Photographed by: Rachel Maucieri | Interview of: Sarah Bayot of Kicheko Goods
How did you get started?
I think Kicheko’s origins are like a crockpot recipe - it takes a long time but it becomes flavorful in the process. (The fact that I started out with a food metaphor is a good indicator of my love for food haha). 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 at the same time, I felt there were significant parts of me that were laying dormant. 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. In the Philippines, my mom was a sewing hobbyist and had kept all of these blazers and skirt suits that she made for herself when she started working early in her career. I had asked her to teach me but she had put away the sewing machine years ago and couldn’t remember. I really wanted to understand this part of her life and see if the creative bug would hit me too so I enrolled in sewing classes for about a year.
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. When I received an order 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. 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. I am so thankful to my friends and community for their encouragement during this process. They asked tough questions, sent me quotes,prayers and practical resources on starting a business. It really takes a village!
What influences you?/ Where do you get your inspiration?
Thinking about it, a lot of my approach to life is “build a smorgasbord.” I draw inspiration from manmade creations and interpretations of art and design and am inspired by nature. I love context and ambiance and appreciate when an environment is created where you can go into and interact with your senses. Much of my inspiration comes from travel and dates all the way back to high school. I am so appreciative of my high school Communication Graphics teacher, Mrs. Cavallieri. At the end of the semester, she highly encouraged the class to start a lookbook binder pulling inspiring quotes, ads, editorials and art that spoke to us and just collect it and keep it in one place. When I started Kicheko, I pulled these binders back out and it was so interesting to leaf through and see what has inspired or spoken to me over the years - also seeing common threads that have lasted over the years.
In art, I love Klimt’s use of intricacy and gold; Matisse’s play with bright color and Rothko’s emotional use of larger than life colors. I also love style and to a lesser extent, fashion, but my inspirations in this world are Nicole Richie, Jenna Lyons, Iris Apfel, Phoebe Philo, Zoe Saldana, Kate Middleton and Zoe Kravitz.
How do you balance your personal time + work?/ How do you create separation?
By trial and error. Seriously, it’s really hard to balance. I don’t know if that’s the goal either but I know that life is rhythmic and knowing your rhythm can help you lean into what’s most important and be fully present rather than regretting what you think you should be doing or made up imaginings of what you think other people expect of you. On the weekly, I try to take one full day off and have it be a day of rest and open for spontaneous outings or doing nothing at all but enjoying whatever it is my husband and I want to do. Also, I started teaching barre at a local studio in DC and it’s been an amazing outlet for fitness, health and strength-building. I love the dynamic nature of this work as opposed to working at my bench and desk. That’s been nice to jam out with our clients to good playlists and solid fitness.
This year, I am very focused on the business but at the same time, I am prioritizing being a wife, a friend and a family member. My business is important and I love it but it’s not my whole world - it can’t be. I think the first year and a half of my business, I spent all hours of the day and night and weekends working on it. Yay for growth but man, I was not a good friend. I want to find a balance here and find that sweet spot of prioritizing relationships and my work. It also takes time to figure out the business too. For example,September to December is go-go-go-go. So I try to communicate that with my friends and we make more of an effort to spend time with each other in the spring and summer. Then when I go into the busy season, I’ll keep in touch through text and social media but they know that it’s a big time for the business so I think there’s more of an understanding there.
What keeps you motivated?/ Why do you love doing this?
This feeling of being so active and alive. The last 2 ½ years have been some of the hardest periods of reckoning and uncertainty but also the most fulfilling and rewarding. I’ve learned so much since starting Kicheko - both about design, business, DC, and myself. I like who I am becoming and knowing that there is something I can do that can bring light and beauty to Kicheko’s customers and also real impact to the students in eastern Congo that Kicheko supports through our products.
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. It’s so motivating as a citizen of this planet to be able to connect here in my city but also with a community halfway around the world. You can’t think small or only selfishly after experiencing this.
Where do you see yourself in 2-5 years?/ What's next for your brand?
Hopefully continuing this work. I see Kicheko partnering with brands and working with artisan groups to create even more distinctive, beautiful pieces that go beyond jewelry. I would like to have a business partner and a team that can help grow the brand and allow me to work on the creative/impact side of the business. I would love to sell our pieces in brick and mortar shops across the country and even Internationally. And also, send more kids to school!