SUSTAINABILITY: Bush Princess

Does it matter who makes your bag? We think so. We’re all about promoting people who create brands that take time to take time. Time for selection of materials, time for building relationships with your employees, time to create something that has intention. Such items will never be random and they are a healthy reminder of what is important in a world that fills retail shelf space with transient things. You might have read our interviews with Emo of Afroshoes and Eric of Unity Makers. It is now time to take a closer look at another entrepreneur creating beautiful handmade design objects made in Nairobi. Meet Lotti Lefebvre, founder of Bush Princess, for a conversation about details, people and responsibility.

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Lotti Lefebvre, founder and designer of Bush Princess.

How would you describe your brand to someone who is not familiar with it?
LL: My brand is handmade bags made in a socially responsible environment in Kenya. Our products are timeless and can be carried in the Kenyan bush or in a big city anywhere in the world.

When do you feel the most excited about your work?
LL: When I have clients coming back year after year to buy another Bush Princess bag.

Where do you look for inspiration?
LL: Downtown Nairobi and when I go on safari meeting people from different tribes. I love northern Kenya. And on my travels to Europe.

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Kenyan nature. Photo by Lotti Lefebvre.

How do Nairobi and Kenya influence you creatively?
LL: Whenever I get in contact with new people making for example brass accessories or the Maasai women beading. I always find it amazing how skilled they are, it makes me want to create and to give people work.

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Bush Princess team working their magic. Photo by Lotti Lefebvre.

You are originally from Sweden but left Sweden a long time ago. What brought you to Kenya and what has made you stay?
LL: My husband I and I wanted to change life and continent. We knew Lamu well, as we spent lots of vacations there in our house. The move to Nairobi felt natural.

How would you spend a perfect weekend in Nairobi?
LL: At home cooking after doing my shopping at the organic market in Karen, and having friends around for lunch. Or going out horse back riding in the Ngong Hills. I have a dear friend Anja, who takes us for amazing hikes.

Photo by Lotti Lefebvre.

How does the presence of two countries and continents in your life influence you as a designer and human?
LL: When you have lived between different countries, you become more tolerant to cultures and learn how to adjust to the environment you live in. You become more human I guess. As a designer, you then learn to listen to your clients and maybe twist your design more towards a compromise. We are all the same, it is just the cultures and the notion of things that are different. Be open-minded and be patient.

When you have lived between different countries, you become more
tolerant to cultures and learn how to adjust to the environment
you live in. You become more human I guess.

What other designers’ creations do you like to wear?
LL: I love my friend Sandy Bornman’s brand Aman Lamu for the coast, Penny Winter and Maasai collection. My favorite brands right now in Europe are COS and Vanessa Bruno.

You work with very beautiful leather, is it always all Kenyan? 
LL: I have always worked with Kenyan leather and my colours. I have a long relation with Alpharama tannery who has the best leather and tanner in Kenya. The quality is very important.

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Photo from Lotti Lefebvre.

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Bush Princess details.

Is there a particular handbag design among all that you have made that is particularly close to your heart?
LL: I love the Tina bag, it is the first bag I did and it is still in my collection. It is a bucket bag with a tassel on the front pocket, that became a signature for me. I have almost always a tassel on the bags. For SS17 there is a new twist to it.

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Bush Princess Bucket bag.

Your website says “As a socially responsible brand, Bush Princess supports ethical and sustainable sourcing, production and design.” Could you elaborate a bit on this, maybe giving some examples?
LL: I have a small workshop, just around 7-10 people. I have no manager as I want everyone to feel responsible and work as a team to make things happen. I give my team loans for school fees, and help out when there is a problem. The Maasai mamas can pay the school fees for the daughters to avoid marriage etc. I buy all brass accessories from recycled brass made by hand.Is it important or even necessary for fashion brands to have social responsibility as part of brand and operations? Yes, I think so , I don’t like the mass production. I think it is important to know where and who made your bag.

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Image from the workshop by Lotti Lefebvre.

Is it important, or even necessary, for fashion brands to have social responsibility as part of brand and operations?
LL: Yes, I think so, I don’t like the mass production. I think it is important to know where and who made your bag.

I think it is important to know where and who made your bag.

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Gladys is one of the Maasai women creating beautiful beaded details for Bush Princess bags. Photo by Diana Opoti.

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Bernard, one of the Bush Princess stitchers. Photo from @_bushprincess_ on Instagram.

Apart from emotional brand preference and aesthetics, what kind of advice can you give to a person looking for jewellery and accessories. How should we go about choosing?
LL: Choose a something you like and not something everybody else is wearing.

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Bush Princess details and African quality.

Why do you love doing what you do?
LL: I live in a country where there is still space and I need space to create.

What do you wish that people in the world knew about Kenya?
LL: I want people to know that Kenya is safe, or at least as safe as any place in the world right now. It is a country with diversity; bush, coast, mountains and city life and with a lot of different cultures mixed.

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Bag and sandals from Bush Princess.

Thank you so much Lotti for sharing your creativity and values with us. We are inspired by the care invested in each of your products.

For more of Bush Princess please go to bushprincess.com

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