DCFunemployment: Tell the people – Who are you?
My name is Sarah Bayot and I am the founder and designer of Kicheko Goods, a socially conscious jewelry brand based here in the District. Kicheko’s aesthetic is pretty distinctive – mixes of materials that combine to form a modern, boho, elegant and yet unrefined vibe. Meaning “smile/laughter” in Swahili, every purchase of a piece sends one child to school for one month. Kicheko is currently working with Mango Tree School in eastern Congo. When I am not working all hours on the business, I can be found listening to a podcast, teaching barre at Dailey Method on U Street, or finding something good in the neighborhood (read: food + drink).
DCF: What does being funemployed mean to you & what was your path to funemployment?
SB: I’m so happy to be in a time where this concept is less of a unicorn and more within reach (DCF: No it’s totally still unicorn, we can just all be unicorns now if we want to be!!) whether funemployed is your side gig or your full-time. I think funemployed is being able to find joy and life in your work. When you are funemployed, your primary drive is not solely a paycheck but a sense that how you are spending your time, talent and energy is worth it, dipped in meaning, and connects the dots. Funemployed also should include snacks. Many snacks. (DCF: Yes to all the snacks!).
My path to funemployment continues to evolve and is definitely non-linear. It began with my first job at the age of 14 working for a law firm that mainly handled debt collections. That was a big lesson in knowing what you do NOT want to do. I went on to do a number of jobs and internships that bolstered my communication, administrative and people management skills. Throughout that time, I always kept a creative curiosity for design, the arts, fashion and the intersection where it makes positive impacts for communities. Studying International Relations + Development, that helped shape that arc of interest in fashion + community development for sure. But I had no idea what kind of career options existed in that realm.
My path to Kicheko grew organically and honestly out of a need to create. From 2010-2013, I worked as an office manager for a nonprofit where we expanded properties and nearly doubled the staff in the time I was there – I learned a great deal and stretched myself but also desperately needed something creative, something not admin. I took sewing classes, a metal-smith workshop, and started creative projects randomly and regularly with a group of girlfriends. I got on a kick of making fabric covered studs and loved sourcing fabrics to the point where I wore them so much that friends started buying them. When I received an order for 500 pairs of earrings, funnily enough from the same nonprofit I was working for at the time, that’s when I decided to go for it and make this a business. This small and prolific product was what launched Kicheko and from there, I’ve continued to grow my techniques, design eye, and skills.
DCF: Who was your first cheerleader?
SB: A sprinkling of friends from various parts of life were my first cheerleaders – mostly all female too haha. Girl power! I had a couple friends from childhood who were also starting their own businesses – musicians, journalists, home renovation, etc. My coworkers were also very encouraging though cautiously optimistic. How can I not mention my husband. He was an incredible partner during this time – providing literal support, serving as a sounding board, and advocate for the business.
DCF: What experiences in your life prepared you for where you are now?
SB: My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 80’s and while they found a good faith community that embraced our family, it was struggle from day one. Showing up everyday to learn a new culture and assimilate to be able to work and provide a quality of life for themselves and their children – that example showed me that my life would be one filled with hard work. I knew nothing would be handed to me and that it was important to set goals, work hard towards a vision and love others along the way. In some ways, this kind of underdog experience is one that I now embrace. I like being the underdog – it’s motivating! (DCF: A very wise women recently said your most motivated when your account is overdrawn or you just got fired, being the underdog is a strong force!)
DCF: Where do you get your inspiration and/or motivation?
SB: I look at the art, fashion, literary and culture landscape and I sit in fucking awe of the body of work that all of these humans have created and that we are still creating. To be able to contribute something to that body of work whether that is meaningful to one person or meaningful to many, gah!
Travel is always my happy place – my place of reset, widening my aperture, and for getting the creative juices flowing. (DCF: #TravelMore is definitely a mantra this year).
My friends and creatives in this world. Their work and tireless can-do-ism is fueling. I love being a part of the creative economy in DC.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find balance?
SB: Balance is debatable. I am trying to look at this question from a perspective of wholeness. Do I feel whole? Each week, I ask have I fed my mind, my body, my spirit, my need for community? If there’s a gap in one or more of those areas, I try to pay attention and meet that need. It’s definitely more art than science.
And I also have to account for my business with this question because as a product-based business, my peak season is Sep-Dec so there’s not much social life or really, sleep, happening in this season. That’s ok – that’s the rhythm.
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
SB: Not having a stable and guaranteed income was a tougher sacrifice to navigate. Money is a tool and we are taught that money is an indicator of success. The first month out on my own when I didn’t get those biweekly paychecks, it was a startling realization, “oh shit, this is real. I decided to do this.” Money can be such an emotional instigator. Not having guaranteed income or as much income as I would have liked in the beginning dented my confidence at times and I needed to learn to disassociate my sense of purpose and determination in building Kicheko from those slower times.
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
SB: In my business, there are a lot of female designers and female-owned businesses so it’s great to be in good company. But initially, I was very green to this and felt alone building my business in what seemed at times isolation. Doing my first set of markets was a breath of fresh air getting out into the world and meeting other business owners and makers. It helped make what I was doing more real and to this day, in-person market events are vital to my business – the feedback and community formed is invaluable. I still have patches of isolation (I think that comes with the territory) but make efforts to reach out, stay connected and be open to meeting others.
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
SB: Work with an accountant and bookkeeper! I decided early on that Quickbooks, Google Sheets and me could take this on. But it can get very hairy and be its own part-time job. The time that it takes to keep up with bookkeeping and accounting detracts from energy spent on design, marketing and business growth.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
SB: Doing too much. When I started Kicheko, I designed jewelry and handmade scarves as well. Sewing each scarf was incredibly time consuming and I quickly realized I could not keep selling/making both scarves and only button earrings. Plus my scarves weren’t great. My aesthetic and collection needed to grow and that meant narrowing focus to a point of view and specializing.
DCF: What is your proudest moment?
SB: In 2015, Kicheko’s second year, I traveled to LA with a couple of girlfriends and pitched TOMS Marketplace to carry Kicheko Goods. It was the most articulate I’ve ever expressed the story and brand. I felt I prepared the best I could. When I got back to DC, negotiations began and they placed an order for their holiday collection. It was a large order and during this 90+ day experience, I had two major proud moments. The first was when friends helped me prepare all the earrings and necklaces to be shipped off. On a hot summer day, we prepped all the boxes and shipped them off to LA. It was such a good feeling to know that everything was completed and ready to go out into the world. The second proud moment was getting the check from that order. It was such validation! I jumped on the bed a bunch!
DCF: What’s next?
SB: This holiday season, we are launching our first brand video to tell the story of who we are, who the Kicheko woman is and what we’re about. It was a process that required us to dig deep, travel thousands of miles and I am very excited to see it all come together. My goal is that this communicates more concisely who Kicheko is and convinces everyone to become part of the community!