Local Style: Zane Wilemon

Photos by Alexandra Valenti

Interview by Brittani Lepley 


Tell me the story of how Ubuntu Life came to be:
The short answer to this question is through momentum. I was graduating from college, questioning the meaning of life and what my life was going to be all about. I was at the same time wrestling with all kinds of fears and insecurities about what my next steps would be post college. I dug deeper into the fear, really felt it, sought out guidance from leaders that I trusted and prayed…or more like listened regularly. Those steps led me to purchase a one-way ticket to Kenya where I lived for the next year and met my now co-founder, Jeremiah Kuria who was running an orphanage for 140 kids at the time. Momentum continued doing what momentum does with our choices and step by step Jeremiah and I found our greatest value in our friendship that then led to the founding of Ubuntu Life.

You’re now stocked with larger retailers, including Whole Foods. How did you get your foot in the door?
I literally got my foot in the door by pretending to be a Hey Cupcake delivery guy for a drop off at a Whole Foods Market board meeting for their foundation. That was after I tried getting a meeting with Whole Foods Market for months and kept getting the Heisman so I reverted to another tactic, cupcakes! It worked. I got my meeting which then led to hosting Whole Foods Market first volunteer team to Africa which then led to their carrying our products in their stores. It was a moment that changed everything because that was the rocket fuel that exposed our non-profit to the power of commerce and we’ve been on that wild ride ever since.

What book or podcast are you currently reading/listening to?
At Ubuntu Life we read a book a year, sometimes a few books a year. This year we are reading Steven Pressfields, The War of Art. It’s a book about how resistance is the greatest limiting factor to creating your greatest value in the world, your art.

How does Ubuntu Life give back to the community?
One of the unique aspects of Ubuntu Life is that our give back to the community is the way we do business. The give back is built into the fabric of the company. For instance, for every purchase of an Ubuntu Life shoe, bag or bracelet, 100% of that profit goes directly back into the business to fund our impact programs whether that be healthcare programs for our employees, education needs for our Ubuntu Kids program or furthering the skillsets of our team by bringing in consultants for trainings, conferences, etc. We are the largest employer in the town where all of our products are made. All of our employees have health insurance versus less than 10% of Kenyans have health insurance. And our Ubuntu Kids program is the leading health and education program for children with special needs in the region. So I guess I would say that there is no give back. It’s more of living out our giving culture within the fabric of the company. It’s our version of doing business as usual. 🙂

How would you describe your personal style?
I like to wear my version of a uniform, typically monochromatic jeans, shirt and boots. I appreciate sustainably sourced products so I have been slowly transitioning my wardrobe to fewer nicer things that will last. Case in point my favorite item of clothing are my Red Wing boots that I’ve had for over 20 years. Classics that stand the test of time and never go out of fashion.

Your hastag on Instagram is #liveubuntu. What does that mean for you?
Ubuntu is an ancient African philosophy from the Bantu tribe meaning, “I am because we are.” It speaks to the reality that we are all connected and in need of one another, whether we recognize that need or not it is true. We are who we are because of others. To #liveubuntu is to live into that interconnectedness, to be aware of our community and to actively participate by doing our part…loving, listening, being present, giving, receiving, etc. Our goal with making our hashtag was to create an online platform where we encouraged others to live into our interconnected nature in how we live, how we shop, how we live out our humanity.

What does a typical day off look like for you and your family when you’re stationed here in Austin?
A typical day off in Austin for Amal, Biscuit Tyrone and me is waking up sans alarm clock and heading down to the SFC Farmers Market in Republic Square. We love buying local and supporting our Texas farmers and this weekly routine on Saturdays is a great way to do it. We grab some Taco Deli breakfast tacos, plenty of salsa doña and some Texas Coffee Roasters coffee. After that we do our shopping, make the drop at home and then head off for what Amal and I call an “urban hike.” We travel a lot so when we’re home we love to hike around town. So much change and growth is happening weekly in Austin so this is a great way for us to take in the changes and get some exercise too. After that we’ll dive into Barton Springs, head over to June’s All Day around the corner from our house for a beverage and then hit a film at Violet Crown. These days are our favorite!

What is your personal motto?
I read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a few years ago. In the book Stephen Covey talks about how important a personal mission statement is, especially one that is authentic and is reviewed regularly. I drafted the personal mission statement after reading that book and review it each morning before I step into the days activities. It has morphed from mission statement to motto to mantra:
“Love & allow myself to be loved. Live a joyful, healthy life, centered within Christ that will serve as a well spring of abundance to rest, create and live into my purpose with God, my loved ones and my circle of influence.”