Pendeza Weaving – Hand Woven Fabric from natural Fibers Since 1980
The story of Pendeza begins in 1980 from a small informal dwelling in the current Kisumu County to eradicate extreme poverty through cotton growing and value addition. Pendeza provides a wide variety of hand woven cotton and woolen apparel like scarves, shawls, throws, bed spreads and capes. Today, the organization has grown and expanded to rural Bondo to empower women and youth in advocating for accountability in leadership and governance.
Pendeza Weaving Project was founded by William Okello in 1980. They have been at the forefront of championing farmers and experimenting with alternative fibres in their weaving. Operating out of Western Kenya, they have a workshop in Bondo and Kisumu with both units processing, spinning and weaving their textiles. Alongside this they also work with spinners who work from home all over Kenya. Those who grow the cotton, spin and weave it are all brought together under a registered Community Based Organisation (CBO). Their retail operations company then buys the cotton and labour from the CBO. They currently use rainfed cotton from Uganda and Kenya, wool, silk, water hyacinth, mohair and Calotropis Procera amongst others. They have promoted the growth of rainfed, organic cotton, and voice the frustrations of farmers who have abandoned the crop, citing unsustainable general market prices. Their latest venture in planting mulberry trees is part of a plan to start their own silk production, which they already weave as a fibre.
Born in Kisumu, William spent his school years between Tanzania and Kenya. His journey into textiles began when he attended a technical training program in Nairobi, in spinning, dyeing and weaving. It gave him the skills he needed to further a career in what had now become his passion. He was hired by a church in Webuye, Bungoma to set up a weaving workshop, but when funding fell through, he returned to Nairobi and got a new opportunity on a residential weaving course. This connected him to the British High Commission, which gifted him a loom and spinning wheels to start his own business. Returning to Kisumu in 1980 he set up a workshop on his aunt’s veranda in the Nyalenda slums and called it Pendeza Weaving Project. William started to train unemployed youth in the skills he had learned. Buying cotton from local farmers, they spun yarn, and wove rugs and textiles. With positive feedback and a growing demand for his product, he realized that he could make a meaningful difference to the livelihoods of women and youth through the project. While weaving he had met Doreen and Ray Maining, who assisted him and other weavers in selling their products in Nairobi, doing exhibitions at the Goethe Institute amongst others. The increase in revenue allowed for an expansion of the project, acquiring land and setting up a permanent facility in Kisumu town.
In 1982 he met Margaret, who he married in 1984. She had grown up in Sigomre, moving to Ahero Girls High and then the Eldoret Training Institute of Agriculture. She had become passionate about agriculture as a child, when she saw her elder brother grow and sell beans at school. The skills she acquired through her agricultural upbringing became instrumental in helping other farmers improve the quality of their cotton for hand spinning into yarn with Pendeza Weaving Project. In 1992, she took over Sales & Marketing for the project, which she continues to do this to date. This has seen her win top Customer Care from a local American Women’s Association. Looking back on their achievements both of them cite Education as the key impact of their project. They have been able to help fund Secondary and Tertiary level education for many people in their community, which has had a transformational effect. At the same time these families have been able to meet their daily food and health care needs, as a result of the project. “People love the work because you start with the fibre, then comb it then spin it, removing all impurities. It’s relaxing as you have to concentrate on your hands and the yarn, there’s no time for other thoughts”. – Margaret They are very clear that they must move forward with their wider community so that everyone benefits and supports the growth..