Long story short
Tuli sells high-quality, fashionable jewelry that changes lives. We believe economic development and job growth are the key to eliminating poverty for good. Our mission at Tuli is to create sustainable, fair-waged jobs in East Africa. Through their work with Tuli, our partners are empowered to rise out of poverty.
Our Ugandan jewelry is made using recycled paper beads, a craft borne out of our artisans’ desire to build businesses for themselves in unemployment- and poverty-stricken Uganda. Our artisans salvage paper, cut it into thin strips, and roll it tightly into beads. Next, each bead is hand-painted and coated in a water-based varnish. The result? Beads that are as durable as they are beautiful. Our artisans then create beautiful jewelry using their beads.
Our Kenyan jewelry is made using recycled bone and brass at our workshop in Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum. Not only do our products create jobs in an economically vulnerable area, but also, by using materials that would otherwise be waste, we help to clean the area up.
Tuli provides style and quality comparable to large retail chains combined with a social mission that’s unforgettable. Through their work with Tuli, our artisans are empowered to feed their families, educate their children, and rise out of poverty.
The whole story
Tuli was founded in 2014 by Megan Kitt, who was, at the time, a journalist. She traveled to Kampala on a writing assignment and while there, was struck by the women she saw who were so eager to work, they took discarded paper and made a product out of it. They’d take their handmade jewelry to markets to sell. The problem: In Uganda, buyers were few.
Megan spoke with everyone she could and found that what people in Uganda wanted most was jobs. She wondered: What if the paper bead craft were brought to an international market? Ugandans had a product; she had a market.
As a teenager and college student, Megan had worked as a fashion model, which taught her a lot about the fashion industry — knowledge that became key as she began working with a small group of Ugandan women to tailor their craft toward an international market. She returned home with a few products, began producing photoshoots and marketing through social media, and Tuli was born.
For the next 18 months, Tuli grew faster than expected. A year into the company’s tenure, orders were coming in faster than they could be fulfilled, so Megan returned to Uganda to hire more artisans. After that, the company expanded into Kenya, where our brass collection was born. Not only did this expansion increase our impact, but it also expanded the types of products Tuli could produce, catapulting more growth.
Tuli got its name from the Luganda word for “we are,” a concept that embodies our belief that everyone can take part in fighting global poverty. Every Tuli product provides a fair wage for the artisan who made it, so every product purchased truly impacts lives.
One thing that makes Tuli different from other similar social businesses and charities is that the jobs we offer artisans are permanent. Many similar organizations hire artisans for a couple of months or years and describe their work as skill development, claiming that artisans who graduate from their program can go on to start their own businesses making jewelry. However, we’ve seen firsthand that knowing how to make jewelry doesn’t yield much income in Uganda. Access to an international market is key.
Because of this, once they’re hired with Tuli, so long as they produce high-quality work, we let them work with us as long as they’d like. Some of our artisans use their money to finish their education and get another job. Some start businesses. That’s great! We’re sad to see people go, but when they do, that’s a success in our book. Other artisans stay with us their entire working lives, and that’s great too: They are able to support their families and educate their children through university, which gives their children job opportunities that break the cycle of poverty.
Tuli’s growth is steady and its income is growing. We work closely with our artisans to ensure that they are receiving the incomes they need and we work closely with our customers to make sure that our products suit their needs. We’re using fashion to transform lives, one product at a time.
How do you ensure fair wages?
We developed our wages in collaboration with the women we work with to ensure that their earnings are sufficient. Our production managers are local to Kenya and Uganda and are artisans themselves, so they are advocates for our entire team. They understand the needs of our team better than we, as Americans, could. We revisit our wages consistently to ensure that our artisans are earning enough to truly rise out of poverty. We also keep a close eye on when there are spikes in the cost of basic expenses, like when school fees increase for elementary and high school students, to ensure we adjust our pay accordingly.
Where does money from purchases go?
Every purchase has an impact in East Africa. Every product sold puts money directly into our partners’ hands, and we pay well above market rate to create a livable wage for our partners.
But the impact doesn’t stop there: By purchasing from Tuli, you’re supporting our long-term mission to empower people to rise out of poverty. Your individual purchase contributes to the steady, long-term income that is needed for our partners to look beyond their immediate needs, like food and shelter, and toward long-term goals, like education and saving for the future. Only in this way are they able to truly rise out of poverty.
Because we focus on an empowerment model, it’s important to remember that we do not dictate what our partners do with their income. We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know these people, and we trust them to make the right decisions for their families. Tuli believes that our role in development is job creation, not resource allocation.
After paying fair wages on a per-product basis to our partners, the rest of your purchase covers tariffs and other importing expenses, packaging, and order fulfillment. We also cover our operating expenses (website hosting, order processing, advertising, etc.), and we strive to operate as efficiently as possible. Any additional profits are reinvested into sustainable development projects. In the past, we’ve donated to Ring of Hope Uganda, a nonprofit we know well that invests in long-term solutions, like creating sustainable farms that provide local employment, and education for street children, which breaks the cycle of poverty.
How do I care for my jewelry?
Because the paper beads are coated in varnish, they are durable. They can be wiped down with a damp cloth.
Brass products will eventually varnish, but if you wipe it with a brass polish, it will look good as new! Avoid contact with water to slow this process.
How did Tuli start?
Tuli was founded in 2014 by Megan Kitt, who, after traveling on assignment as a journalist to Uganda, hoped to tailor the paper bead jewelry she saw in Kampala’s markets to an international market. She worked with the women to create designs that would work in the global fashion market and sourced high-quality chain to ensure the quality of Tuli’s products were comparable to those found in fashion stores, with a social impact. Because Megan was an international fashion model prior to starting Tuli, she used her knowledge of the industry and connections with models to build the company efficiently, using an extremely limited budget. We’ve been bootstrapped from the start!
Is Tuli a nonprofit?
Tuli is a Social Purpose Corporation registered in Washington State. An SPC is a corporate structure available in only some states that is essentially a hybrid between a non-profit and a for-profit company. Basically, being an SPC means we’re a for-profit organization that is tailored around the social purpose of fighting poverty in East Africa. Our goal is to maximize our profits by operating as efficiently as possible, because we reinvest those profits back into East Africa! More profit means more impact.
Do you ship worldwide?
Yes! Tuli ships worldwide. Shipping rates may vary based on country.
Are Tuli products available in stores?
Tuli products can be found for sale in select boutique stores across the United States. We’re constantly expanding our retailers.