One of our most commonly used materials is brass — it’s an alloy made of copper and zinc. Brass stands out for being flexible, stiff, and malleable, making it a staple for classic jewelry and everyday items. Regardless of the end product, the process begins the same with raw materials like copper and zinc being melted in a furnace and poured over the required mold. Later it’s cooled and polished by skilled craftsmen. A workshop or factory further works on the metal to shape it into desired shapes. The combination of textures and patterns that results from this all too common process is nothing short of alchemy.
Beyond its global use, brass work is also a common trade in much of the developing world. For one of our artisan partners, Erick Omondi (pictured left), it fuels creativity and aspiration. A diligent worker, Erick finished his university education at a technical institute in Kisumu, Kenya.
Quickly after he began working at a Cyber Cafe only to be turned to making brass jewelry
at the suggestion of a friend. When asked what motivates him he says, “it feels good seeing somebody putting on what I made.” He aspires to own his own jewelry and clothing company one day. Hand work is often the primary form of income in many parts of the world and it’s not going anywhere, especially not for skilled workers like Erick. Women in particular tend to choose this work because it allows them flexibility to work and care for their family at home. There’s also a lower barrier to entry because it’s easily learned, and with time perfected. Supporting this work is a way of meeting people where they are.
In the ancient world brass was used from India to Rome to make fine instruments for astronomy, coins, and so on. Today, the metal is popular for its decorative and functional uses. The face of craftsmanship today is changing to look more and more like Erick who is perfectly able to partake in the growing digital economy. Smartphones and the Internet anchor his day just the same. This story is similar for the millions of hand workers who enter this field everyday, driven by a tug different motivations. The things they go on to make certainly imbues a deeper meaning to the everyday items we adorn ourselves with. This potential is yet to be realized.
The finished product, a simple hammered dangle earring