Nairobi, Kenya — Starting your own company fresh out of college is one kind of challenge. Starting your own company half-way around the world is another altogether.

But that’s exactly what Mugo Muna, a 2012 Cornell graduate, has done. Muna has founded an artisan belt-making company in Kenya that’s raised about $2,600 with 20 backers of his $16,000 goal. His Kickstarter campaign can be found here.

We decided to let Muna tell the story of himself and his business, which has seen ups and downs in his struggle to help his native country.


Written by Mugo Muna:

What if we could make men’s belts here in Kenya that not only look great but also support local artisans? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Bora is a swahili word meaning: first-rate, excellent, better, or best.

The whole idea was that we were going to both make great products and support Kenyan artisans.

Each belt is….

1) Handmade by local artisans in Kenya

2) Uses the highest quality local Kenyan leather

3) Each mold is destroyed after the belt is made, making each belt one-of-a-kind.

I grew up in Kenya, but moved to the States when I was eleven.

Young Muna, with flamingoes in the background.

After graduating from Cornell University, I decided to come back to Kenya. I wanted to do something that mattered. I thought I’d just hit the ground making a difference and start making stuff…I was wrong.

Originally, I wanted to make shirts with seamstresses in Kibera, an informal housing settlement here in Nairobi. Since I didn’t know anything about shirts, I sat in a tailor’s workshop and learned how to sew.

Got introduced to a group of HIV+ women trained by a local church to sew.

Then we made some shirts.

And we couldn’t sell anything.

Which sucked.

Buttons kept falling off. Sizes were consistently inconsistent. And the stitching was never straight.

But I didn’t give up.

I realized that I had to find artisans who could do an excellent job and then figure out what products we could make together.

I went searching for new artisans and found our current group who are a perfect match for our ambition.

The Process: 

 and a few touches later you can wear it!

We tested three different designs. And everyone loved the Madaraka design above all the others. So we decided to work with the same design in different styles: Pilipili,Tamu, and Safi.

The manufacturing process means every single belt you get has a human touch. Each belt won’t be the same as the last.

This process also means that you are directly supporting artisans here in Kenya.

Pick your style

After the brass is shined and polished, it is finished off with a hammer. This process creates a series of dimples over the surface of the metal. It is truly a unique and elegant design.

Ground and polished to a shine. The Safi  has an immaculate feel and shines through in its own way.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.