In 2007 Saskia Rechsteiner made a handful of fabric necklaces for a Christmas Fair in Arusha, Tanzania. Combining local fabric with some beads and her sons' marbles, she created a unique necklace and sold out within hours. Needing a name for the necklaces, she asked what the Swahili word for a bead was and was told it was a "shanga". The days after the fair were busy - orders for the necklaces came in from safari companies, gift shops and even people who wanted to export them to Japan and Australia.
Saskia saw an opportunity to generate extra income for a deaf lady who worked on the coffee estate where she lived and together they started producing the necklaces to sell. Saskia quickly fell in love with the idea of helping more people from the deaf community and within weeks she had employed another 6 deaf ladies - all making the Shanga necklace in her back yard.
Soon the demand was too high and the team needed extra space. They moved into the River House on the coffee estate and the Shanga Workshop was born! Shortly after, Saskia opened up a Shanga Shop and built the River House Restaurant to offer lunches. Saskia expanded the range of products made in the workshop, sourcing recycled and sustainable materials where possible and invited people to come and meet the inspiring people who made them.
Over the years this resulted in employing more than 45 people with a wide range of disabilities to make creative products from glass blowing recycled bottles, paper making, maasai beading, recycling old pots and pans into decorations, glass bead making, traditional weaving, metal work and much more. Shanga has welcomed many happy visitors and become an institution in Arusha. Some of the highlights were definitely seeing Amal Clooney wearing our Amal necklace on the international news, and a visit from Bill Clinton and the Clinton foundation. We hope to see our products in many more stores around the world!
Throughout Shanga’s colourful journey, the heart and message of Shanga has remained the same. Of utmost importance is providing a safe, consistent and loving environment for Tanzanians with disabilities who have so often faced terrible hardship in their lives. Of no less importance is making amazing products from discarded materials that are sold in Tanzania and around the world, regardless of their story. They are simply great products made by great people!