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Fun With Friends #4: A Collaboration with Handspun Hope

On a farm at the base of Rwanda’s majestic Virunga Mountains roam a flock of sheep. Tended and cared for night and day, this herd is part of the Handspun Hope project – a True Vineyard Ministries initiative dedicated to employing and empowering Rwandan widows.

Handspun Hope employs 58 people in Rwanda to hand-spin & dye 100% organic merino wool. We are thrilled to now call them an official cooperative partner and to launch our brand new collection of winter-weather must-haves – hand-spun, knitted hats and vests for adults and kiddies alike!

Handspun Hope began in 2007 when Diana Wiley, Executive Director of True Vineyard Ministries, traveled to Rwanda on a trip with an international relief organization. While there, she was deeply moved by the genocide widows she met and struck by the stark conditions of poverty in which they were living. 

On that very same trip, she came across a livestock-sharing project at a church in Musanze, Rwanda’s northern province. She observed that while various families in the community were receiving sheep to cultivate, they were mostly using them for sustenance. That’s when it occurred to her: “what about the wool?” From there, Handspun Hope was born.

Handspun Hope seeks to create sustainable employment and income-earning opportunities for women in Rwanda by helping them make high-quality yarn from local sheep’s wool. While wool-spinning was once a common practice in Rwanda, the skill was completely lost after the 1994 genocide. Diana {after teaching herself!} taught a group of women in the community how to spin wool using a drop spindle, eventually upgrading to spinning wheels to increase their productivity, as well as the quality of the yarn.

She and the True Vineyard Ministries team also bought a plot of land in Musanze and began importing sheep from Kenya to populate it. While they began with 25 sheep, they have since grown their flock to 150, and continue to expand it with the goal of creating a sustainable supply of wool in Rwanda and, accordingly, more employment opportunities for local women.

We love Handspun Hope’s mission and philosophy, as well as the incredible handmade process behind their products – one that spans nearly a year to reach its completion. Over the course of eight-month cycles, a shepherd tends to Handspun Hope’s sheep - caring for them day in and day out, keeping them clean, and feeding them with the best possible minerals and nutrients to ensure that they remain as healthy as can be.

When their wool has grown to its optimal length (and the longer the better), the shepherd begins the process of shearing the sheep, shaving off the wool by hand. The artisans then triple wash it clean, picking out any grass or pieces of debris that may remain. They card {i.e. disentangle} the wool, comb out the fibers, and feed it into a spinning wheel, making one ply at a time and feeding it back into the wheel to create whatever thickness they desire.

Once the yarn is ready, the women dye it by hand using local plant and vegetable material – like flowers and onion skins – or 100% organic imported dye. The final result is richly saturated, vibrant, high-quality {and eco-friendly!} yarn that is perfect for making soft and luxurious accessories and apparel items.

While historically Handspun Hope’s artisans have made yarn and sold it to other companies to work with {rather than creating finished products} we are very excited to share that for the first time - for our order - the artisans hand-knit the yarn to create each item themselves {a skill which, we might add, they learned for the first time last year!}

We are thrilled to partner with Handspun Hope and to support an organization that is creating products that are truly 100% Rwandan-made. Keep your eyes peeled for more on this inspiring group & check out our collection here:

*photographs courtesy of abbey henderson

#indegodiaries

NYNOW

This year we are at NYnow - be sure to stop by and take a peek!

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House Of Tayo: Rwandan Entrepreneurship, Creativity, & Design

Entrepreneurship, creativity, awesome design…these are a few of our favorite things and just a few of the reasons why we love House of Tayo! Founded in 2011 by Rwandan entrepreneur Matthew Rugambo, House of Tayo is a locally-made clothing and accessories line with a mission to showcase African sophistication and style. We partnered with them to create a collection of Dutch wax fabric bowties featuring the brand’s iconic bold colors, vibrant patterns, and distinctive Rwandan flair!

Matthew was inspired to start House of Tayo by his experiences living in the United States as a college student. He wanted to create something that would challenge people’s perceptions of Rwanda and showcase the country as a place of innovation, creativity, and beautiful design. While Matthew did not have a background in fashion, he was inspired by Rwanda’s incredible artisans and tailors whose work, he felt, was greatly under-appreciated and under-utilized. 

Today, Matthew employs entirely local artisans in the production of his clothing and accessories line, including the ladies of our long-time partner co-op, Cocoki! He seeks to create economic opportunities for local makers, while also building and redefining the homegrown Rwandan fashion scene. 

Matthew wants to show people in Rwanda that careers in fashion are possible and that there are many different ways to get involved – from manufacturing to designing to blogging to marketing. He hopes to empower Rwanda’s youth to take risks and start new businesses in the fashion industry that will contribute to the country’s aesthetics, culture, and design identity {which is why he offers internships at House of Tayo throughout the year.}

While producing handmade products in Rwanda can sometimes be a challenge {in terms of access to equipment and materials}, Matthew thinks it makes House of Tayo all the more innovative. For example, he said: “When you don’t have everything at your fingertips, it forces you to be more creative. When I couldn’t find clasps for our bowties, I decided to use cow horn instead – which is now a staple of our line. I would never have come up with that idea if I had had access to everything.” (Ed. note: stay tuned for these bowtie beauties for your guys coming soon!)

Matthew encourages other budding entrepreneurs to also turn would-be negatives into positives – to think on their toes and use what they have around them make their creative vision a reality. And we love that about him.

What’s up next for House of Tayo? Matthew hopes to expand his brand into a full fashion line, selling shirts, jackets, pants, and blazers, which we’re sure will be just as stylishly dapper as everything else he makes. We can’t wait to see what he has in store! 

In the meantime, to shop our custom Indego Africa x House of Tayo collection, click here

#artisans, #inspiring, #indegodiaries, #makersmonth

Photo Essay: Radiant Women of Rwanda

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth 1,000 words. And while it might be a cliché, we have to admit that images have a unique power to transport us into other worlds, creating connections between people miles and miles away.

originally posted on one.org
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That’s why we’re so excited to share a new photo series with you featuring some of the amazing women we work with in Rwanda. This series is part of our brand-new, July-long Makers Month – a campaign celebrating the incredible artistry and skills of the master-makers who handcraft our products.

These stunning portraits, shot by photographer Ashley Turner of hazel & pine, were taken at the Umutima cooperative in Nyamirambo, Kigali, Rwanda—a business of 30 seamstresses who are working together to create brighter futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Umutima, which means “heart” in the language Kinyarwanda, was founded in 2013 to provide vocational training, employment, and steady income to socially vulnerable women in Rwanda.

Since then, these women – most of whom are also mothers – have worked tirelessly to perfect their skills and earn enough income to support their families. Today, you can see the fruits of their hard work in our newly launched nursery and kids collection – a line of pattern-happy baby and children’s clothes that these talented artisans make by hand.

We are endlessly inspired by the women of Umutima – not only by their impeccable artistry, but also by their resilience, determination, and hopes for the future.

We hope that these images – filled with bright colors, radiant laughs, and contagious smiles – help transport you to their world and connect you with these women miles and miles away.

Below, meet Francine, Mayimuna, Consolee, and Houssina, four members of Umutima who shared how joining the cooperative has changed their lives.

“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.” – Francine
“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.” – Francine
“I have a job that I like. Working gives me independence and pride.” – Mayimuna
“I have a job that I like. Working gives me independence and pride.” – Mayimuna
“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.” – Consolee
“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.” – Consolee

“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.” – Houssina
“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.” – Houssina