Sharing with you all the things we love - Staff pick by Brittany Barb – Branding Associate
As a life-long lover of elephants, photography and a good coffee table book, I can’t get enough of Nick Brandt’s incredible collection, Across the Ravaged Land. It is the third in a trilogy of books depicting the disappearing animals of East Africa and its images of elephants are particularly beautiful (and heartbreaking).
Guest post by: Nicole Heim //
There is something very special about an item that is handmade. Great care and quality goes into a product when a single craftsperson sees it from start to finish. When that same product also empowers a female artisan, you have a deeply meaningful end result.
Upon arriving at Cocoki, the sewing cooperative where I’m training a group of five women, I found a large room of highly skilled artisans. While I may have been teaching Claire, Florence, Ngabire, Beata and Goretti a few skills they hadn’t already mastered, you wouldn’t have known it by watching. As I presented each new piece of information, they quickly digested and executed every step, thoroughly and thoughtfully. They collaboratively worked to measure, cut, and sew with special attention to detail, taking initiative when necessary, proving just how capable they are.
In addition to my time spent training at Cocoki, I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to various other cooperative partners of Indego Africa. Each group of artisans possesses their own set of skills, and every woman holds a unique spirit and smile. The walls and windows of each co-op provide a backdrop of inspiration through varying color, pattern and texture.
As the language barrier makes communication difficult, I love to observe the ladies at work. From the outside looking in, I see a family. The women enjoy each other’s company, and many bring their young children to work. As a toddler sits at a sewing machine or a baby sleeps strapped to her mother’s back, it seems clear that when you empower a woman you empower a generation.
Furthermore, the work of Indego Africa offers meaningful ways to empower that extend far beyond a needle and thread. In addition to having an access to income that allows the artisans to send their kids to school and provide for their families, they also receive invaluable education, which instills confidence and encourages them to be independent businesswomen.
I feel very fortunate to have witnessed these initiatives first hand, and to have met many of the female artisans who are being positively affected by them. When you make your next purchase, know that each handmade step was done with meticulous care, and that it’s truly impacting the life of a woman in Rwanda.
We’re super excited to tell you about a recent collaboration between Judith Haentjes, a Dutch product designer, and the ladies of Twiyubake—one of our first partner cooperatives.
We’re super excited to tell you about a recent collaboration between Judith Haentjes, a Dutch product designer, and the ladies of Twiyubake—one of our first partner cooperatives. Twiyubake specializes in the art of banana leaf weaving, a complex and challenging technique. Judith, who works mainly with organic & recycled materials, embraced this challenge, collaborating with the women to create innovative new products with a distinctly geometric feel.
The women of Twiyubake are especially impressive not only for their exceptional artisanal skills, but also their backstory. The word “Twiyubake” means “to rebuild ourselves” in Kinyarwanda, and this is exactly what these women are doing. Made up of genocide widows working side-by-side with the wives of imprisoned génocidaires, this remarkable cooperative fosters unity and reconciliation in post-conflict Rwanda. Here’s what Judith had to say about working with them:
“I had the honor and pleasure to work with seven women, who are part of the Twiyubake family. I spent two weeks with them in their workspace. Together we experimented with banana leaves and developed some new products for Indego Africa. It was an absolutely touching experience for me, as they welcomed me warmly, were extremely open towards me and motivated to make the most out of the weeks.
It was definitely a new experience for both sides. Me as a European product designer travelling to the countryside of Rwanda to collaborate with women that I don’t share a language with (I had a translator) and that are culturally very different from me. And on the other side seven women from Kayonza that have a designer, a profession that they don’t fully grasp, coming to work with them. We definitely needed a warming up period with each other, but it became such a successful time because we stayed open to each other. In addition these ladies are very distinguished in their craft and have a great group dynamic, which makes it very easy to work with them. After two weeks I had learned so many things about these women’s lives and became so fond of them that it was difficult for me to leave. All of them are truly fascinating, lovely, warm and talented women.”
Magic Ladders Exhibit at the Barnes Museum
We love people, places and things – here is a person that creates beautiful things that you can see at a place!
Meet Yinka Shonibare – the artist behind the stunning and provocative Magic Laddersexhibit at The Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. Born in Britain but raised in Nigeria, Shonibare subversively examines the relationship between Europe and Africa through the colonial and postcolonial period.
The Magic Ladders exhibit is sponsored by Anthropologie and features Shonibare’s signature life-sized mannequins clothed in colorful Dutch wax fabrics produced in Europe but most closely associated with Africa (similar to those we package our products in!) These dramatic, playful, and irreverent sculptures are both visually spectacular and deeply thought provoking, inviting the viewer to think critically about notions of race, gender, and cultural identity*.
So if you’re in the Philly area, we highly recommend checking out this exhibit. And if you’re not then…ROAD TRIP!
We love this word because it so perfectly describes the incredible women artisans we partner with in Rwanda.
That’s why we’re thrilled that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “inspiring change”!
This phrase encapsulates both the awesome, jaw-dropping, and INSPIRING changes we’ve seen in the communities of women we work with, and the way our artisan partners continue to INSPIRE change by re-investing their income and energy in their communities.
(Phew, that was a lot of inspires. But we’re not done yet…)
Our goal is to inspire change by empowering women. Recently, we’ve followed through on that mission on our own staff! As of January 1st, Karen Yelick has been promoted to CEO, thus making Indego Africa an entirely women-led and almost-entirely-female organization (we love you, Yves!)
We also have big (and we mean BIG) plans ahead for this year that we can’t wait to share with you.
Ok…one sneak preview? We’ll be launching a newly improved version of our already stellar education and training programs that will help women artisans become pioneers of progress in their communities.
So to all our readers out there: what inspires you and how will you inspire change this year? Eager minds want to know.