MOYO by Bibi: How the ‘Heart’ of One Business Owner Empowers Women Through Wearable Art
Rows of small beads in striking and bold colors, arranged in intricate patterns, adorn the bags, necklaces, corsets, cuffs, and other accessories that MOYO by BiBi creates. The pieces are “wearable art,” designed by Bibi Ahmed and inspired by her Kenyan roots and heritage. “Moyo” is the Swahili word for heart, representing the heart and passion that she and the master crafters she works with in Kenya put into each piece.
Born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya, Bibi said she had “the best childhood ever,” and reminisced fondly about being able to wander and play outside, exploring her neighborhood. With this freedom, she would visit different clothing boutiques and pick up scraps of fabric from the floor to bring back home.
Creating hand beaded, wearable art
“We had this neighbor,” she recalled, “and she was using loads of sequins and beads. I used to go and pick up the ones that dropped on the floor and I used to stitch them on my dolls’ clothing.” She credits her creativity and passion for handmade fashion to these moments, and to the encouragement she received from her grandmother, whom she was named after.
“When I was creative, she loved it,” Bibi recalled. “She was my ‘hype man’ you know? She gave me confidence and used to always praise me.”
Bibi’s grandmother was generous and giving as well, at one point helping shelter in her home a family of Somalian refugees who fled their country. This kindness struck a chord with Bibi, who describes how people cherished and respected her.
Finding inspiration after loss
Inspiration for the unique designs are found from nature, traditions, and African cultures
In 2014, her beloved grandmother passed away at 91 years.
Bibi and her family travelled from London back to Kenya for her funeral. It was during this trip that she rediscovered the intricate beadwork of Kenya’s different tribes. With a cousin, she visited a workshop in a rural village and met the women crafters making sandals adorned with beads.
“I saw so much talent,” Bibi said, describing the fine skills and handiwork of the women. But she also saw a lot of poverty. Inspired by her grandmother’s kindness and her dedication to helping others, Bibi realized she could help the women making these beautiful goods by partnering with them and helping design and sell handcrafted goods.
A selection of bags, necklaces, corsets, cuffs and other accessories that MOYO BY Bibi creates
“It's really important to me I empower these women financially,” she said. She encouraged them to apply their techniques to more than just sandals.
“It was always sandals, sandals, sandals,” said Bibi, laughing. “I wanted them to bead necklaces, I wanted them to bead corsets, cuffs, I just wanted them to bead everything!”
Growing her business
Founder Bibi Ahmed, MOYO BY BiBi
Bibi built a workshop, employing a team of 10 women from that village, to produce her pieces. Bibi drafted designs for different items for the crafters to bead and would then sell the final goods overseas. Her designs draw inspiration from different sources. Everything from “nature, traditions, and African cultures.”
“There was a time when I was in Kenya, a seven-year-old boy gave me flowers,” recalled Bibi. “So, I took the idea of the flowers and made a beaded bag. Every time I see it, I think of him.”
Her first collection launched in 2016, and her brand has only grown since then, helped in part by PayPal’s services and convenience for small business owners.
“I’ve been using PayPal for years,” said Bibi. “It’s been amazing for me and my business. It allows me to sell anywhere, and it’s also secure and fast. It’s safety for me and for my customers.”
Bibi is proud to be following in her grandmother’s footsteps and helping others. “I just want to be a good human being,” said Bibi. “I would like to be remembered for my work and supporting people at the villages and helping people. I am helping these people just like my grandmother helped other people and women as I was growing up.”
Head to the MOYO by BiBi website to shop the collection and learn more.