Meet Nasozi Kakembo, the social activist turned textile craftsman. With humanitarian work and global issues at the core of her ethos, she has cultivated a thriving design and lifestyle brand that connects with her roots in Uganda. Lucky for Brooklyn, Nasozi is bringing us global textiles from West Africa and beyond just in time for the holidays. Catch xNasozi at the Brooklyn Makers Holiday Bazaar at 501 Union!
What’s the story behind xNasozi?
xNasozi started rather spontaneously in 2011, although all the writings were on the wall. I was two years into my first job out of graduate school, and my first job since becoming a mom. I went to work when my son was four months old, and had landed a job with a great organization at that. So I basically planned on being there for a very long time. Over the years, juggling motherhood and career became an uphill battle, and I also started to miss being connected to the arts and creativity in a first hand and direct way. So I set out to somehow get art back into my life in a meaningful way. I tried a few other pursuits as hobbies, but none of them felt right. But as soon I started working with wax prints to create home decor items, that sparked and excitement and a sense of accomplishment in me that I hadn’t experienced since childhood.
You were fighting for international human rights and social justice by day and creating textiles by night. Can you talk about how this led to your mission of fortifying connections among African artisans?
I studied architecture and art history (and Spanish) in undergraduate, and part of why it wasn’t completely fulfilling for me was because it didn’t holistically address or question the social issues that I realized were important me. I knew that whatever I ended up doing, I needed to be able to root it in some kind of worthy cause. Between internships and my pursuant career, I spent close to six years working in different humanitarian contexts. I’d figured out which models aligned with my own morals and principles and which ones did not, and from there, I wanted to establish a new model that worked for me. I’ve seen millions of dollars have very little impact either because the projects are out of touch, or there is so much bureaucracy along the way. So I surmised that the opposite would hold true if I just had a direct or even personal connection to the communities where I wanted to have an impact. This is why I started working with the Suubi school and artisans in my village in Uganda.
Are there distinct characteristics that you’re drawn to in each of the global textiles?
I love the folklore that goes into so many of the African prints. Not only does each one tell a story, but each one has a different story based on the country where it is worn. These stories are an intimate reflection of the people of that society or culture, and I find this fascinating. With mudcloth in particular, I am constantly surprised by the range of designs that are made essentially by selecting and rearranging the same shapes and patterns. The variation is never ending and there is always something new to discover.
What about mudcloth or indigo brings you joy?
I enjoy connecting with the work of another artisan, and their hands. Makers put their energy and creativity into everything we create. And I can feel that of a person on the other side of the world when I am working with mudcloth.
You celebrated one decade in Brooklyn this year. Congrats! What does being a Brooklyn maker mean to you?
Being a Brooklyn maker has completely opened up my world. I have met people, had opportunities, and been places that would not have been possible had I stayed on me former 9-5 path. Down to my everyday routine, which is actually never really the same, I meet at least one new person doing something insanely wonderful everyday. Brooklyn makers are intrepid. We are taking a leap of faith everyday, and doing it in the most unforgiving and trying, and therefore rewarding, city in the world. So when I meet another maker, there is a mutual respect and fraternity, actually. We look out for each other.
Any words of wisdom for other small businesses on staying sane through the holiday season?
Don’t overextend yourself. Ok, maybe one time, but be sure to literally jot down and remember the business lessons you’ve learned throughout the year! Also, be true to your brand and don’t compromise on integrity. Assuming you’ve arrived at your prices fairly, stick to them!
Ok lightning round: Answer in 4 words or less.
What are holidays like around your home? International meets corny decorations.
How do you pick the perfect gift? Instagram lol.
What excites you? (re)discovering old music.
What calms you? Nature, candles, incense, nature.