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Up Close & Indego

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Our Blog

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Crazy for Cowhorn: Indego Africa x Olivia Knox

If you haven’t noticed already: we’re crazy for cowhorn – its versatility, natural variation, and stark, organic beauty. It looks like you love it too because – due to growing demand for our cowhorn products – we recently began partnering with Uganda-based cowhorn supplier, Olivia Knox, to bring you more of this stunning material!

Olivia Knox, founded by Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox, ethically manufactures products made out of Ankole cowhorn with the dual goal of bringing East African craftsmanship to luxury and lifestyle markets and conserving the indigenous Ankole cow, which is at risk of becoming extinct.

Ankole cows are known for their magnificent horns and are central to the rich culture and history of Uganda’s Bahima tribe, to which Olivia belongs. She says: 

“My people came from the horn of Africa – Ethiopia, Egypt, Somalia – nobody really knows. We migrated with our cows, looking for greener pastures. Our whole life revolved around this cow. It’s a distinct breed - with the largest horns of all the bovine species. We revere it. You find it every aspect of our lives. Our song and poetry. Our dance. If a women has beautiful eyes, you tell her her eyes look like those of a newborn cow – innocent and pure.” 

Despite the historically important role of Ankole cows, Ugandan farmers have begun to crossbreed the species with western cows that produce more milk, and thus, are more economically lucrative. These new cows have increasingly smaller, more brittle horns, and as the crossbreeding process continues, may cease to have horns all together.  

Olivia Knox is working to reverse that. By building market demand for Ankole cowhorn, Olivia Knox is seeking to create economic value for the cows and for the farmers who choose to keep their breeds pure. The stakes of this project are high, Olivia says, “If these cows become extinct, my culture will go with them.” 

Olivia, while raised in Kampala, spent much time growing up on her father’s ranch in Western Uganda where he had 1,500 cows – each of which, she says, he knew by name. While the personal and cultural symbolism of Ankole cows is deeply important to her, so also is the material itself. “It has a natural finish,” she says, “and it doesn’t need be glossed. How many other natural materials can you say that about? The color range is unbelievable – from black to ivory – every piece is different. No one else can ever have the same piece you have.”

We too cannot get enough of cowhorn’s unique and stunning color variations. From pieces that evoke deep amber sunsets to dark smoky nights, the range is striking and truly beautiful. Were Ankole cows to die out it would not only be a loss for Uganda, but for the rest of the world, which would no longer be able to experience the lustrous beauty of their horns. 

Olivia Knox is dedicated not only to conserving the Ankole cow species, but also to empowering the communities in which it works. While at the moment Shanley & Olivia partner with a local factory to manufacture their products, they plan to open up a factory of their own in the near future and to hire local Ugandan women to work there. Olivia Knox's commitment to entrepreneurship, empowerment and cultural appreciation fits right in with our mission and we are proud to betheir partner!

Click here to shop our cowhorn collection and here to learn more about Olivia Knox.

#artisans, #inspiration, #education, #community, #collaboration, #indegodiaries

Indego Africa x Eileen Fisher

We are thrilled to announce our collaboration with Eileen Fisher on a collection of scarves, beautifully hand-knit by the artisans of the Ingenzi Knit Union (IKU)! These one-of-a-kind lightweight pieces are the perfect way to welcome in the early days of spring and can be found at select Eileen Fisher stores across the country.

Our partnership with Eileen Fisher is part of the brand’s larger (and, may we add, deeply admirable) commitment to sourcing handmade goods and investing in socially responsible and sustainable business practices. Eileen Fisher works with artisans around the world to handcraft one-of-a-kind pieces that help to sustain traditional crafts and cultures. They have worked with artisans in a range of inspiring locales including India, Ethiopia, and, of course, Rwanda, not only creating beautiful products, but also investing in the well-being of the communities in which they work.

In late 2013, an Eileen Fisher team featuring representatives from their creative, human rights, production, and design departments traveled to Rwanda and spent several days with our staff, visited our partner cooperatives, and learned more about our operations and social impact. Feeling inspired, they followed up with a second site visit in 2014 as the knitters worked to fill their first (of hopefully many!) Eileen Fisher order!

At the end of 2014, we were honored to have the opportunity to apply for and receive an Eileen Fisher Human Rights Grant to help our partner cooperative, IKU, build a socially sustainable future. The Eileen Fisher Human Rights Grant Program is dedicated to elevating the livelihood of the people who make Eileen Fisher products and to help them achieve long-term happiness through social and economic empowerment. We are confident that this grant will help IKU to achieve these goals.

IKU’s artisans will use this money, in part, to invest in improved handlooms, which will increase the volume, quality, and diversity of products they produce. Further, they will be able to hire a consultant to help them with quality control, design innovation, and implementing better organizational systems at their cooperatives.

These opportunities will make a world of difference for IKU – a union made up four different cooperatives and over 150 women. Many of IKU’s artisans are HIV+ and most often struggle to provide for their families’ basic needs. With the increased production capacity, product quality, and market opportunities the Eileen Fisher’s Human Rights Grant will help them develop, the artisans of IKU will be able to build brighter futures for themselves and their families as empowered artisans and businesswomen.

We are so grateful to be able to work with brands like Eileen Fisher whose values and beliefs so wonderfully align with our own. Here’s to more partnerships & positive change in the years to come!

You can find out more about Eileen Fisher's great work around the globe here.

#impact, #leadership academy, #entrepreneurs, #community, #education

Thanks Google!

As the graduation ceremony for the first class of our Leadership Academy approaches on April 30th, 2015, we want to say a huge THANK YOU to Google for helping to make this first semester such a success!

Google donated Chromebooks to our Leadership Academy in order to provide students with the critical access to technology they need to become more effective businesswomen. Over the past six months, students have learned how to use these computers to improve the organization, management, and growth potential of their cooperatives. For example, they’ve used the Chromebooks in lessons about budgeting and forecasting, cost-tracking, sales data analysis, and researching local market opportunities.

Given that women in the developing world often experience unequal access to technology, we are deeply grateful to Google for doubling down on their mission to making the world’s information “universally accessible and useful” to all. 

Equipped with new technological skills and six months of advanced business training, our artisan partners will be able to grow their own businesses and thrive as awesome, independent entrepreneurs. Thanks again, Google!

#inspiring, #artisans, #community, #indegodiaries, #collaboration

Calling All Lovebirds - An Interview with Tamar Mogendorff

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our Lovebirds from Africa Collection – a collaboration with Brooklyn-based artist & designer, Tamar Mogendorff! Tamar is known for her one-of-a-kind soft sculptures – beautiful stitch creations which artfully blend fantasy, whimsy, and impeccable design. We partnered with Tamar to bring her incredible craft to Rwanda, where the artisans of Ibyishimo adapted her techniques to create our “Lovebirds” - delicately stitched fabric birds perched on textile-wrapped wooden mobiles. The embodiment of creativity & artistry, Tamar never ceases to inspire us with her handmade process & aesthetic. Our Creative Director, Deirdre King, sat down with her to find out what inspires her and why she chose to partner with Indego Africa. Read on to find out!

​_____

What made you want to work with Indego Africa?

Tamar: I am always excited to collaborate with others. With Indego Africa, I felt there was a great challenge there for me to try and create pieces from the materials, and somehow the culture, in Rwanda. I feel very fortunate to be able to create and make a living from it, and I want to try and help others to do the same.

What inspires you?

Tamar: Everything. It can be random. Materials are a great inspiration. My friends. Conversations. Sometimes I seek inspiration - I go travel or open a book, etc. - but most of the time it’s just random moments. Working in the studio is when real stuff happens though. 

What do you love most about your job/work/career? What is the hardest part?

Tamar: The people I meet through my work - so many amazing creative people, so many who have become close to me. This is the biggest treasure. Besides that, the fact that I can wake up every morning and still play and create my own visions is a gift that I'm grateful for. I love what I do; I'm very passionate about it, and that’s what also makes it hard sometimes…

We want you to come to Africa & meet the awesome ladies we work with! What would be most exciting for you if you went?

Tamar: It would be amazing to meet the awesome ladies! To work with them, learn from them, and maybe teach them something in return…

We are all about empowerment, entrepreneurship & creativity. Why do you think these things are important? 

Tamar: Because they give us freedom, purpose, hope, and real happiness. 

What is your advice for women artisans, designers & entrepreneurs? How can they find their voice in the design world?

Tamar: Love what you do. Be honest to yourself. Work hard. Be generous. Do things step by step. 

#inspiration, #impact, #community, #indegodiaries

How You Can Change The World With Every Dollar You Spend

Our Development & Communications Associate, Hayley Doner, published an article in Elite Daily! Read on for her thoughts on conscious consumerism and how you can change the world with every dollar you spend.

In the age of corporate bailouts, companies “too big to fail,” global worker exploitation and industry-driven climate change, I admit to at times feeling helpless as an individual seeking to make a meaningful difference in the world. 

How could I drive positive change in the face of systems rigged to favor profits at the expense of human health, well-being and dignity?

How could I, a 5’4″ girl who loves musical theater and little to no resources to speak of, take on the biggest and baddest corporations of the world?

After duly indulging these feelings of hopelessness and despair, I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants and figure out what I could do to make a difference.

While today I am lucky enough to work for a company that has values that align with my own, I realize that not everyone can do the same. What we all can do, though, is think about the decisions we make every day, and how we can make them better.

We all share something in common; we’re consumers.

From the groceries we eat to the clothes we put on our backs, the decisions we make about what and what not to buy impact the world in which we live.

As Olivia Wilde, actress and cofounder of Conscious Commerce, likes to say, “Your dollar is your vote.”

By choosing to spend money on products we believe in, we can not only make a difference in the world, but we can also send a powerful message to corporations that we don’t support.

This line of thinking, popularly referred to as “conscious consumerism,” is on the rise, especially amongst Millennials. We, more than any generation before us, care deeply about where our products come from and the effects they have on our society.

Study after study shows that young people (ages 18-34) are more willing than other generations to spend extra money on products and services that support good causes.

We are also more likely to research a company’s business practices before making a purchase. These trends pressure corporations to adopt socially-beneficial practices and create an environment where socially-responsible companies can thrive.

Even so, maybe this whole conscious consumerism thing is a little bit new to you. Where should you start?

Here’s my easy, three-step guide to becoming a feel-good, socially-conscious consumer:

What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? For me, that’s women’s equality and empowerment. I love to support companies that create opportunities for women around the world.

1. Know Your Cause

(Full disclosure: this is what the company I work for, Indego Africa, is all about.)

Once you know what you care about, it’s time to do the research. What companies are out there, supporting causes you are passionate about?

2. Do Your Research

How are they doing it and are they doing enough? (If not, looks like you just got the next big startup idea…) There’s also due diligence to be done on the companies where you already shop.

How are their products made? What (if any) socially-responsible programs do they invest in and how serious is that investment?

You may have to dig deep, but finding out answers to these questions can help guide your purchasing decisions in whatever way makes most sense for you.

Now that you have this knowledge, be a pal and share it with your friends. As the social media generation, we have the unique ability to spread information quickly and to large groups of people — good or bad.

3. Spread It Around

We can use these platforms to amplify our voices when we want to, amassing our collective power to promote companies we love or call out corporations for their sub-par actions.

By 2017, Millennials will have more spending power than any other generation (totaling more than $10 trillion over the course of our lifetimes).

But, with great power comes great responsibility. What issues do you care about? What kind of world do you want to leave to your children?

By simply asking ourselves these questions, we’re already one step closer to making a difference.

Let’s spend that $10 trillion wisely, friends!

This article was originally published in Elite Daily

#artisans, #education, #impact, #leadership academy, #inspiring

Daphrose’s Cafe

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the incredible entrepreneurs we partner with – their innovation, creativity, perseverance, and resourcefulness. These ambitious ladies are capitalizing on newfound opportunities, determined to create brighter futures for themselves and their families. They’re saving up money, taking out loans, and using the business skills they’ve learned to take a risk and start something new. We’ll be sharing their stories all month long – hope you enjoy them!

Spunky, ambitious, and larger-than-life, Daphrose is the proud owner of a cafe at a university in Kigali. A member of the Ingenzi Knit Union (an Indego Africa partner since 2010), Daphrose got the idea to start her own business while takings one of our business training courses. She says: "to open up a business, you need to look at demand. There was a new university coming to my neighborhood, and I thought to myself, 'the students will need somewhere to eat between classes, right?' From there, I started to determine what I would need to get my shop off the ground."

Using the lessons she had learned, Daphrose began to put her ideas into action - starting by taking out a loan. While she admits she was once scared to ask for financial help, Indego Africa's training programs taught her "to be fearless." She marched right into her bank and walked out that day with 300,000 Rwandan francs (~440 US Dollars) to cover the start-up costs of her business. One year later, she's paid back her loan and is running a successful shop selling snacks, drinks, and school supplies to around 50 customers a day.

Now a student at the Leadership Academy, Daphrose has big plans to make her business grow. Through the Academy, she says: “I learned that to sustain and grow my business, I will always need to think of new ideas – to be innovative” – and innovative is exactly what she is! For starters, Daphrose plans to sell hot food to attract customers looking for a place to get lunch. She is saving up money to purchase a photocopying machine (always in demand on a college campus!) and will charge students & teachers for use. Last but not least, she’s got plans to expand to another soon-to-opened university in Bugesera, where she will launch a second branch of her shop. 

Daphrose’s entrepreneurial success is not only an incredible feat for her, but also one that has a ripple effect in her family and community. Through income earned, Daphrose is able to support her three kids, and provide them with a life of opportunity. She is also able to provide jobs for others - at the moment employing two women, with plans to grow that number as her business expands. Finally, she serves as a role model and leader in her community, showing other women and girls just how much they too can achieve.

We are proud to partner with such an awesome lady and can’t wait to see what she’ll do next! Whatever it is, we know it will be great. 

#artisans, #inspiring, #inspiration, #impact, #entrepreneurs

Meet The Entrepreneurs

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the incredible entrepreneurs we partner with – their innovation, creativity, perseverance, and resourcefulness. These ambitious ladies are capitalizing on newfound opportunities, determined to create brighter futures for themselves and their families. They’re saving up money, taking out loans, and using the business skills they’ve learned to take a risk and start something new. We’ll be sharing their stories all month long – hope you enjoy them!

Immaculee, Shikama Ukore

Tie-dye maven and block-printer extraordinaire, Immaculee used the money she saved from Indego Africa orders to install a water tank at her home where she now runs a successful water business. On any given day, you can see more than 20 people lining up to fill their jugs with the good stuff. 

Daphrose, Ingenzi Knit Union

Daphrose owns a cafe in a university building in Kigali where she sells snacks and school supplies to students. She got the idea to launch her own business through Indego Africa's education programs, which she says taught her "to be fearless." Now a student at the Leadership Academy, Daphrose is developing innovative ideas to help her business grow.

Juliet, Imirasire

In addition to being a farmer, master weaver, and mother of ten (!), Juliet sells fruit from her garden at a local market twice a week. Bananas, mangoes, avocados, and pineapples…she’s got it all.

Vestine, Ejo Hazaza 

Vestine is an aspiring entrepreneur eager to use the lessons she’s learned at the Leadership Academy to make a difference in her community. She says: “There is a water problem in my neighborhood. At the Leadership Academy, I learned how to identify a need and create a business plan to fill it. I am now saving money to start selling water to help people in my village.”