Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenny Nuccio.
Jenny, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Imani Collective began in 2013 and our original name was Imani Tumaini Upendo (faith, hope, and love in Swahili). In 2009, I traveled to Kenya for the first time on a 2 week mission trip to work with a school in a remote village. What I did not realize is that this trip would have a ripple effect to where I am today. I went, came back and went straight to University at Texas A&M in College Station. I did not plan to go back to Kenya, but the relationships I made grew tremendously in my heart over that next year and I knew (my gut) I had to return.
So, in 2010 I returned for about a month to help with the couple who was working there. Then I went back in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014… You get the picture. My time in Kenya grew longer and longer until eventually in 2013, I sold everything, left a small box at my mom’s house and took my 2 suitcases and Osprey pack to settle into the middle of nowhere Kenya. Many people ask why Mombasa, Kenya? and why Mtepeni Village? The village question is very valid considering if you ever visited, you would be like “whoah, this is far out here.” But that is simple.
The school I was working with when I first came had started in that community and that was where I developed the relationships with the women that are in our program today. What I realized over the years is that these single, widowed and disadvantaged (some disabled) were capable of working and learning and growing, but had never been given the opportunity to do just that. I wanted to provide that opportunity for them and so I thought I would do that through providing a skill, sewing.
What I did not realize in the beginning is that this was far greater than just providing a skill. This “small program” that I imagined in my head was going to drastically change their life. They not only learned a skill, but they were educated. When I first began over half of my women did not even know their numbers and could not read, so we had to start basic. I could not teach a pattern or a skill without them knowing how to read their measuring tape, so we started there. I taught numbers… then shapes… then even how to draw a straight line before ever touching our machine or learning patterns. It sounds so basic, it is! But they never had the opportunity.
Many of my women also could not write or of course did not know their letters, and they now can all write their name. All of our products are signed by our women, so I am like a proud mama when I see them sign their name on the tags because not only will you know the artisan who made your product, but them just signing their name is a BIG accomplishment.
So, a little recap. I moved May 2013 and used the money I sold to buy 16 singer peddler sewing machines. I started with 16 beautiful women in Mtepeni Village, Kenya (right outside of Mombasa). Today, we have 3 locations. 2 workshops (1 in the village and 1 in Old Town Mombasa Kenya), 1 fulfillment center (headquarters) which is in Dallas, TX. We currently have 60 artisans and staff in Kenya and 3 full time, 2 part-time staff in the states. Out of all of our artisans, we have over 140 kiddos we have in our Imani family.
Our program is not just an employment opportunity, but it provides ongoing skill training, education through literacy classes and business trainings, dream management, child sponsorship (we sponsor 56 kids in primary and secondary). We also provide childcare for our staff both in Kenya and stateside. We currently serve about 30 kids in our childcare program. We are excited about the growth we have had over the years and can not wait to see what the next 5 years bring.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Absolutely not. Oh man, I wish I could say yes yes yes, but from the beginning, it has been challenging. When I first began, I did not know or plan for it to grow in the way it did. I just simply wanted to teach a skill, but what I soon realized is that even with teaching a skill there was no place for that skill to be really utilized to generate income, plan for the future and make steps to get out of that generational poverty that is a vicious cycle. This is where Imani Collective really grew and when I began to think of “what is next?”
When I first moved back to Kenya, I was seriously living off $150/month. I was blessed to be fed by many in the village. I ate off the land, kept cost low and used all the rest of the donations or sales from my stuff I had to go back to the women and to be able to pay them something each month.
I think the hardest thing has been the people you think most who will come behind you, think you are absolutely crazy. I have had to fight through those lies over the years and follow my heart on many decisions that did not necessarily make sense to the outside world or people looking in.
We are still growing and still getting our story heard, so we are still “in process” as I like to say, but to be honest, I think and believe as an entrepreneur and dreamer, there will always be the next stage you are reaching for.
Overall, I am glad I kept going in the midst of adversity and did not stop when it got hard. If I would have stopped when I had my first challenge then I would have never even moved to Kenya in 2013…
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Imani Collective – what should we know?
I love our company. Imani Collective rebranded in January 2017 and it has been a fun 18 months… We changed our line from traditional Kenyan kitenge and kikois to modern prints and woven decor. We make home decor for shared spaces.
Our company from Kenya to Dallas is run by young mamas and we wanted to make something that we and our kids with love in the shared spaces of our home. When you look at our brand and our products, you fall in love. The best part is when people find out we are made in Kenya, they have a complete shocked look on their face. Our stuff is beautiful and I am so proud of our women and how far they have come with quality and consistency. Favorite part of our product is we sign everything, so you know the artisan who made it.
We want to make sure you know the woman behind that product and her story. They have all come from such diverse backgrounds and we want to make sure that story is heard across global boundaries.
I am most proud of our team and our story. I took a massive leap in 2017 to bring a stateside team on and open a stateside location, but we would not be where we are today or have grown as much as we did last year without our beautiful team both in Kenya in Dallas. It takes a collective effort to do what we do and I am so proud of each one of them.
I am also very proud of what we produce and how we honor our customers. When I first began going to global markets in New York, Vegas, Dallas… many times they would walk away once they found out we were made in Kenya. The reason being is Africa goods is known for the lack of quality and consistency of their products. I wanted to prove the market wrong. I wanted to show them that we were a company to trust. That we were a company that could deliver on time and deliver what we promised and that we could give them the best of quality. I am proud to say that we do just that.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Perseverance, grit, drive. This journey has not been easy and again, over the years have had to fight off many internal lies. There are many days that I just had to remind myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I just had to keep moving.
- Llama Animal Pillow – $20
- Color Block Tote – $24
- Handwoven Wall Hangings – $58
- Handwoven rugs – $145
- Address: 4224 Main St Dallas, TX 75226
- Website: www.imanicollective.com
- Phone: 2108037773
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: instagram.com/imanicollective
- Facebook: facebook.com/imanicollective
- Other: www.jennynuccio.com
Rachel Driskell – @racheldriskell – http://racheldriskell.com/ ; Audrey Ryon Photography – @audreyryonphotography