Suhaa Schmitz’s accessories freely cross boundaries.
So has her life path. Born in Mombassa, Kenya in 1982, Schmitz left home as a teenager to attend high school in Uganda before moving to Belgium with her family. There she learned firsthand about her stepfather’s job in logistics, and also met her future husband who worked in the same field. The couple moved back to Uganda, and in 2005, they transferred to Rwanda, her base ever since.
Schmitz’s jewellery making began as a hobby in 2007 while she was expecting her first child. At the local Rwandan craft markets, she found beads from her native Kenya, attracted especially to handmade and hand-painted ceramic beads from Kazuri. Like the beads themselves, every piece of jewellery is essentially one-of-a-kind, a benefit in a small city like Kigali, Schmitz notes, “For I didn’t want everyone wearing the same piece. And it also makes the customers feel they have something unique and special.”
Africa. Europe. Heritage. Modernity. Male. Female. Local. Global.
While it remains difficult to source Rwandan materials, all leather in the Suhaa Schmitz range is locally made in Rwanda, and recent collections feature “designed and handcrafted in Rwanda” pieces using Sisal dyed and woven by local women. At the same time, Schmitz incorporates Swarovski Elements in items like earrings and bracelets and is proud to be the only designer in Kigali and East Africa to have been branded by Swarovski. Her material mix further includes Miyuki pearls and Tila beads from Japan, and Tilapia fish leather from Uganda.
An organisation of single mothers produces Schmitz's favourite Kenyan Kazuri beads, and many African enterprises work with cooperatives to help create local employment opportunities. However, Schmitz takes this a step further, choosing to work with women who, as she explains it, “somehow fall behind or are seen as underperformers” in the cooperative network. Rather than rejecting irregular pieces, she views them as special, noting “what people don’t want can be made into something amazing.
Now primarily sold in Rwanda, Schmitz is currently taking steps to expand her business internationally with the launch of a newly designed website. This will incorporate an online shop with international shipping options via DHL.
From a style standpoint, Schmitz is also tapping into the unisex trend with strong, graphic pieces suitable for men or women. Prime examples: stainless steel bracelets, metal rings embellished with Swarovski crystal; the Kizuri Sana Collection necklace; black rolo brass chains hung with bull pendants of gold-plated cow bones, natural crystals, or the A.F.R.I.C.A. solid brass pendant which can be customised to any country on the continent. Also in the Suhaa Schmitz line-up: Massai-inspired Shuka scarves in colourful plaids embellished with Swarovski crystals, a patch of Shuka scarf also starring as the primary material in a pair of earrings. Bags in Kenyan leather and Ugandan fish skin are in the development stage.
At present, Schmitz works with two women in Rwanda, four in Kenya and one in Uganda, with plans to find someone in Tanzania. “Right now, I’d say I’m still involved in the design stage, but I’d like to turn into more of an entrepreneur and help the women I work with. The more I sell, the more girls I can take on, and when I get recognised, they do too. That’s my target for 2019.”