Balungi: A love story in two parts

I have fallen in love.

Part One.

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around the Ugandan Tourism Expo and feeling a little disappointed at what was on offer. Then, I saw it, my day instantly brightened and I had a new love in my life. Amid the usual tour company stands and stalls selling touristy knick-knacks was a stall that stood out for its simple colour scheme, originality and style.

I am talking, of course, of design Balungi.

I was drawn to the stall for the reds, whites and blacks (I am a sucker for this hipster colour combo) and I stayed because of the originality of the pieces.

They are what every good piece of jewelry should be – art.

Balungi Collage

As I stood cooing at and stroking the pieces the owner and chief designer of Balungi, Eva Mynsberghe came over and introduced herself. She explained that everything in Balungi is made of recycled materials. Recycling is pretty much non-existent in Uganda so it’s great to see someone inventively re-using landfill fodder.

Uganda is a big influence in the designs of Balungi and the pieces reflect this with the use of barkcloth, seeds, rubber and newspaper. What I particularly love about the pieces is that Eva sees everything as potential for being made into beautiful things. I bought one necklace made out of coca-cola caps, bottle tops, rubber and barkcloth.

The beads made out of barkcloth and newspaper are particularly intriguing. A magic varnish makes them strong and resistant to water. Eva won’t tell me what this varnish is. It’s a trade secret.

Balungi’s ideologies are environment, sustainability and a passion for beauty in Uganda.

As well as a necklace I also bought some bangles. I am big into bangles right now. They’re made out of old newspapers and barkcloth dyed red. I think I love them a bit too much.

As I took my reluctant leave I promised to go and check out the new shop on its grand opening.

Part Two.

Would it be as good as the first time?

This is what I asked myself as I trudged towards the East Africa Craft Market. On the 5th of October Balungi had the grand opening of its very first store. And as my heart was aching with new-found love of the brand I found myself making my way there, even though I didn’t know where the East Africa Craft Market was. (It’s on the corner of Kyagwe Road and Buganda Road, for future reference.)

It was worth a walk in the dust and sun.

Burundi shop Collage

The store is tiny but stands as a beacon in a market filled with unoriginality. Every other stall is selling paper-bead necklaces, African fabric bags, sandals and the many other trinkets marketed towards foreigners. I’ve previously wondered how they stay in business when everyone sells the same merchandise.

Eva is on a mission to inspire change. After warmly greeting me she chats about how she hopes to demonstrate to Ugandans that being daring and innovative can bring success.

Eva - Founder of Balungi

Eva Mynsberghe – Founder of Balungi

As well as hoping to inspire Eva is also looking to hire and train staff. She is looking for creative people who can demonstrate this with a small portfolio or any artworks. If this sounds like you then contact Eva at (at) gmail (dot) com

The opening of the store heralds an exciting new chapter in the history of Balungi. It gives a solid base, a place to be found and creative opportunities. Eva tells me the main colour block (red at the moment) will change each month in both the store and the jewelry. Next month will be blue. You can bet I’ll be popping along for a peek.Of course whilst I was in the store I had to buy some more things. Another necklace and some bracelets as a gift for someone. By the end of the day though I found the bracelets on my own wrist.

I have a new love in my life, sadly I don’t think my wallet can afford it.

If you want to learn more about Balungi pop by the store or check out the following links:

Twitter : @BalungiUganda