkers began asking to buy pairs and I found myself after work and on weekends fulfilling orders.

Why did you decide to pursue being a creative entrepreneur?

I started making jewelry very casually in 2012 and more out of a need to exercise creativity in my life. At the time, I had a very administrative and operational job and we were in the middle of expanding property and doubling our staff size. It was a tremendous learning period but also stressful and at the same time, I felt there were significant parts of me that were laying dormant.

When I received an increasing amount of orders and then a large one for 500 pairs of earrings from my church, that’s when I knew I hit the deep end of this. Through this order, it was a dive into learning production timelines, sourcing, design, packaging, etc. This order enabled us to invest in the construction of Mango Tree School. I saw the impact and felt so energized after finishing the order that I knew I wanted to do this for real. I starting learning more jewelry techniques and took a metalsmith class.

Photo by Jen Eun

Photo by Jen Eun

After completing this order, I launched my website and online shop, Kicheko Goods. Meaning “smile/laughter” in Swahili, I have since expanded Kicheko’s initial line to design and make necklaces and earrings out of natural stone, metal, wood and ceramic. In 2014, I went full-time with Kicheko! It took 9 months to financially, mentally and emotionally prepare for this jump. Since then, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve done but also the most rewarding and fulfilling - I’ve never felt more alive, active and full of agency.

How do you combine being a business and being a socially conscious company?

I’ve interwoven impact and Kicheko’s profitability in our business model. With every purchase, one product sends one child to school for one month. Our first partnership is with a primary school in eastern Congo called Mango Tree School. They educate over 200 students in the city and provide a safe space for the children to come to everyday. Their teachers all have high school/college diplomas and more than 4 years of teaching experience. Plus, it’s a corruption-free zone which is not the case in many schools in the area so the students and their families know that their kid are going to school to learn and that’s it - no other shadiness or compromises need to be made.

My academic background is international development with a focus on community-based development. I have a strong connection to eastern Congo which started in grad school and had actually started traveling there in 2011 leading a missions team. The community we work with holistically cares for 57 orphans full-time, operates a primary school that educates over 200 students in the community and runs a feeding program for 200-1,000 children in the village. It’s incredible to see Congolese working together to bring tangible hope to their communities. I love going back there year after year and seeing the kids grow, the community taking positive steps and everything flourishing. It’s a hard place to work; not easy to get to and it can be very unstable but in the midst of that, I’ve seen what people are capable of - their vision, strength, love, and resilience. When I started Kicheko, I wanted to find a way to help support the school. After a series of interviews and conversations, I learned that parents can and want to invest in their child’s education but they can’t afford all 10 months of the academic year. Kicheko supplements the months they cannot afford and through our scholarships, provides a stable source of income for the school to pay their teachers good salaries and pay them on time.

Several people have asked why not just form a nonprofit and fundraise even more money for the school? That’s such a valid approach and I appreciate that but with Kicheko, there’s also an opportunity to educate consumers on socially conscious business, education and impact in Congo. I’ve had many conversations with customers of all walks and backgrounds and it’s been rewarding to share our story and provide a pathway to connect with these issues and this region.

Photo by Jen Eun

Photo by Jen Eun

What do you do to overcome a creative block?

Earlier in the year, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and in her book, she describes the creative process - it’s ups and downs as well as the disciplines and rhythms that help bring it to life. In one of the chapters, she talks about the principle of “combinatory play” and Einstein’s use of the principle when he was trying to solve for E. When he would get stuck on a problem and staring at it, picking at it would do no more good, Einstein would take his violin, walk around and play the sonatas that he knew. Concentrating on playing the violin allowed his brain the space to work on the problem on the back burner. While playing, he came to an epiphany and eventually solved E = mc2 .

I like this principle a lot because in starting a creative business, I’ve realized that I can’t limit the creative concept and design process to 4 hours a day during a given week and expect good, authentic designs. It’s the art and science of disciplining yourself but also allowing the inspiration and art come to you and bringing it forth. So often in this process, I’ve had to walk away; work on something mundane like my accounting; or go out for coffee with a friend or to a museum. In the back burner of my brain, I trust that the connections are being made and when I revisit a design issue or a business challenge, I can come to it with fresh energy and perspective.

How do you define creativity?

Creativity is logic, imagination, passion and skill mixing together to interpret and/or solve something that needs to be redesigned, revealed or restored.

What's one thing you have to do everyday?

Drink coffee. That doesn’t mean I’m addicted right? :) Definitely, listen to a podcast even if I only have time for a 5 minute news summary - having a break and an infusion of conversations on topics that I am curious about or interested in or laugh a lot from is so good for my brain.

Photo by  Emma Mcalary

Photo by Emma Mcalary

What one piece of advice would you give to a creative entrepreneur just starting out?

I would encourage any creative entrepreneur to find their voice and trust their gut. When you’re starting out, it’s important to understand the landscape of your trade, craft or business drawing inspiration and finding authenticity in parts of what others have already created. Rather than just choose a voice, find YOUR voice by asking questions along the lines of “What makes you unique?”, “What’s your value add?” and keep hashing that out. When you dig, tweak, and pivot, you’ll find some gold - hopefully something that’s interesting and authentic to you and your vision. Also, trust your gut. Logic is so important - we’re running a business but your gut is the accumulation of head knowledge, heart, experience, and insight that you’ve gathered over time. It builds your instincts and you will get lots of advice, many from well-intentioned people, but sometimes that can leave you feeling like you are spread thin. Definitely listen to wise counsel and learn as much as you can, but trust your gut to make the decisions at the end of the day - this is your journey and your creative vision after all.

What’s your favorite cocktail?

I love a good elderflower old fashioned with orange or grapefruit bitters. Also I really like cocktails using chocolate mole. Yum.