This post was sponsored by Amani ya Juu, all thoughts my own.

There’s an elephant in the room of sustainable and ethical blogging that I’ve been thinking about for a while now, the cult of wellness. It’s something I’ve semi followed for a while: for every blogger that creates nuanced discussions around well researched facts and cites peer reviewed studies, there’s another that throws out eyeroll-inducing pseudo science and hearsay. Often it doesn’t come with bad intentions, sometimes it’s purely unfathomable (looking at you and your jade eggs GOOP), but I think it has real world effects that can lead people into living lives of fear and paranoia. I also think we see this happening most often in the area of wellness because we don’t know what wellness actually is. This recent article by Quartzy, hits several nails on the head, and its recent release coincided with my own experience of wellness appearing for the first time in discussions with an ethical fashion brand. Not just that, but it was them who brought it up. The brand was sustainable and beyond Fair Trade advocates Amani ya Juu, and in talking it was immediately clear that this was an organisation run by people dedicated to doing the real work to achieve wellness in their employees, their organisation and themselves. Instead of jumping on a lifestyle trend, it’s instead about understanding what wellness really looks like, and why it’s important.

The fact is, wellness doesn’t always look like a warm fuzzy feeling. It doesn’t always look like an instagrammable skin routine, netflix and a good bath. In fact it rarely does. While these things are nice, true wellness has to be looked at more holistically. To cultivate wellness is to look at our wellbeing in all aspects of our life, and to put in the work it takes to care for each of these areas properly. That work often doesn’t look glamorous, but it does result in healthier relationships, emotional literacy and increased agency in our lives.

There’s actually a really handy diagram that breaks down wellness beyond the general term we can so often see thrown around: the wellness wheel. This wheel talks about the main areas that make up our sense of wellbeing: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental, financial and spiritual. For many of us our sense of wellness is often skewed because we pay more attention to some of these aspects, whilst neglecting others (I have a hunch that many westerners tend to put more stress on financial and intellectual, potentially to the detriment of areas like emotional and social). To achieve real wellness is to figure out what we need in each of these areas and create action plans to achieve it. In my own life, this hasn’t looked as shiny and exciting as the wellness industry suggests. It has looked like working hard to get to the root of what motivates me and what triggers me; understanding how I tick and why I react in certain ways in certain situations. This is called cultivating emotional literacy, and I have done this through a combination of studying the enneagram (proud 4 wing 3), tracking my moods and thoughts daily to spot patterns, and undertaking Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in a group setting. Through this I have been able to understand other people in my life and how I relate to them, therefore working on how I speak to and treat them (although I fail at this often), as well as understand what I need in these various areas of my life because I know what motivates me. I don’t believe in that ‘you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself’ rhetoric, but I certainly believe that understanding yourself is key to building better relationships, and lives in which we truly feel content and at peace.

I’m a very vocal advocate for the power of therapy, so I’m going to do a full blog post on that at some point, but what I’m getting at right now is this: wellness is intentional, it is cultivated, and it takes work to get there.

How Amani ya Juu practice wellness

For this reason, it’s truly encouraging to find a brand that puts real wellness at the heart of how they operate. Amani believe in creating a work environment that is based on the wellbeing of the whole person, aka each area of the wellness wheel, in order to bring about lasting transformation and real peace in the lives of each employee. Not only is this the clear opposite mindset of fast fashion and consumption, where peoples needs are basically an afterthought in the prioritising of profit, it also stands out in the ethical space. Amani doesn’t just do the bare minimum, they go the extra mile in order to achieve their goals.

Amani ya Juu is an example of how holistic peace and wellbeing can have a transformative effect in our lives, no matter how broken. From small beginnings of a few women to an international network of diverse centres and cultures, they are proof that things can be done differently. The organisation began in 1996 after American Becky Chinchen fled the civil war in Liberia with her husband and four daughters, reaching Kenya amongst other refugee women. Her experience prompted a vision of working with marginalised women in order to affirm the dignity and worth of those around her. Alongside fellow women from Mozambique and Sudan Amani ya Juu, “Peace from Above”, was established.

Each of the founding ladies of Amani had been through trauma and devastation from their experiences of conflict. They shared a need for healing, restoration and repair in their lives, but they also brought together skills in stitching, a love of African textiles, an eye for beauty, and a passion for peace. From the beginning Amani existed within the complex tension of hope and vulnerability: proving that we are able to hold both sides of these experiences at the same time. This meeting of talents, needs, and desires brought Amani ya Juu to life. With a personal loan of $500 they began making placemats in Becky’s home in Nairobi and selling them at hotels, events and local shops. Through the blend of business and commitment to personal restoration Amani ya Juu emerged as an economic enterprise with a holistic approach at its core.

In the two decades since, these small seeds in the Nairobi center have grown into an organisation whose impact spans continents, countries and cities. Whilst Amani has direct centres in Kenya, Liberia, Uganda and Chattanooga, they have also trained and enabled leaders to create their own projects focusing on specific, varying localised need in areas they know and are passionate about. So far Amani have provided seed money, training and continued resource and support to projects in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Rwanda, Maasailand, Burundi, Somali Eastleigh, Mathare slums and more. The localised leadership in these areas ensures each centre benefits from the knowledge and sensitivity of those who truly know these places as their home. It is also this attention to in depth understanding that helps Amani function properly in their direct centres, as they are equipped to meet the real needs of people in each area they work within.

Each centre creates community and economic opportunity by looking at what that location needs, with focus on areas including leadership, business, design, craftsmanship, literacy and trauma rehabilitation (shout out for the power of therapy!). If we look at it in terms of the wellness wheel some examples include:

– Physical and social: hot lunch is provided for everyone working on site, and lunch becomes a time for everyone to eat, be together and foster community

– Spiritual and intellectual: each day time is set aside for prayer and discussion, or study about spiritual, intellectual and emotional topics. These are open to everyone but aren’t mandatory (though they are popular!)

– Intellectual and financial: Amani provides ongoing training for employees to learn new vocational sills or continued education, strengthening minds and skills, whilst also benefiting the organisation as a whole, beyond simply meeting someone’s basic needs by providing jobs and income.

The results aren’t just beautiful, ethically handmade products that can be sold across the world, but also lives and communities that are transformed as Amani puts the time and true work into helping people heal and grow in each area to achieve full wellness, beyond their source of income.

‘We firmly believe that the quality and beauty of our products is profoundly impacted by the fact that they are made by people who are finding whole-life peace.’

Amani ya Juu Ethics & Sustainability

When it comes to their products, Amani ya Juu is also a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation, which prioritises dialogue, transparency, and fair working conditions. However they also aim to move beyond Fair Trade business practice and into a more well rounded mode of operation that empowers and equips as much as possible.

Their ethos is based around the following:

• Providing a living wage that enables women to provide health care, education and a safe living environment for themselves and their families
• Promoting peace and reconciliation, both in the workplace and the community
• Providing an emergency fund for unexpected crisis
• Creating a holistic environment where women are cared for and care for one another
• Valuing local cultures and traditions, incorporating them into the philosophy and social environment of Amani
• Using local materials to support the local economy and bring global appreciation of African art

• Accommodating work schedules to the needs and realities of women

All of these values are simple, achievable, and remain at the crux of Amani’s operations. The people of Amani are the organisation’s number one priority, and it shows in their outflow and impact.

Overall I think if there was one word to sum up Amani ya Juu, it would be beyond. In their implementation of fair and sustainable practice, in their relationships with their employees, in the vision for the organisation as a whole. Everything they do exceeds the minimum requirements. In keeping people at the heart of their operation, and treating wellness and peace as multi-faceted areas that need to be approached holistically, they can see real transformation take place. Meanwhile their message of hope ripples out beyond the individual; infusing their products with a unique spirit and empowering communities they touch with lasting positive change.