Sandra Baumeister founded a very special bag label with Myeisha is Love. Behind these high-quality leather goods stands her iNAMi trust, whose goal is to provide opportunities to women and children in Namibia. We met Ms Baumeister for an interview.
On one of the last warm summer evenings this year, Sandra Baumeister is presenting her bag label Myeisha is Love in the noble surroundings of the Namibian embassy in Berlin. The products are carefully produced by hand, with everything from the design to the seam work carrying the craftsmen’s and –women’s touch. But today we want to talk about more than just beautiful things. Sandra Baumeister is a former teacher who spent many years in development aid. Yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed to set something up for herself. So, she immigrated to Namibia with her four children and founded the iNAMi trust with her partner Kym Kibble. The trust is clearly dear to her heart; she constantly invests a great deal of money and commitment. She is seeking to build an orphanage partly financed by sales of her hand-made bags. Reason enough to ask this native of Stuttgart what led her to this decision, what obstacles she faced – and how her family and personal commitment can be reconciled.
She’s Mercedes: Ms Baumeister, how does it feel to be celebrating the launch of your label “Myeisha is Love” today?
Sandra Baumeister: It’s very exciting to be presenting our bags in such a beautiful building. The ambience is really stylish. It’s just how my partner Kym and I imagined it.
Tell us how the idea of “Myeisha is Love” came about?
I worked in development aid in South Africa periodically. At some point, I felt the need to do something for myself. Kym was already living in Namibia at the time, while I was still in Germany. By some happy coincidence, I was given ten industrial sewing machines. This gave me the idea of founding a social entrepreneur business. The decision to manufacture bags was made firstly because I have always been interested in fashion. And, secondly, I had to keep the available resources in mind – in Namibia and Africa in general. Above all, this means leather. So we decided to produce leather bags.
What were the greatest obstacles you had to overcome when moving from the idea to actual production?
The obstacles were mainly of a bureaucratic nature. The structures in Namibia are different from those in Germany, but I would never have thought it could be so complicated – starting with the paperwork right down to importing the leather. The donated sewing machines also had to be brought into the country without any invoicing documentation. If I have learned one thing, it is this: in Africa, it’s good to have a plan. But it’s even better to have plans B, C, D and E in place as well. Being prepared to be utterly flexible is really important.
Unfortunately, the Western media often portray Africa as more dangerous than it is.
How did the people around you react to your plans?
Not everybody supported the idea. There are still many prejudices about Africa. It is said to be dangerous, especially for women and children. I see that differently. With a few exceptions, I can move around completely freely. Even in Germany, there is crime and dangerous spots. Unfortunately, the Western media often portray Africa as more dangerous than it is. One thing hit me really hard: the accusations that I was neglecting my responsibilities as a mother. I have always involved my children in my work, also in Africa, and they have always supported me. This is also why the bag models are named after them.
You now have several employees. Most of these are women. Is it important to you to give women in particular employment opportunities in Namibia?
Giving support to women is very important for me. In Africa, it is they who are responsible for the family. They send their children to school and make sure there is food on the table. It’s often the case that, by contrast, men spend their earnings on personal pleasure. Especially among certain parts of the population, a man in Namibia has a great deal of freedom. So it is all the more important to help women safeguard their families financially. I’m not anti-male, don’t get me wrong (laughs). I now also employ three men, and as far as I can judge they are very responsible and dependable.
We intend to take in mainly babies to counter the practice of people in Namibia abandoning their babies. I want to give these kids a brighter future.
How do you manage to reconcile your commitment with your family life?
My children attend the German school in Namibia. They are looked after very well there, although I was doubtful at first. As a former teacher, I have high standards. Naturally, it will be a different educational experience from that they would receive in Germany, but I now know that my children are enjoying a really good education. For my second-oldest, it was clear right away that she would come with me. I had to be rather more persuasive with the others. But all of them have settled in very well. I try to do lots of things with them, so that they also get to know the country. It works out really well. We have a very good family life.
What are your ambitions for your label? Do you have any special objectives?
We currently support a kindergarten outside Katutura, a township near Windhoek. This looks after around 54 children, who receive a hot meal every day. We are also helping to finance a young woman’s training as a kindergarten nurse. But my real dream is to build our own orphanage. From my own profession, I know how important it is to motivate and support even the youngest members of society. We intend to take in mainly babies to counter the practice of people in Namibia abandoning their babies. I want to give these kids a brighter future. We also speak to local schools and try to arrange partnerships with them to care for individual children. All this costs a great deal of money, so I’m hoping that the label is successful. A large proportion of the sales revenue goes to the trust founded by Kym and myself. That is how we plan to finance the project. Ambitious aims, I know (laughs).
Does the word “Myeisha” have any special meaning?
“Myeisha” means: “One who is loved”. It is the second name of my third daughter, who is also the goddaughter of my partner Kym. It’s all about appreciation and love. Love you receive yourself and give to others. That is also the message behind our product, in which we have invested a great deal of effort and commitment. (Ed.: Every bag comes with a small card, which introduces the employees who produced the bag.) The idea is for the buyer to appreciate this when she carries the bag. Myeisha is Love closes the loop in promoting togetherness.