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The Lovely Mama Makers of Umutima Cooperative

The lovely ladies of Umutima {which means “heart” in Kinyarwanda} have played a big role in our brand new collection for little ones by beautifully hand-sewing many of the pattern-happy items on our nursery line – everything from rompers to playmats to turbans & more!

These talented women – most of whom are also mamas – inspire us everyday with their beautiful artistry, determination, and dreams for the future. We chatted with Umutima’s advisor, Monica Tabet-Gugolz, and a few of the ladies themselves to find out more about this wonderful cooperative and to hear what they had to say about our nursery collection. Read on to find out! 

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Originally from Switzerland, Monica moved to Rwanda in 2013 looking to become involved with a grassroots women’s organization. She began volunteering with the Nyamirambo Women's Center – an institution which helps women continue their education and gain better employment opportunities – but soon realized that the Center was too dependent on outside funding and lacked a means to sustain itself. To address this issue, Monica began teaching some of the women how to apply hand-stitches to African wax print fabric. Slowly but surely this dedicated bunch learned how to sew everything from home décor to children’s clothing, with an emphasis on quality and detail. 

Today there are nearly 30 women involved in the project and they have organized themselves into a well-run cooperative known for its beautiful craftsmanship. Here’s what Monica had to say about working with Umutima on our nursery collection: 

We have loved working with Umutima to create beautiful products for our nursery line - what are your thoughts on the collection? 

The collection is so beautiful and we feel that Indego Africa reflects Umutima's spirit perfectly. To see our products in the nursery collection validates all the hard work we have put into creating Umutima and gives us hope for our future. I still cannot believe this is happening!

As a mother yourself, what product from our nursery collection would you most like to give to your little one(s)? 

For me the baby blanket/playmat is the item I love the most. It is Umutima's very first product and I remember how much effort it took to get the final product right and to teach the women to stitch them. 

What is the process like working with artisans to create a product by hand from start to finish?

At the moment I am in charge of design and new ideas. I then introduce the new idea to the women and we work on making the sample. Sometimes this involves looking for external artisans (for example for basketry) and this can take time. Once we are happy with the sample, the women working with me on it will teach the other ladies. 

It takes a lot of patience and understanding, because the products that we make are "luxury" items in Rwanda. They are not products that are necessary to daily life here, so it is sometimes difficult for the artisans to understand why we cannot accept products that are not finished correctly. I put a lot of time and effort into quality control and making sure the details are finished correctly, but they now know that if our clients come back it is because of our attention to detail and so they accept the fact that I can be demanding. 

There is one story that I will always remember. One of our tailors, Francine, when she started working for us found it really difficult to sew straight. The very first products we gave her were our aprons, which have a pocket in the front. No matter how much she tried, the pockets were never straight and each apron had to be done twice or even thrice. But Francine persevered and when she was finally able to make an apron that was perfect the first time, we both ended up with tears of happiness. Today Francine is one of the tailors that made the baby rompers for Indego Africa!

What inspires you about the women you work with? 

The thing that inspires me the most about the women I work with is the fact that no matter what they have gone through in their lives they still have the strength and the passion to learn new things and work hard to earn a living. I respect the pride they put into their work and the fact that from the start they took ownership over Umutima. 

We also interviewed three of Umutima’s talented mama makers to hear their thoughts on the nursery collection and what it means to be a working mom.

Francine – 8 Children 

Which product from the nursery collection do you like the most? 

My favorite product is Umutima's romper, because when I was asked to be one of the tailors to make the rompers for Indego Africa it meant a lot to me. When I first joined Umutima I struggled a lot with the finishing details of the products I was asked to sew. I always had to redo them because there was always something not straight or uneven. But I really worked hard to improve myself and slowly I saw the improvement. To be making the rompers means that I am now considered one of the top tailors of Umutima and this makes me proud.

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday? 

Joining Umutima has changed my life forever. I learn so much and I do it with other women, so I do not feel alone. I can now contribute to the finances of my family and this is a huge step for me. 

What are your dreams for your children's futures?

I want my children to be able to have an education and to be able to one day earn a living. 

What does it mean to be a "working mom"?

It is important because I can contribute to my family's needs. I can help pay school fees and medical bills.

Houssina – 3 children

Which product from your nursery collection do you like the most? 

My favorite product is Umutima's romper, because I worked with Monica to develop the first sample for this product and in our catalogue we call it the "Houssina jumpsuit". To see the picture in Indego Africa's catalogue made me happy. 

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday? 

I am passionate about being a tailor and each day I learn something new with Umutima. I like being part of a team and not working by myself. I know that I can count on my Umutima friends if I need help.

What are your dreams for your children's futures?

I want to be able to provide my children with a good education so that they can have a better future.

What does it mean to be a "working mom"?

I feel proud being an Umutima member. I used to work part time, but now it is a big difference bringing home my monthly salary. With money gained at Umutima I can do a lot of things. I look after my children, I pay school fees, I can pay for rent. I feel independent and proud contributing without asking for help.     

Mayimuna – 7 children

Which product from your nursery collection do you like the most? 

My favorite product is Umutima's playmat/baby blanket. I was one of the first Umutima's ladies and the baby blanket was our very first product. I remember how hard it was to make the stitched straight and regular. I am now considered one of the best hand-stitchers in our group and I can even make bedspreads. I never imagined that something I make with my hands would reach the other side of the world.

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday? 

I have found great joy being a member of the Umutima. It is a place where I am happy and have found a social community which gives me great support. I earn an income and find peace in knowing that my children will not go hungry.     

What are your dreams for your children's futures?

My children are already grown, but I hope that they can always have enough to live and to always be healthy.

What does it mean to be a "working mom"?

I have a job that I like and I don't have to wait for my husband to do everything for me. Working gives me independence and pride. 

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What an amazing group of ladies! We are proud to be their partners and are thankful to Monica and the rest of the artisans of Umutima for welcoming us into their world! Shop the nursery products – hand-stitched and made with love - by the mama makers of Umutima!

#indegodiaries, #new, #forthebabes

Introducing Our Newest Collection #ForTheBabes

Once upon a time in the land of Indego, we made a little something #forthebabes...

We wanted our nursery collection to show a playful side of Indego Africa. We are big fans of the unexpected pop of color and the added touch of whimsy, so nursery decor was a natural fit for our bright baskets, embroidered fantastical art, and lively stuffed animals. Our rompers, sunsuits and bloomers in their statement prints are perfect for pattern-happy folks (like us!) to put on soft baby arms and chubby little leggies. 

We also wanted to highlight the beauty of baby-hood with delicate details - hand-embroidered pillows for sleepy mamas, top-stitched print playmats for days of effortless fun and cuddles, handcrafted dreamcatchers to catch baby's first wishes, and iconic liberty print ragdolls to stay with your little one forever. 

This collection celebrates color, creativity and, of course, the mama makers who put care into every product they make. All of our products are true labors of love for the artisans we work with, and what parent doesn't want a touch of made-with-sweetness for their little one?

#impact, #artisans, #handmade, #indegodiaries

Introducing ISANO - Loomed with Love

We are so excited about the launch of our spring scarf collection - not only because we love the color & feel of these woven beauties, but also because we are deeply inspired by the story behind them.

This collection was made by ISANO – a cooperative of 12 talented young people in Rwanda, all of whom are affected in some way by HIV/AIDS. The group was started in 2013 by Rwandan-born teenager, Celine Mudahakana, who was at the time a high school student living in the U.S. In the summer of 2012, Celine returned to Rwanda to volunteer with CHABHA (Children Affected By HIV/AIDS), a nonprofit that partners with community-based organizations in Rwanda and Burundi to support young people affected by AIDS and poverty. Witnessing the difficult circumstances in which teenagers her own age were living, Celine felt compelled to do something more.

The following year, while taking a weaving class at her high school in Vermont, Celine had an idea: if she could teach vulnerable young people in Rwanda how to weave too, she could help them to develop a valuable skill and, in turn, earn an income. From there, ISANO was born.

Over the course of the next few months, Celine worked tirelessly to raise money for her cause, which she did, in part, by weaving her own scarves and selling them to people in her community. Eventually, with the help of friends and family, she raised enough funds to purchase four eight-harness looms for her artisan project and to cover the costs of a trip to Rwanda for herself and her classmates to use their weaving skills to make a difference.

Celine helped to develop a new vocational training program under CHABHA’s Project Independence initiative, from which 12 young people were chosen to participate. All of them were not in school, despite being of school age – most had been forced to drop out after primary school because their parents could not afford to pay the school fees. Without education or income-earning opportunities, these young adults & their families were living a life of abject poverty.

Celine set out on a mission to change that. Over the course of several weeks, she and her classmates taught these students how to weave using foot-looms - a skill which they picked up quickly and with much enthusiasm. Two years later, the artisans of ISANO are masterful weavers, creating beautifully crafted fabrics, scarves, wall hangings & more.

We are so thrilled to be able to partner with a cooperative like this which is not only creating products we love, but is also part of a larger mission to change the future for young people affected by HIV/AIDS. This disease continues to be an epidemic in many parts of Rwanda, and we are honored to work with these brave young people who are showing others that they too can take ownership of their futures.

Celine is thrilled at all the progress that the members of ISANO have made. Over the past two years, she says, they have gone from being shy to exuberantly confident and have developed valuable business and leadership skills along the way. Her goal for them is to: “become economically stable, earn a steady income, and escape from poverty,” she says. “I want them to influence other generations and to bring more people into this project and other projects like these so that all young people who do not have opportunities can have the chance to become financially independent.”

We couldn’t agree more & are so excited to continue to work with and support ISANO and CHABHA in the years to come, helping more young people to develop life-changing skills. We hope you’ll show your support too! 

Shop the ISANO scarf collection and Indego spring here

##uncrateafrica, #collaboration, #indegodiaries

#UNCRATEAFRICA

Every year, H Project — Canadian luxury department store Holt Renfrew’s unique, socially responsible in-store shop — curates a special collection of products that showcases a distinct culture and celebrates global artisans. Last fall, Alexandra Weston, Holt Renfrew’s Director of Brand Strategy and the driving force behind H Project, traveled with her team to Africa to source one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces for this year’s boutique, Uncrate Africa!

To create the collection, Holt Renfrew partnered with a series of renowned designers and brands that work in Africa, including cult-favorite jewelry brand and long-time Indego Africa partner, DANNIJO! Sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder collaborated with us to create a unique product line for Uncrate Africa blending their signature style with the magisterial craft & stunning raw materials of Rwanda. The collection features classic DANNIJO bib necklaces accented with East African cowhorn, colorfully patterned sweetgrass bangles, a unique printed-and-batik apron, a classic Rwandan plateau basket with of-the-moment fringe, & more!

We sat down with Danielle Snyder, Creative Director of DANNIJO, and Alexandra Weston, Holt Renfrew’s Director of Brand Strategy, to get the inside scoop about the Uncrate Africa collection. Read on to get their exclusive take on the travel, inspiration, and creative processes that went into making this collection such a beautiful ode to Africa!

photo courtesy of Holt Renfrew

Danielle Snyder, Creative Director of DANNIJO

What made you want to work with Indego Africa, back in 2012?

Our values are aligned and it was an organic partnership.  DANNIJO is rooted in philanthropic initiatives—I cofounded a non-profit that fundraises for grassroots initiatives in Africa in 2007. We love Indego Africa's approach—empowering the women of Rwanda by providing them with skills and economic opportunity. 

What inspires you about working with artisans in the developing world? 

There is something very powerful about knowing that you're not only creating beauty, but that you're also enriching the lives of women in underdeveloped areas of the world through collaboration.

What do you love about handmade products?

In this day and age so much of commerce feels stale, robotic and manufactured.  Knowing that handmade, artisanal product was made with love and passion—by a human, is a beautiful thing.  

How would you describe the Uncrate Africa collection?

It's very world traveler-chic and speaks to both the Holt Renfew and DANNIJO customer. The lifestyle collection is a curated assortment of bohemian accessories for home and travel.  We took the inspiration behind our iconic bib and created a collection that celebrates its spirit. 

What is your favorite DJ x Indego Africa product in the Uncrate Africa collection? 

The bibs or the tin and horn choker because they're timeless and nothing updates a simple traveler look like a powerful accessory.

photo courtesy of Holt Renfrew

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Alexandra Weston, Director of Brand Strategy at Holt Renfrew

What inspired Holt Renfrew to start the H Project and its "Uncrate" Series?

Holt Renfrew has a unique position as Canada's specialty luxury retailer, fusing luxury, style and culture to continually delight our customers in unexpected ways. In May 2013, we launched H Project Shop – a unique in-store shop of extraordinary products with extraordinary stories.  Each product selected is extraordinary in one of three ways (if not all three!): that the product supports culture, craft and artisans from around the world, that the materials that make the product are responsible in some way (recycled vegan, non-toxic etc.), that the product gives back and supports a meaningful charity. 

Through researching these types of products we started learning the true impact we can have on small communities.  By selling, and therefore supporting, small artisan groups around the world, we were changing lives. The idea of ‘Uncrate a Culture’ was inspired by this and the concept of exploring world regions to source unique products & celebrate the special artisanal stories behind each special piece. 

H Project brings the region to life in-store for our customers to experience; I call it ‘armchair’ travel that you can shop. For H Project, the height of luxury is beautiful, high-quality items that nurture cultures and communities.

You visited Rwanda and spent two action-packed days with our team - what was your experience like meeting the artisans we work with? 

Action-packed says it all! I truly loved every minute I got to spend with Rosine, Grace & Heloise.  The Indego Africa team and the artisans I met were such incredible women.  There was a happy and spirited energy - one of opportunity and growth…but most of all fun!  We sang and danced at almost every stop. The women welcomed us so openly and took the time to show us their craft and tell us their story.

What was your favorite artisan craft to see in action & why?

All the crafts were amazing, but the one that really blew me away was Ibaba, the embroidery co-op.  How the woman recreated images with thread in such detail demonstrated true artistry, dedication and hard work. 

What inspiration did you take away from your trip to Rwanda?

I was inspired by the workmanship and Indego Africa’s commitment to training and teaching, allowing individuals to expand their knowledge and craft further. A connection to the global market can be a hard task ensuring quality, deliverability and the right product – Indego Africa is making it happen and creating a wake of opportunity as they keep moving forward. To be a part of this is inspiring and moving; it embodies the ethos of what Uncrate a Culture is all about. 

How would you describe the Uncrate Africa collection?

On Wednesday, April 1, 2015, Holt Renfrew’s H Project shops transformed into Uncrate Africa boutiques, bringing to life the continent’s cultures, crafts and artisans. Our boutiques will offer a spectacular capsule collection of fashion, accessories, children's apparel, homewares, cosmetics and textiles from over 22 renowned brands, including collections from Dannijo x Indego Africa and also Jill Golden that were produced alongside Indego Africa. Beautiful, handcrafted items like the Dannijo bibs, horn bracelet and choker, beach bags, baskets, coasters, baby bibs, etc. and the Isaro by Jill Golden beaded cuff will be available. Through in-store visuals, window displays and two launch events Holt Renfrew will try to re-create the romance of Africa, while showing off the skilled artisans and their products.

**all photos courtesy of Holt Renfrew

#artisans, #inspiring, #community, #entrepreneurs, #impact, #leadership academy

Two decades after the genocide, empowering female entrepreneurs in Rwanda

April 7th, 2015 marks the 21st commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, when more than 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Indego Africa is a nonprofit social enterprise empowering Rwandan women to lead their country forward.

originally posted on one.org

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“Inventory, bookkeeping, budgeting, accounting…”

She pauses to catch her train of thought.

“…marketing, saving, taking out loans…I am learning to be a businesswoman.”

Elizabeth is a student at Indego Africa’s Leadership Academy – an innovative six-month training program in Kigali, Rwanda dedicated to building the next generation of the country’s powerful female entrepreneurs and leaders.

While just over two decades ago Rwanda experienced a brutal genocide, today it is one of the rising stars of Africa – thanks, in large part, to its women. Women have been at the forefront of Rwanda’s development, playing a crucial role in the country’s economic, social, political (and physical) reconstruction.

Indego Africa – a nonprofit social enterprise founded in 2007 – works at the heart of this development. We partner with more than 800 female artisans across 22 different cooperatives – a form of enterprise promoted by the Rwandan government after the genocide to drive economic growth. However, despite the government’s support, for many years artisans struggled to make end’s meet – lacking markets in which to sell their goods and the education needed to effectively run their businesses.

At Indego Africa, we seek to address these issues of access and opportunity. We provide female artisans with sustainable income by selling their beautifully handcrafted products around the world. We help them to become empowered businesswomen through our education programs – the hallmark of which is our newly established Leadership Academy.

Launched on October 1st, 2014, our Leadership Academy is the only free-of-cost advanced business training program for women in Rwanda. Class meets twice a week for a full day and consists of practical and interactive lessons, developed by our own staff and Board of Directors members.

An experienced and passionate team of Rwandan teachers leads the class through each lesson, facilitating student-led group projects, field trips, and guest lectures from successful local entrepreneurs and visiting global thought leaders. The goal of these courses is to help women develop the life-long knowledge and skills they need to grow their own businesses and become successful entrepreneurs and leaders.

Let’s look at Vestine’s story for an example of what the Leadership Academy can mean for women in Rwanda. Vestine was 11 years old when the genocide erupted, and when it ended, she was forced to drop out of school to support her remaining family members. For many years she struggled to survive, and when she was diagnosed with HIV in 2007, she began to lose hope for her future.

Now a member of Ejo Hazaza (an Indego Africa partner cooperative since 2012) and a student at our Leadership Academy, Vestine is emerging as an inspired entrepreneur – not only building a brighter future for herself and her family, but also for her community. She says: “There is a water problem in my village. 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 neighborhood.”

Vestine is one of many women using her new knowledge and skills to make a difference. Another student is using the lessons she’s learned to grow her business – a café – and hire three new employees. Yet another plans to become a consultant and offer advice to other business-owners in her community. All of our students have begun to make improvements to the organization and management of their artisan cooperatives. They are creating better-run, more productive businesses, which, in turn, enable all of our partners to take on more clients, receive more orders, and earn more income.

As we approach the graduation ceremony of the Leadership Academy’s inaugural class on April 30th 2015, we are thrilled and proud to see just how far our students have come. Not only are they driving economic progress in their communities, but they are also emerging as powerful mentors and role models for others – setting new precedents for how much women can achieve in Rwanda.

When asked why she believes the Leadership Academy is important, Elizabeth says: “It has to do with the history of Rwanda. In the past, women couldn’t run businesses or have the same jobs men had. Today, we are confident and ready to take the lead.”

We believe that our students will do exactly that: take the lead in their communities and spread economic growth, social progress, and hope across their country.

#community, #hope, #artisans, #inspiring

Remembering The Genocide

Today, April 7th 2015, marks the 21st commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, when more than 800,000 people were killed over the course of 100 days. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and all those who continue to grapple with the horrors that took place.

We wish to recognize and honor our incredible artisan partners who, through their resilience and steadfast determination, are rebuilding their country. They have not forgotten the atrocities they saw or the loved ones they lost. At times, they may find themselves haunted or overwhelmed by the memories. Yet, despite the pain they continue to endure, they are determined to pave the way for a better future – to strive for reconciliation, forgiveness, and progress over bitterness, vengeance, and despair.

We have the utmost respect and admiration for these beautiful, brave women. What they have accomplished so far, and what they continue to achieve, is nothing short of amazing.

Today, we share the story of Esther – a powerful example of how far many of our artisan partners have come since 1994. Esther is a member of Abasangiye – a cooperative comprised of mothers of children born of rape during the genocide. She lost her husband and all four of her children in the genocide, and, like hundreds of thousands of women in Rwanda, was sexually assaulted and infected with HIV.

In the aftermath of the genocide, Esther was left distraught and alone. She began suffering from severe depression and for years struggled to leave her house or even get out of bed in the morning. She admits to having considered ending her own life. 

It was at one of her darkest moments that Esther came into contact with AVEGA (Association of Widows of Genocide) – a Rwandan nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and empowering genocide survivors. She began participating in therapy sessions through which she was able to come together and speak openly with other women who had had similar experiences as her own. Through these conversations, Esther began to overcome her trauma and gain the confidence she needed to put her life back together again.

Recognizing how life-changing therapy had been for her, Esther decided to become a counselor herself. She says:

 “I realized how important it is to have someone who listens to you. If I hadn’t found that, I don’t know if I would be alive today. Now, I advise other women who had some of the same problems that I did. I listen carefully to their stories and try to comfort them so that they too can feel like they have self-worth.”

 

Esther also says that being able to have a job and earn an income through her cooperative’s partnership with Indego Africa has been critical to her path to recovery. She says: 

“one thing that makes trauma worse is poverty. Getting up every morning and coming here to work on an order – that makes life worth living.”

Today, Esther is a self-assured and confident woman who radiates warmth and compassion. We are endlessly inspired by her and those like her who have not only overcome so much, but have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others.

We celebrate our partners’ spirit of generosity, their care for one another, and their commitment to a better future. We wish for continued peace, progress, and prosperity for them and for all the generations of Rwandans to come.

#community, #collaboration, #new, #indegodiaries

In Good Company: J.Crew x Indego Africa

This spring, J. Crew is bringing a touch of Rwanda to the American home with the launch of the J. Crew x Indego Africa Spring 2015 collaboration! Featuring bright baskets, vibrant coasters, elegant vases, and more, this hand-woven collection is designed to infuse your life and home with beauty, color, and conscience.

At Indego Africa, all of our products are handcrafted {with love} by female artisans in Rwanda. Our goal is to take traditional Rwandan artistry and craft and make it beautiful and accessible to modern customers – all while providing sustainable income & life-changing education for the women with whom we partner.

We are thrilled that J. Crew – one of our favorite brands and a beacon of American style – has chosen to feature our products and to share their beauty & rich cultural history with their customers.  

We are even more thrilled {and honored!} to have these items included in J. Crew’s In Good Company collection – a curated selection of  “the coolest goods from the brands {they} love – and love to work with.”

We love everything about J. Crew and how they run their business, making chic and stylish products that are accessible and produced in an ethical, socially responsible way. While we may work in different parts of the world, we share a love of simple, timeless design accented with bright, striking pops of color and pattern. It is in this intersection of elegance and fun, of beauty and whimsy, that we often find our inspiration. As J. Crew likes to say: “the magic is in the mix." 

Above all, we find inspiration in the incredible Rwandan women who handcraft our products. The time, precision, and impeccable artistry they put into all they create is nothing short of amazing, and you can feel the love and care in every stitch.

We are so excited that J. Crew has chosen to celebrate their craft along with us through a collection of bold, bright, and beautiful pieces that evoke the joy and spunk of the women who made them. We hope you’ll celebrate too! Shop Indego Africa for J.Crew here