In observation of Women’s History Month, March 2022, we feel obliged to shine a light on a few of the notable women in the bamboo world today. Of course, there are hundreds if not thousands of women working in the bamboo industry, and we are grateful to all of them, from CEOs to basketweavers, for their conscientious contributions. For the purposes of this article, we’re focussing on just three of them, while trying to represent the greatest geographic and professional diversity possible.
Aoife O’Sullivan of Una Bambu
Originally from Ireland, Aoife O’Sullivan spent several years working in film, theater, and music before relocating to Sri Lanka to become the Creative Director of Una Bambu, an eco-hotel and resort showcasing the extraordinary potential of bamboo as a sustainable building material.
Aoife discovered her deep affinity for bamboo shortly after leaving Ireland in 2015. She spent a year and a half traveling through Southeast Asia, a region famously flourishing with bamboo, all the while picking up odd jobs in both design and hospitality. As she moved from country to country and island to island, her love for bamboo began to bloom, and her sensitivity to modern-day environmental issues also escalated.
At an intensive bamboo training with world-renowned bamboo developers, IBUKU and Bamboo U in Bali, Indonesia, Aoife and her partner Julien Bailly received the hands-on knowledge required to work with bamboo as a construction material. Here they learned everything about bamboo, including species identification, sustainable harvesting, preservation methods, design, and building. Aoife then realized the best way to combine her passion for nature, her skills in design, and her interest in conscious living experiences. And in 2019, the Una Bambu concept was born.
Three years later, Aoife has established herself as a pioneer in the world of bamboo building and a leader in the Sri Lankan bamboo industry. She has spoken at the Bamboo U online lecture series and on various bamboo panels. Meanwhile, Una Bambu has been instrumental in paving the way for a sustainable bamboo supply chain in Sri Lanka, with the aim of sparking a bamboo real-estate movement on the island.
Kuki Njeru and Green Pot Enterprise
Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Kathomi ‘Kuki’ Njeru has a background in real estate and public relations, but her real passion lies with bamboo. Since 2014, she has worked as the Director of Outreach for Green Pot Enterprises, educating Kenyans across the country about the benefits and opportunities associated with this marvelous plant.
Probably the largest and most ambitious bamboo project in the country, Green Pot Enterprises is Kenya’s first fully integrated bamboo company. Its operations include a nursery and multiple plantations. Green Pot is currently engaged in small-scale production of tasteful bamboo gift items, available on its website, but also has plans to establish a larger factory for the production of bamboo flooring and engineered lumber. Such a factory would be among the first of its kind in Africa and could truly revolutionize the bamboo value chains in Kenya.
With demand for timber products growing and the effects of climate change intensifying, Kuki and her colleagues see bamboo as a vital resource for fuel, wood, and construction materials. Bamboo also plays an integral role in Kenya’s larger plans for reforestation and land restoration. Bamboo’s unique growth habit and tenacious root system make it an ideal pioneer plant in degraded landscapes, where it can survive in poor soil conditions, bring up the water table, and contribute to habitats more hospitable to other flora.
Please visit our article on Bamboo in Kenya to learn more.
Chanelle Dupre of EcoLuxe Products
While some of us may lack the skills and vision necessary to build a bamboo eco-resort or to ignite a bamboo-based industry on an underdeveloped continent, there are endless opportunities for men and women of all backgrounds to get involved and make a difference by promoting bamboo.
Born in the Philippines, coming from a long line of rural farmers, Chanelle Dupre has bamboo running in her blood. But the giant tropical grass has generally been absent from her daily routine, having spent most of her life in Toronto, Canada. It wasn’t until she went down a web-searching rabbit hole related to single-use plastics and first-world waste that she rediscovered and reconnected with her bamboo roots.
As she took a closer look at the prevalence of non-recyclable plastics and the appalling state of landfills and garbage islands the size of countries, Chanelle found herself sad and frustrated, but determined to take action. Realizing that the lack of options and awareness were making it difficult for people to make the right choices, she launched EcoLuxe Products to provide sustainable and biodegradable alternatives to everyday household and personal care items.
Conveniently packaged for personal use or for gift-giving, EcoLuxe offers two sets of bamboo products focused on toiletry items or for camping and eating on the go. The sets include practical and attractively designed articles like toothbrushes, razors, dental floss, combs, eating utensils, and dishware. Determined to make the greatest possible impact, Chanelle sources all her products from only the most reputable and FSC-certified bamboo forests.
We like her products and ethics so well that we intend to send her packages out as gifts to our most valued clients. Shop for these elegant bamboo gift sets yourself at Amazon, where EcoLuxe is a proud member of the up-and-coming Climate Awareness Program.
Already working closely with the Canadian Trade Commission to build stronger economic ties between Canada and the Philippines, Chanelle’s long-term goal is to establish a bamboo plantation in her native country, as a strategy for both reforestation and economic development.
Shout out to the women of bamboo
It should come as no surprise, but the bamboo industry is truly teeming with female leaders and entrepreneurs. Of course, we have to recognize Susanne Lucas of Massachusetts, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the World Bamboo Organization. Prior to that, she was the President of the American Bamboo Society. Further south, in Georgia, Daphne Lewis owns and operates one of the country’s leading bamboo nurseries.
Meanwhile in Nairobi, Camille Rebelo, Co-founder and COO of EcoPlanet Bamboo, oversees what is probably the most well-organized bamboo-growing enterprise in the world (at least outside of China). And in nearby Uganda, Divine Nabaweesi is the CEO of Divine Bamboo, committed to protecting forests by utilizing bamboo for charcoal, the country’s main source of energy for cooking and heating.
Hats off to the legions of women who fill the ranks of small businesses, NGOs, and international agencies like INBAR, all striving to advance the cause of bamboo. Indubitably, they deserve far more than one month a year of acknowledgment. Luckily, this panegyric will live on the internet all year round.
Diversify your knowledge
To learn more about bamboo and the colorful company of men and women working to promote it, check out more of our website, beginning with some of these in-depth articles.
- Anatomy of the bamboo plant
- Plants that look like bamboo but aren’t
- Growing bamboo on the Salton Sea
- Charley Younge: A bamboo pioneer
FEATURE IMAGE COLLAGE: Clockwise from left, Kuki Njeru among the bamboo groves and seedlings, Aoife O’Sullivan and friends with a massive clump of Dendrocalamus giganteus, and Chanelle Dupre lounging on a bamboo bench in the Philippines.