In Her Words: A Letter from Sandra Zhao of Zuri

In Her Words - A letter from our partners in Kenya

Dear Ibu Allies,

My name is Sandra Zhao, and I am a co-founder of Zuri. Prior to starting Zuri, I owned and operated a bakery in Nairobi, Kenya, and my co-founder Ashleigh Miller worked as a rug dealer. We met at a wedding after she complimented me on my dress, and we hit it off as friends and soon business partners. 

I'd designed the dress for myself before traveling to South Sudan. I wanted something comfortable and durable enough to wash and wear daily (I pack light), while being culturally respectful (elbows and knees covered), and flattering (perfect for the wedding after the trip). I used kitenge fabric since it's easily available and 100% cotton—so breathable and comfy—and I just love prints! We quickly realized after many compliments and requests that we had a cut with broad appeal, and we were surrounded by incredible textiles and an opportunity to make this dress that we loved and share it.

Sandra and Ashleigh in Ghana

Having lived in Nairobi for many years, we knew that if we could make something that people truly loved, we could build a business that would be sustainable and have a real impact on the lives of not only the people making the clothes, but each and every person in the extended community of this dress. 

When we started Zuri in 2017, Ashleigh and I were making dresses and selling them around town. We never could've imagined that in a few short months we'd open a store in NYC and find our dresses hanging in beautiful boutiques around the world, including Ibu

Today, we're so proud that we're doing the work that we set out to do, with partners that we deeply admire and respect. The impact of our clothing spans continents, countries, villages, and families. Our manufacturing partner in Kikambala shares our values of ethical and sustainable production, providing free childcare and creating a supportive work environment for all employees. Textile producers in Ghana, Senegal, and India create beautiful hand-dyed and hand-woven fabrics, keeping traditions alive for current and future generations. The textile manufacturer in Thika supports local industry from Kenyan farmers to millers, weavers, and designers. It's a privilege and a joy to share our work with all these incredible partners and our Zuri community!

Zuri Artisans

Last week we spent some time in Ghana to see Edwina and her group of textile artisans who make hand-dyed batiks. We first met Edwina in 2017 to make our inaugural collection, and we're proud that five years later, we're still producing with her! Through our partnership, she has expanded her team, built a new facility for production, and added a training center. During our visit, we got to see the roof go up on a brand new building, which was really exciting! 

The allies at Ibu including you, the Zuri shopper, are also an important part of our family. You've loved our dresses for years, and we thank you for supporting the work that our extended team creates!

With Gratitude,
Sandra Zhao, Zuri Co-Founder