Designers in D.C. work with home in mind — whether home is in the city or a faraway place that adds extra texture and color to their products. Each maker featured in our October Issue is unique, but a common theme persists: a focus on cultural appreciation, sustainability and naturalness. We tell their stories and dive into details of each business below, from cocktail syrups to minimalist earrings to vintage repurposed maps.
Sarah Bayot, creator of Kicheko Goods, creates unexpected and beautiful earrings, combining different mediums to achieve a truly special product. Focused on giving back, Kicheko donates a portion of all proceeds to different education organizations in the United States.
District Fray: What’s the story behind Kicheko?
Sarah Bayot: I started Kicheko in 2014, inspired by a lot of entrepreneurial energy around me. I was very into doing creative projects and crafts and was committed to volunteer work in eastern Congo. This combination gave me enough courage to quit my job and go full time with Kicheko, which is currently a jewelry brand of earrings and necklaces with mixed materials that follow a minimalist, geometric silhouette. Kicheko is a Swahili word that describes smiling and laughter. I’m Filipino American, and when I tell people Kicheko is a Swahili word I get curious looks because I don’t look like I’m from a Swahili-speaking country. When I explain the meaning, I try to give it the respect it deserves by sharing a glimpse into a special time that inspired my own journey.
How is Kicheko a social impact brand?
After graduating with my master’s in international development, I had the opportunity to travel with a volunteer team to the Congo. We became close with the community, which started fundraising and construction of a primary school called Mango Tree School. I loved the ethos and the wider impact it would have for the community at large, so I built a scholarship program into Kicheko’s business model. From 2015-2019, a portion of proceeds from all sales went to a scholarship fund for Mango Tree School. Over those years, we helped 110 students attend school. Since 2020, I continued the thread of giving toward education-focused initiatives, donating to U.S.-based organizations like Equal Justice Initiative, Mamatoto Village, The Conscious Kid, DC Youth Orchestra, Catalogue for Philanthropy and Moseka Action Project.
What do you find fulfilling about design?
I have always felt drawn toward contrast, excited by the challenge of putting opposing objects together in some way that works. I enjoy the process of creating shapes and balance with beads, metal and pearls. Growing up, my mom would find me in my room repurposing found objects, creating collages and tearing out pages from magazines to build my look book. I still have that look book — it’s on a shelf in my Kicheko studio. And there’s still the exhilaration of finishing a piece on the workbench and watching a customer’s pleased reaction.
Anything else you want readers to understand about Kicheko?
Kicheko is in evolution right now. The last two years have been hard on me, and I realized this year I was burned out and my wants had changed. I took some time to realign, and I am happy to share I recently took a full-time position with The Nature Conservancy, which means Kicheko is now my part-time side hustle. I am still a maker. But I think slowing Kicheko down and allowing Kicheko to evolve will be a worthwhile time.