29 July 2010

bamboula limited pushes the go green button.

Bamboula Limited pushes the go green button
By Jennifer Hetrick
Kutztown’s one-of-a-kind shop, Bamboula Limited, sells a stock of African hand-crafted fair trade home accessories and gifts, many of which are sustainably made in the vein of the now go green era.

Bamboula Limited president and owner Jasperdean Kobes served as a volunteer teacher in Ethiopia with the Peace Corp in the 1960s, always having felt curious about the continent of Africa as a child.

In 1989, Kobes bought Bamboula Limited from its previous owner, an American woman whose French husband wanted to retire to his home country.
Until 2000, the company operated out of New York City, but Kobes relocated the storefront to 164 West Walnut Street in Kutztown, as the move made sense due to her husband teaching psychology at Kutztown University.

Kobes explained that the woman who owned Bamboula Limited before her described the name of the company as a Bantu word for celebration, although she has also heard other possibilities for meanings, including an African drum or a big rain.

( These brightly colored toys are crafted out of recycled flip flops 
that wash up along the shore along Kenya's coastal line. )

 Bamboula Limited is geared toward wholesale buyers with its warehouse stock, but Kobes sells to a retail audience as well during the week.

In the early days of running Bamboula Limited, phone connections were not at their best, so Kobes placed her orders by telegram and then fax.

She estimates that she has traveled to Africa 35 to 40 times in the past two decades, visiting the artisans and their families to purchase their traditionally inspired utilitarian goods with the fair trade ethic in mind.

Many of the artisans Kobes buys from have no other means of income, which makes her support especially vital, then transferring the hand of global assistance to those who purchase what she sells at her Kutztown shop.

In her trips to Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, and Uganda, Kobes sifts through masses of handmade goods until she finds ones she thinks will best suit the Bamboula style.

( Bamboula Limited's bags and totes are made from straw, sisal 
fiber, or bananafiber as sustainably used material. Recycled glass 
is used in bracelets as beads and in other home accessories. )

“Baskets are a really big category, and it’s because they’re all made out of natural fibers—they’re renewable, eco-friendly fibers,” Kobes said.  “There’s a lot more consciousness on the part of buyers to get products that are made out of sustainable materials.”

( Sisal fiber totes are sustainably constructed, very multi-purpose, 
and support artisansin one of five different African countries, 
 when purchased. Photo courtesy of Bamboula Limited. )

 Some of the sustainably made baskets she carries will be in Martha Stewart Living Magazine’s September issue.

“In Ghana, there's a tradition of making glass beads,” Kobes said. “They're used for jewelry, but we worked with the glassmakers and developed a line home accessories using recycled glass with metal.”


 ( Shown above is the process of making recycled glass - the glass comes from bottles, 
broken window panes, etc.  It is put into clay molds that are in the shape of the glass 
pieces being made.  The molds are then put into oven so that the glass pieces in the mold 
fuse together into the desired glass shape. Photos courtesy of Bamboula Limited. )

 "Our overall objective is to sell products that are contemporary and useful in people's homes,” Kobes added.

Ten years ago, Kobes sold many items made out of wood, such as candle holders, trays, and picture frames.

But today, she said Bamboula Limited carries hardly anything wooden, instead transitioning into filling her storefront and warehouse with artisans’ work made out of mostly sustainable and eco-friendly materials.

Handbags and totes are another popular green seller, as the movement to stop using plastic bags is leading to people taking reusable bags grocery shopping, to farmers’ markets, or as to use as purses.

“The green movement is very critical because of problems in the environment,” Kobes concluded. “People are becoming more conscious of not harming the environment by what they’re buying.”
( also published in the print and online editions of the kutztown area patriot.)


  1. This is really cool! I love those colorful baskets and of course that they are using recycled glass for designs. I think it's great that they have a focus on keeping things green and helping keep our earth so lovely. There's a great beauty in reusing/rehabbing items.

  2. i know ! i really want to go up there sometime to check out the place. my schedule didn't accommodate in recent weeks.

    if you've ever been to the store called 10 thousand villages, it's in line with that, but specifically with these five african countries. i have handcrafted chopsticks and weaved chopstick holders from there, made in bangladesh. it's refreshing knowing you're actually helping someone out far off, with your purchase, instead of the opposite.