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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog

#makersmonth, #indegodiaries, #handmade, #artisans

A Video Tribute for #MakersMonth

We're wrapping up #MakersMonth with a video celebrating the incredible artistry that goes into our products. #pressplay below

#makersmonth, #inspiring, #indegodiaries

#MakersMonth: A Rwanda Travel Diary

This summer, our lovely intern, Ade, traveled to Rwanda on an AllPeopleBeHappy scholarship to work closely with our artisan partners on a range of exciting projects in product development, design innovation, quality control & more {thanks, APBH}! We chatted with her to get an inside glimpse into her time spent there – from her day-to-day activities to her deepest moments of inspiration. Keep reading for a behind-the-scenes look at her trip & the moving stories she’s come home with.

“Muraho! Greetings from Rwanda! I recently returned from an awe-inspiring six-week trip to the Land of a Thousand Hills. While there, I was able to work alongside the Indego Africa production team with a focus on product development. There were so many highlights of my trip, from taking in the picturesque sites of Rwanda’s countryside to interacting with the many bright-eyed children on the streets. Nevertheless, connecting and working with the amazing female artisans Indego Africa partners with was an experience like no other.

My workdays never looked the same. Some days were dedicated to quality control of products, running the gamut from weaving and dying techniques to shaping and carving cow horn and tin pieces. Other days consisted of placing new product orders and sample orders to various cooperatives. I loved these days. It was crystal clear from my very first visit to the cooperatives that the artisan women truly cherish the partnership they have with Indego Africa. This appreciation was extremely apparent when the women received new product orders from us. They would literally jump for joy. I recall one day while visiting Twiyubake – a banana-leaf-weaving cooperative – that the women were so overjoyed about receiving another order that they jokingly asked us to leave so they could start on their work. At such moments, I gained a better understanding of how great an impact Indego Africa’s work has on the personal and economic empowerment of these female artisans.

This realization came full circle during my last few days in Rwanda. While visiting the home of Rose, an artisan from Ingenzi Knit Union, she invited me go outside and take a look at a cow she had just bought for her family. She was smiling from ear-to-ear once she set her eyes on her new purchase.  Rose went on to tell me that she was able to purchase the cow with the money she earned from working with Indego Africa. She is now able sell the cow’s milk for additional income and provide for her family. Sweet memories like these motivate the work I am able to do with Indego Africa each day. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to experience Rwanda and its people.”

We are so glad that Ade traveled to Rwanda this summer and was able not only to meet our partners in person, but also to make a deep impact in their lives by helping them to learn new skills & perfect old ones! Keep your eyes peeled for more on the exciting projects & new products she worked on this summer - there are lots of great things in store. 

#indegodiaries, #community, #makersmonth

In Celebration of Makers Everywhere, We’re Off To…

We are off to somewhere new! Read on to find out where!

Since the beginning of Indego days, it’s been our vision to empower female artisans not only in Rwanda, but across Africa. That’s why we are so excited to start a new chapter of our journey...in Ghana! We can’t wait to share more handmade-with-love products, beautiful images, and inspiring stories with you. Stay tuned for more as we grow our mission for good!

#makersmonth, #inspiring, #collaboration

The Hand Embroidered Beauty of IBABA

We love the beautiful and stunningly life-like embroidery of IBABA – a group of 40 talented women who work in Rutongo, Rwanda. The IBABA cooperative is remarkable not only for the impressive artistry and skill of its artisans but also for the history behind it.

The women of the Rutongo area first learned the art of embroidery in the 1970s from a group of Belgian nuns that, eager to provide young women with a source of income, established an embroidery training center and workshop for them in their village. For years, the workshop flourished, at one point employing over 300 artisans. However, its success came to an abrupt end in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide ravaged life in the region and forced the cooperative to disband.

In 2011, French sisters Veronique and Pascale Gamard traveled to Rutongo, Rwanda and went on a quest to find the artisans who had worked with the nuns all those years ago. They discovered that some of the former embroiderers were still living in the village, but were struggling to get by without customers to buy their goods or a market for them to engage with. 

Touched by the women’s stories and realizing their immense potential, Veronique and Pascale decided to band together and help the embroiderers realize their dreams: to reopen their embroidery workshop and earn sustainable income through their beautiful craft. 

Today, IBABA employs 40 women, each of whom spend their days creating exquisitely detailed, uncannily lifelike and intricately designed pieces for customers like us, including hand-embroidered baby clothes, whimsical market totes, framed art pieces & more.

We chatted with Veronique, IBABA Co-Founder & Artistic Director {as well as a graphic & interior designer} about her design process, inspiration, and so much more! Keep reading to get the inside scoop on all-things-embroidery.

What embroidery techniques do the IBABA ladies work with & who teaches them new skills?

When I began working with IBABA they mostly did traditional stitches using a wooden hoop, but every time I taught them a new skill – like chain-linking, cross-stitching, or even beading – it turned out they already knew how to do it or could simply look at a picture and figure it out themselves. They really are amazing.

How often do you go to Rwanda? What is your favorite part about your time there? How do you manage the workshop when you are back in Paris? 

I go to Rwanda at least four times a year, for four weeks each time. I live right on the cooperative grounds & work closely with the artisans each day I am there. 

My favorite part is watching the women take designs I have sketched and turn them into beautiful final products. Every time it’s a new experience – each design comes with a new surprise.

When I’m back in Paris, I sketch my designs by hand on pieces of paper, scan them, and send them off to Rwanda with details about the colors, threads, stitches, and fabrics I have in mind. The artisans then review them and then get back to me with any questions or thoughts they have.

What makes IBABA’s work unique? 

In Rwanda, there aren’t many groups that work with embroidery, so there’s that to begin with. But IBABA is unique because of the way we combine the women’s amazing skills with my design aesthetic, which is influenced both my time in Rwanda & in Paris.

What inspires you? 

I love to work with traditional designs and change them up to make them more modern, colorful, and fun. Kids designs are also something I’m especially passionate about – they are so cute and perfect! But all in all I am inspired to see the women working everyday and to know that what we are doing is helping them to live better lives and learn something new everyday. 

We think that’s pretty inspiring – don’t you? To see more of IBABA’s incredible craft & shop their hand-embroidered beauties, click here!

#makersmonth, #indegodiaries, #inspiration

#MakersMonth: A Creative Love Note

From NYC to Rwanda and back again, our design process is all about global collaboration. We love to create pieces that blend the traditional crafts of Rwanda with modern pops of color, elegant shapes, and innovative designs.

We went behind-the-scenes with our Creative Director, Deirdre King, to give you an up-close-and-Indego look into her creative process and daily inspiration. Press play!

"I usually describe my design process as a bit like fitting beautifully crafted puzzle pieces together. We have groups of artisans in Rwanda that we work with.. with all different skills, knowledge and expertises. We have materials - locally grown, imported or donated, available on the market in kigali and other parts of africa. Then we have our customers and clients in the US and the aesthetic we've built for our brand: colorful, playful, wellmade and handcrafted, each piece one-of-a-kind with its own story to tell. I always want to tell that story and honor the importance of the artisans' work and really show the care and detail that goes into each of these products. Its a collaborative process of fitting these pieces together to develop beautiful things. My goal is to present a thoughtful selection of products that are made with love and dedication and that people think are really great."

#makersmonth

#MakersMonth: Creative Morning

Jumpstart your Wednesday with a creative morning at our #MakersMonth Summer Pop-Up Shop! Swing by early & join us for coffee (from our partner-in-good, Toms Roasting Co!), breakfast bites, and a first-in-line chance to shop our newest, one-of-a-kind products!

#makersmonth, #artisans, #inspiring, #community

Weaving Peace – The Beautiful History of Rwanda’s Peace Baskets

For centuries, “agaseke” – traditional Rwandan baskets {like the one pictured above!} – have been an essential part of Rwandan culture – woven into the fabric of everyday life as vessels for food and grains, household catchalls, and gifts for important ceremonies, like weddings and christenings.

Historically, weaving was passed down from mother to daughter, generation to generation, as a rite of passage marking the transition into womanhood and symbolizing a mother’s care for her children and her country. However, after the 1994 genocide, this age-old tradition took on a new and powerful meaning in Rwanda.

When the genocide in Rwanda ended, women were left to pick up the pieces of their shattered country.  In order to provide for themselves, their families, and the countless orphans left in the destruction’s wake, many banded together to form artisan cooperatives—overcoming past differences to work together towards a brighter future.

These determined women decided to use traditional agaseke baskets as a symbol of Rwanda’s newfound peace, and the baskets’ iconic zigzag patterns came to represent the image of two women holding hands—embracing reconciliation, unity, and hope for the future of Rwanda.

We are so excited to share our newest collection of peace baskets with you – a line of beautiful, beaded agaseke that reflect Rwanda’s rich cultural traditions and crafts, as well as its ever-brightening future. We love these baskets not only for their simple and elegant design, but for what they represent: a beautiful story of forgiveness, generosity, and compassion that inspires us everyday, and that we hope will inspire you too.

To shop our peace basket collection, click here 

#makersmonth, #community, #collaboration, #funwithfriends

Fun with Friends #3 Tamar Mogendorff

When we were planning our goings-on-about-town for Makers Month, we knew we had to include a visit to one of our favorite Brooklyn-based makers and beloved partners - designer Tamar Mogendorff! Not only is she a mentor and inspiration to the entire Indego family, but she created some extra special installation pieces (along with the help of the ladies of Ibyishimo cooperative) for our July 22nd pop-up shop.

She invited us to her studio last week for some coffee, conversation and croissants (oh and a sneak peek of what she has in store for us at next week's pop-up!). Here's what she had to say when we asked her if she'd be up for a trip to Rwanda:
"I love traveling and getting inspired by other cultures—by nature, people, craftsmanship, foods—but at the end of the day, to me the magic happens when I’m in my studio, trying things out and doing this or that to create a product, an actual object. To me, the reason to go to Rwanda would be to work together with the artisans there—both to teach them and learn from them and their techniques, materials, ideas, and aesthetics. It's always difficult to give instruction from afar. You miss the part of the experimenting together, finding new ways to create together, and designing hand in hand. I hope to make it there one day and to explore the possibilities of new creations, more materials, and, of course, to get to know the artisans in person. " 

For more details on our Makers Month & July 22nd pop up shop, click here

#makersmonth, #indegodiaries, #handmade, #artisans

The Art of Metal Working

Thinking jewelry? Think tin – the unlikely yet super cool material that makes up many of the pieces on our jewelry line {and some of our home décor items, too!} We love the rustically chic look of this malleable metal, which the talented artisans of L’Etainerie de Huye artfully mold into beautiful and unexpected shapes at their workshop in Butare, Rwanda.

Nestled amongst green pastures and lush, overhanging trees, L’Etainerie de Huye first opened its doors in 1983 with a group of 50 skilled and industrious metal workers. However, when the 1994 genocide began, the artisans of L’Etainerie were forced to flee and shut their business down. When the violence ended, there were only 10 of them left.

Some years went by and in 2003 the 10 remaining artisans decided to band together to reopen their shop and recruit and train other members of the community. Today, L’Etainerie employs 55 people and continues to spread its remarkable craft through a two-year apprenticeship program, during which time students learn the ins-and-outs of the metal working process – from material sourcing, to melting, shaping, sanding, polishing & more.

While you’ll have to travel to Rwanda to learn the little known secrets of the trade yourself, we’ve got a 101 crash course for you that – at the very least – will let you know what you’re in for. 

  • Step 1: Source the Tin. The artisans of L’Etainerie get their tin from “Phoenix Metal,” a smelter outside Kigali that locally sources all of its raw materials.
  • Step 2: Make a Mold. To create each unique tin product, the artisans place a hand-carved wooden sample (the exact same shape & size of the item!) inside a hollow frame and fill it with dirt. They then flip it over and hammer it until the dirt hardens around the sample, at which point it can be removed – leaving an empty imprint behind.
  • Step 3: Melt the Tin & Pour it Out. They then melt and liquefy the tin in an oven and pour it into the mold.
  • Step 4: Let it Cool. It only takes 1 minute for the tin to harden into its shape!
  • Step 5: Solder It, Sand It, Polish It. Now it’s time to make the tin look great – whether soldering together small pieces of metal, or sanding down and polishing products to perfection, a great deal of artistry and technique goes into making each piece smooth, shiny, and ready for use.
  • Step 7: Add Finishing Touches. When the products are polished and ready-to-go, the artisans add on any last finishing touches - like gluing on cowhorn accents or inlaying woven shapes – before the items are picked up by our production team & transported to our office in Kigali…

And voilà! Cool, unique jewelry and décor pieces that range from bold statement pendants, to elephant keepsake boxes, geometric stacking rings & more. 

In addition to the products that they make for us, L’Etainerie also has over 500 (!) molds that they use to make their own collections, which they sell right from their workshop. Their onsite store is filled to the brim with remarkably life-like and well-crafted animal figurines – from giraffes to snakes to rhinos and giraffes – in addition to a diverse range of other decorative and functional pieces.

L’Etainerie prides itself on its ability to create high-quality, well-designed, and creative products while constantly innovating to keep up with the needs of their market – primarily tourists, diplomats, and select partners {like us!} 

They are the only workshop of their kind in Rwanda – creating artisanal pieces out of pure tin – and we love the opportunity to partner with an organization that values creativity, design, and the art of the handmade just as much as we do!

To check out some of L’Etainerie de Huye’s amazing metal work, click here

#makersmonth, #artisans, #inspiring, #weaving

#MakersMonth: The Beauty of Banana Leaf

We love creating products made from the natural raw materials of Rwanda: imigwegwe, sisal, palm…and banana leaf! A quintessential part of any Rwandan landscape, banana trees – which look like miniature palms – grow abundantly atop the country’s beautiful green rolling hills, and their leaves have been used for centuries to weave traditional Rwandan baskets.

We are so excited about some of our newest banana leaf products – like floppy floor baskets & summer beach totes– whose simple, airy, and elegant design highlight the beautiful artistry of the artisans who make them – the 30 talented women of the Twiyubake cooperative!

Located in Kayonza in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, Twiyubake is made up of female genocide survivors who work side-by-side with the wives of imprisoned génocidaires. A powerful and inspiring group of women, they first met in 2007 through a nonprofit called the Prison Fellowship, which seeks to promote reconciliation among people affected by genocide. 

The Prison Fellowship hired a local artisan to teach the women how to weave banana leaves as a way to help them earn income while working together to foster reconciliation. In 2008, we began our partnership with Twiyubake and over the years have helped them to refine their skills and create new, innovative products designed to add a touch of natural, Rwandan beauty to your life and home (and hearts!).

The artisans of Twiyubake often pick their banana leaves by hand from local plantations or sometimes buy them from a distributor. Once the leaves are harvested, they are left out in the sun to dry and take on varying shades of brown, black, and white depending on the length of their tanning time and the type of tree they come from. They can also be dyed to take on deep new hues from the brightest of pinks to the darkest of indigo blues.

Once the leaves are dried, dyed, and ready-to-go, the artisans use them to weave a range of beautiful products, altering their techniques based on the specificities of each object. For example the artisans will use their fingers to twist and weave the banana leaves by hand to make bag handles or bracelets, but will braid them to make baskets. To create more complex items – like woven stools or chairs – they will often use a needle and thread to finely weave the leaves into the desired shape and size.

Whatever the technique, their final products are always beautiful, intricate, rustic yet refined, and true testaments to the natural beauty of Rwanda and the remarkable artistry that resides there.

To shop our newest collection of woven, banana leaf pieces, click here

This post is part of our #MakersMonth — a July-long campaign celebrating the incredible artistry and skill of the master-makers who handcraft our products!  To learn more, click here

#makersmonth, #artisans, #handmade

#MakersMonth: Bright Wovens

You may have noticed already, but bright colors are kind of our thing. Okay…they’re totally our thing, and we just can’t get enough of the deep vibrant hues and electric shades of the woven baskets, platters, and catchalls that have become staples of our home décor line. But, you may be wondering: how do our artisan partners ensure that the colors come out bright, evenly and richly saturated {and the same!} every time? And how do they hand-weave these intricate beauties in the first place? Keep reading for an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look into the handmade process behind our woven home décor collections!

Our woven products are made by hand out of locally sourced natural fibers: sweetgrass {inshinge in Kinyarwanda}, the straw-like material that forms the base of our baskets, and sisal {imigwegwe}, the soft and stringy fibers of agave plants which are dyed and wrapped around sweetgrass to create the complete and colorful Indego look. 

We partner with five different weaving cooperatives in Rwanda – Imirasire, Covanya, Ibanga, Korebu, and Ingobokaruga – and while each has its own special, secret way of getting the colors just right, there are some general steps they all follow. For starters, the artisans put a big pot of water over firewood and then add salt, oil, and dye, carefully altering quantities depending on the desired hue of their final product.

Once the mixture seems ready, they dip in a small piece of imigwegwe to check for color and make adjustments before pouring in the whole batch. They then stir the sisal with a wooden stick until all the fiber is saturated with dye and ready to be taken out for drying.

Within this process, there is lots of room for improvisation, artistry, and personal touches that make each cooperative’s dyeing process unique (like adjusting water temperatures, dye quantities, and soaking durations.) At the end, however, there’s just one final result: vibrant, well-dyed and consistently-colored fibers that make for beautiful and eye-catching home décor (and jewelry!) pieces.

Once the imigwegwe is dry, the artisans thread a couple of strands through a weaving needle and begin to wrap them around bunches of sweetgrass, molding and adjusting the grass as they go to create the desired shape of our products — a process which often takes 2-3 days {or more} per item! The end results are worth it, though: thick coiled baskets and platters that beautifully blend traditional African crafts with modern pops of color and pattern – from  hot pink swirls, to black and white geometric designs, ruby red diamonds, and more.

So there you have it – the inside scoop on how our products are hand-woven with skill, patience, artistry {and love!} in Rwanda. Pretty cool, right? We certainly think so!

To shop our home décor collections (and to brighten your day - guaranteed!), click here

This post is part of our #MakersMonth — a July-long campaign celebrating the incredible artistry and skill of the master-makers who handcraft our products!  To learn more, click here

#collaboration, #makersmonth

A Look Inside Our (First!) NYC Production Partner – BF+DA!

At Indego Africa, we love to create unique, timeless pieces designed for you to use and wear in everyday life. So naturally, launching an apparel line with everyday chic & wearable fashion items has always been a dream for us. However, designing, pattern-making, and manufacturing clothing can be a challenge for any organization, especially small design companies working with techniques done primarily by-hand {like us!} That’s where BF+DA comes in.

BF+DA – the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator – is a hub for ethical fashion that provides designers with the resources they need to go from idea to prototype to production to market.  An initiative of the Pratt Institute, BF+DA helps small and emerging companies transform their ideas into successful businesses and manufacture their products in an ethical and sustainable way. One of the ways in which BF+DA does this is through its Production Lab, which offers 3D printing and laser cutting, a sample development studio, and a small-run apparel manufacturing facility, equipped with the latest technology in garment production {and no minimum unit requirements!}

We partnered with BF+DA to create patterns {a.k.a. garment-making templates} for our limited edition printed textile women’s skirts & men’s shirts {now available for sale here}. The patterns were then sent over to Rwanda where our newest partner cooperative, Kaliza, used them to create the very first items on our new, one-of-a-kind apparel line! We chatted with Tara St. James, BF+DA’s Production Coordinator, about why she wanted to work with Indego Africa. She said she was not only inspired by our mission but also by the handmade artistry of our artisan partners and was excited to take part in the process of cross-border creative collaboration that goes into bringing our collections to life. 

We were equally excited to work with BF+DA and to take part in their platform for ethical fashion. We asked Tara, a sustainable fashion expert (and Founder/Creative Director of ethical womenswear label StudyNY) about her thoughts on the future of the industry. Here’s what she had to say: 

“The next generation of consumers is knowledgeable and demanding a lot from designers, brands and companies. Shoppers are careful with their money and want to spend it on things that resonate with them. That’s why I think artisan-made products will have a very big place in the future. Being able to identify with your clothing and with who made it – the fact that it may be unique or individual – is going to be very important going forward.” 

We are excited to see this future of socially conscious fashion unfold and to partner with organizations like like BF+DA that are helping to make it happen! 

To shop our ethically made, brand new apparel collection, click here and stay tuned for our future collaborations with BF+DA (did someone say SWIM?!)