Glitzy Ginza is a high-end shopping district in Tokyo that attracts luxury brand flagship stores, ladies who lunch, and businesspeople with cash to burn. But if you happen to be there this week, you might spot something very incongruous in this moneyed mecca: a Maasai tribesman selling shoes.
William hails from Kenya, where he is the head of a Maasai tribe, and the shoes he is here to promote are a Spanish brand called Pikolinos. So how did an African tribesman end up in the Japanese capital selling European shoes?
The answer to that mystery of globalization is the Juan Peran Foundation, an NGO started by the CEO of Pikolinos to support the empowerment of women and aid the fight against breast cancer. In 2008, the NGO started something called the Maasai Project in cooperation with the shoe company, providing regular employment to Maasai women as leather embroiderers.
The Maasai have largely maintained their traditional nomadic lifestyle and culture, but have over time become one of the most impoverished tribes in East Africa. Most Maasai women have little access to education, healthcare or any means to support themselves outside of marriage. By paying these women a regular salary, the Maasai Project empowers them to provide basic needs such a food, education and medicine for themselves and their communities while allowing them to continue living in the community and preserving their culture.
There are now more that 1,000 Maasai women working for the project, embroidering leather that will be made into shoes and handbags.
William is here to support two pop-up stores, at Plaza Ginza inside the landmark Sony Building and at the Plaza Tamagawa Takashimaya department store, that are bringing the Pikolinos brand to Japan. Visitors can buy Maasai Project shoes and bags or just stop in to chat with William about the project, life in Kenya or anything that interests them. The shops are scheduled to be open until the 20th.
Plaza Ginza insideSony Building, B2F
Ginza 5-3-1, Chuo-ku
William’s hours: 4/15-4/18 5pm-8pm
Plaza Tamagawa Takashimaya, S/C Branch
Tamagawa 3-17-1, Setagaya-ku
William’s hours: 4/19-4/20 3pm-6pm
Images: Sawaka Katalyna, Pikolinos (shoes)