Bobby Mickler and his wife, Downie, spent 10 years living in developing countries with their 5 children, serving poor communities and creating opportunities for people to grow and flourish. In 2012, while working in South Sudan, Bobby noticed an enormous pile of Ankole/Watusi cow horns left outside the stockyard. He was surprised to see the horns discarded, since these cows are considered prized possessions in most parts of East Africa. Day after day he passed by and wondered if they could be salvaged and repurposed…maybe made into a product to sell to the international market. His goal was to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
Bobby spent a year building relationships, researching, developing ideas, and planning to begin manufacturing for Ankole Designs. Soon after, Downie successfully introduced their signature pair of Ankole horns on lucite bases in the Mickler’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas. Ankole Designs now manufactures their homewares and accents in Kampala, Uganda which borders South Sudan. They partner with EcoNation, an international corporation that exists to foster and enables community leaders in East Africa.
Ankole Designs purchases horn from East African stockyards at a fair price. The horn is a by-product of the beef industry. Each pair of Ankole horns has its own distinct shape, coloring, height, and width. Every horn must be dried, extensively cleaned, cut, sanded, and polished with a non-toxic wax by local people in Uganda. This process takes between 3 to 4 months before the piece is ready to be sold for use in the home.
The Micklers believe dignity is restored as a person’s work is appreciated. Some Ankole designs are generated by the artisans, and others are from the Micklers. Their collaborative partnership allows them to share innovative ideas and seek to create and produce new items together each month.
To manipulate the shape of the horn, it is submerged in boiling natural oil from local shea butter to make it so and malleable. The piece of horn is then pressed into a weighty mould to create a beautiful, functional bowl or tray. The unique Ankole statement pieces and lighting fixtures are anchored and finished on lucite bases in San Antonio, Texas.
Interior designers and boutique retail stores all over the United States have fallen in love with these timeless, stunning functional art pieces made from repurposed horn in East Africa. The transitional home is enhanced by high quality functional art, and Ankole Designs is filling the gap. No yack horn or buffalo horn can compare to the thickness, durability and color variations of the Ankole. The Ankole Designs workforce is growing and will continue to as they are increasingly discovered by designers and collectors alike.