The Minimalist Jewelry and Homeware Providing Sustainable Income and Employment
Maddy McAllister, Co-Founder + Designer of YEWO
Asheville NC + Malawi, East Africa
I’m a bit of a mutt— English father, American mother, grew up in Montana and England. Kyle (life partner + YEWO co-founder) is from the burbs’ of Phoenix, Arizona. We now live in an off-grid cabin in the woods in Western North Carolina for part of the year and on top of a mountain in Northern Malawi the rest of the year (funny how life works?!)
I studied International Development + Design in University and have been fortunate enough to travel, work, and live in various parts of the world. Kyle has a background in Engineering and decided to leave his career to buy a one-way ticket and travel the world. We met in Malawi four years ago and have been stuck with each other ever since.
We founded YEWO (pronounced ‘Yay-Whoa’ meaning ‘thank you’ in local Tumbuka language) in early 2018 as a purpose-driven business in East Africa. We create minimalist statement jewelry + functional homewares while providing sustainable income for a community living in one of the world's poorest regions.
Our products are thoughtfully designed, authentically handcrafted, and genuinely unique— connecting the consumer to the maker, every step of the way.
The YEWO Training Center and Workshop are based in a small rural village in Northern Malawi, East Africa. We train individuals (with no prior experience) how to make jewelry + wares from start to finish using regionally available materials. The items are then exported internationally to our partner retailers + online shop. Sales directly provide monthly sustainable incomes and resources needed for our team in Malawi to rise above poverty.
Kyle and I lived in Manchewe for three years (before we started YEWO) establishing an eco-tourism project. Not only did we see first hand the extreme poverty within the area, but we also witnessed the optimism, ingenuity, and the effects of sustainable employment within the community.
When families have a reliable income they are able to send their children to school, invest in their houses, start savings, and sometimes even develop their own businesses. This is what true sustainable development looks like. We created YEWO to provide even more dignified jobs within the area.
Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world, especially in the rural northern part. Our mission is to alleviate this generational poverty in Malawi by operating as a vertically integrated (ethical) manufacturer. We provide our team with the skill-set, production facilities, machinery, monthly income, health insurance, and business training to ensure every individual reaches their greatest potential while our customers receive a truly beautiful product with a genuine story.
On a more personal note, we just really love being part of Malawi. After living in a village you really get to experience what it means to be a part of a community. We’ve lost a part of this in the West, and every time we go back to Malawi it really feels like coming home. We hope to connect these cultures through our unique products.
My favorite product at the moment is the Banja (‘family’) earrings. Hand-carved and sustainably harvested teak-wood circles paired with recycled brass ‘U’s— and they’re lightweight!
Many fair-trade businesses will simply go into a developing area and pay a fair price to an existing artisan for their goods, and the transaction ends there. We believe that’s a good start, but we take it a step further (or two, or three steps!) We identify the role models in our area and offer them training, full-time salaries, and benefits, resulting in a sense of stability that doesn’t come often in the developing world.
When it comes to the materials we use, our brass is regionally sourced and little known fact, over 90% of the world's brass comes from recycled materials! Any wood used in our pieces is sourced by our team of woodcarvers and they only use fallen teak wood. Not only is freshly cut teak a sure path to deforestation, but it simply doesn’t carve well. On top of that for every piece sold that incorporates wood, we plant a seedling just outside our workshop.
We truly believe that ethics + design can go hand-in-hand.
Thank you for being a part of the YEWO story!