Design Intervention for Sustainability in Women’s Crafts in Kenya

  • Coletta Ruth Matayo University of Nairobi
  • Lilac Osanjo University of Nairobi
  • Francesca Odundo University of Nairobi
Keywords: design, crafts, co-design, design extension services, women empowerment, sustainable livelihoods


Women in Kenya and the world over engage in craft design using traditional skills passed on from one generation to the other. These are mainly inspired by motifs and designs obtained from nature and items within their surroundings. Knowledge is in this content mainly shared by observation. The case is no different for marginalized women in Kenya who engage in craft design in the areas of beadwork, basketry, and pottery among others. A study was conducted to identify the design interventions in improving the livelihoods of women through crafts. Designers have been part of the women’s programs through the extension of their services at different phases of the production process. This is done by co-designing and collaborating with the women in production. Empirical research shows that these products are more often than not identical with minimal to no variation hence they aren’t competitive and this limits the returns from the crafts. The main objective of this study was to explore the design interventions in women’s crafts in Kenya and how they can be utilized for more economically sustainable crafts practice. The study was qualitative and applied a multiple-case study approach. Setting: the study was conducted in women’s crafts groups located in Machakos and Kajiado counties in Kenya. The respondents in this study were women in crafts production aged between 23 and 70 years. The results revealed that 100% of the respondents were of the opinion that design is key to improved products and improved services. They however were cognizant of the fact that it would be expensive to have a designer attached to the group on a full-time basis and therefore felt that it would be more viable to seek design extension services in their processes. The study concluded that every women’s craft initiative needs to have access to design extension services that would help in improving knowledge and skills, give technical design input and trigger the creativity of the artisans, motivate them through co-designing and boost their self-confidence which would lead to improved productivity and better returns.