Wildlife Works, a consumer brand that brings innovative solutions to wildlife conservation, opened its first retail store in May. The store, located in San Francisco, California, offers environmentally friendly clothing and home décor items, most of which are manufactured at the Wildlife Works Eco-Factory outside the Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Kenya.
Wildlife Works was established in 1997 to rehabilitate the 80,000-acre Rukinga Ranch as a wildlife reserve and provide economic opportunities to local communities. Through its Kenya-based manufacturing arm, a Verde Ventures partner since 2005, the company is making a difference in the lives of several impoverished communities while also promoting conservation efforts for habitat crucial for the protection of globally threatened species.
The Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, within the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot, is home to 14 threatened bird species, in addition to lions, cheetahs, and 45 other large mammal species. Rukinga is a very important corridor for elephants and many other species traveling between Tsavo East and Tsavo West, Kenya’s largest national parks.
“Having visited Kenya on vacation, I noticed the pressure on wild lands from growing rural communities and felt that they would be more successful leveraging their unique wildlife assets,” said Mike Korchinsky, founder and CEO of Wildlife Works. The company was “created from the ground up” with the mission of protecting this important habitat and offering sustainable economic alternatives for the people who lived there.
The loan from Verde Ventures to Wildlife Works, EPZ
, provided working capital that enabled the company to augment its production capacity in Kenya. The eco-factory currently employs 100 women from the surrounding communities. One employee is Norah Matunda, a single mother with two children, who has been working there since the factory opened in 2001.
Not only has Matunda learned how to use an electric sewing machine, but she was also able to purchase a plot of land and start up her own small business with the money she earned from her employment at the factory. Matunda’s business employs two other local women to work with two sewing machines she purchased. Her future plans include building a house and helping her parents pay the tuition for her sister’s school.
Wildlife Works has also been providing education sessions to the local communities and local chiefs about the importance of maintaining their habitat and promoting conservation projects.
The new U.S. boutique, which will hold a grand opening in August, is located alongside many established boutiques and commercial brands in San Francisco’s Union Street shopping district. This retail presence aims to help the company establish its brand and promote its conservation message to a different type of consumer.
“Wildlife Works stands apart from the other boutiques by having a unique story to tell its customers and something for them to believe in,” Christopher Schroeder, Wildlife Works’ brand manager, said.
In addition to its existing conservation projects and enterprises in Kenya, the company is also planning the construction of an eco-luxury safari retreat that will provide further employment and income benefits to nearby communities.