The name “Kibébé” contains two words--“Ki” and “bébé.” The prefix "Ki" as "big" is used as slang by the Kiswahili speakers in the community we work with and “bébé” means “baby” in French. When our artisan community say Kibébé, they mean "big healthy baby" as a compliment. It highlights two important elements of our humble origins.
First, Kibébé was founded by an intercultural couple--Florisa and Innocent Magambi. Florisa is originally from Italy. Innocent was born a refugee from Burundi. The couple found their common purpose and united in Malawi, where they started There is Hope Malawi in 2007, a charity that aims to empower refugees and local Malawians through vocational training programs and college scholarships. Kibébé stemmed out of There is Hope as its social enterprise branch to directly provide jobs to the people they serve and fund its programs.
Secondly, Kibébé’s founding product - the Safari Book - was inspired by a very special baby, Florisa and Innocent’s first child Mwiza. Born with a rare congenital condition, Mwiza needed sensory toys that were not available in Malawi. Florisa, the loving and creative mother, then worked with a refugee tailor to develop a sensory book that features Safari animals with soft chitenje. Unfortunately, Mwiza passed away after her second birthday. However, her legacy remains as the beautiful line of products that stemmed from that book.
Kibébé’s story is personal, yet universal. It encompasses every family’s dream to nurture healthy babies and provide a good environment for them to grow up in, including families involuntarily displaced in foreign lands.
Our mission is to economically empower these families to support themselves and create inclusive products that can be enjoyed by anyone from any cultural background. Besides directly providing jobs, Kibébé donates a portion of its profits to vocational training programs and college scholarships for refugees by There is Hope.
Since the inception of Kibébé in 2014, our brand has been loved by our local community in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city. To bring Kibébé to its broader international community, a group of skilled and passionate volunteers finally established Kibébé International as a 501c(3) non-profit organization in the US in 2019.
Working almost exclusively with chitenje in all of its multi-coloured glory, Kibébé sources fabric from Lilongwe’s bustling open air fabric market where we support around 30 female sellers. Here swathes of pattern adorn a myriad of stalls and our team scours each pile looking for exactly the right hues and print.
The design process, meanwhile, is ongoing and often stems from conversations - with friends, customers, and on social media, about what products they would love to see available in Malawi. The best ideas, however, come during sleepless nights, and are then brought to our production room in the form of a rough sketch or picture, ready to be discussed and developed by our artisans. It can be a time consuming journey in which the technical knowledge of the team can be tested and challenges - such as the availability of haberdashery and sewing hardware in Malawi - have to be circumnavigated. Only when a prototype looks right, and has been tried and tested, is a small batch put into production.
All the production takes place in and around Dzaleka refugee camp, employed largely at our production rooms - or at their home-based business - where our artisans work on pedal sewing machines and by hand. Kibébé now ships our popular products quarterly to our US inventory base in Michigan, bringing lovingly handmade products filled with stories and journeys directly to your doorstep.