by Veronica Menendez
Heather Schultz and Juan Lujan were inspired by the people of Dikokore (pronounced "dee-ko-ko-ray"), while living and working near the village in the nation of Benin. Working in realms spanning education, gender development, environmental awareness, creativity and art, after arriving home in LA the two conceived a way to give back to the West African community. By co-founding Dikokore Designs, the duo has built a platform to help local women sell their jewelry globally, and initiate a series of developmental projects in the village.
Dikokore Designs distributes a line of vibrantly colored, hand-woven bracelets made from hand-picked grass. The women who make them begin by cutting and collecting grass from the fields before drying it in the sun. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs and clay make up the natural powder then used to dye the grass. With a local technique that is centuries old, the colored grass strands are woven together to create one-of-a-kind bracelets.
The women of Dikokore and the surrounding areas began making these bracelets for funeral ceremonies. While that might sound morbid, in Benin funerals are for celebrating a life rather than mourning a loss. It has long been tradition to wear these bracelets during these festive times. The village gathers as both men and women adorn themselves with the grass bracelets before dancing and singing to village drums.
Schultz and Lujan have set out to bring their bracelets to new US markets while also dedicating time to empower their women workforce to create change within their community. All of the bracelets are crafted within cooperatives where Dikokore Designs works to encourage fair wages, as well as quality control. They also package the bracelets in draw-string bags made of colorful African fabric. Importantly, 15 percent of all profits are invested directly into the women's communities through partnerships with social development programs and the formation of longterm educational, environmental and social projects.
Dikokore bracelets are available online for $16.
Images courtesy of Dikokore