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Up Close & Indego

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Fun and Friendship Bracelets with Frieda & Nellie!

We love, love, love the bright and bejeweled friendship bracelets of NYC-based jewelry company, Frieda & Nellie. Co-founded by real-life best friends, Stacy Herzog and Sarah Berk, Frieda & Nellie combines intricately patterned knotted bracelets (a throwback to the founders’ summer camp days) with rare vintage jewels from the 1920s-70s to create fun yet sophisticated collections of jewelry in which each piece tells a story.

We teamed up with Frieda & Nellie to create a custom collection of friendship bracelets, which celebrates our shared love of vibrant colors, eclectic combinations, and, of course, the beauty of friendship! Our limited edition Frieda & Nellie for Indego Africa bracelets (handcrafted with heart in Rwanda) feature neon-bright patterned friendship bracelets, which are accented with cowhorn buttons for a unique, eye-catching look. We sat down with Sarah and Stacy to chat about our collaboration and hear what they had to say on inspiration, design process, entrepreneurship, and more. Read on to get the inside scoop!

So, let's start at the beginning. How did you two meet and what inspired you to create your ultra-colorful (and coveted!) jewelry line, Frieda & Nellie?

Stacy: We met during the summer of 2006. I was a wide-eyed college sophomore interning in New York City at Natori lingerie for the summer. Sarah worked there. We hit it off and ended up spending lots of time vintaging, painting and making things together. Frieda and Nellie came to be after a trip I took to Ecuador in 2009. I came back with lots of amazing, vibrant friendship bracelets and was so inspired that Sarah and I started making new bracelets like the ones we’d learned to make at summer camp when we were tweens. We started mixing the patterns we created with embroidery thread, rhinestone and metal vintage pieces we picked up at flea markets and vintage stores in NYC on weekends.  

Sarah: We were walking by my apartment in Gramercy Park when an editor from Women's Wear Daily grabbed my wrist and asked who made the bracelets. We said: “we do!” Next thing we know we are featured in a story called "The New Deals" and had huge orders within a few days. 

We love your mantra "Reuse, Repurpose, Reinvent!" What does this phrase mean to you and how does it infuse your jewelry and design process? 

Stacy: The vintage pieces we use to make the core of our jewelry are storytelling pieces. We love that they have had a history before we discovered them—that each piece has already lived a life and meant something to its owner(s) and then, rather then sitting in a jewelry box collecting dust or be thrown away, we are able to give it a new life by making into a new piece and incorporating friendship bracelets somehow. 

At Indego, we are endlessly inspired by the incredible women we work with in Rwanda and Ghana, so naturally we love that Frieda & Nellie was inspired by two awesome women in your lives – your grandmothers! We’d love to hear a little more about them and how they influence you, whether in life, business, or design.

Stacy: Nana Frieda was a very strong New Yorkie woman. She wore the pants in every relationship she had…She continues to inspire me to stick to my guns and stay true to myself. 

Sarah: My Mammaw Benton was so creative and could make and do anything.  She could see a picture of an outfit in Vogue, be inspired to make something beautiful, and then cut it out without a pattern to fit perfectly. She taught me to sew and to embrace my creativity in all sorts of ways. She was such a strong, hard working, creative powerhouse of a woman.

What motivated you to collaborate with Indego Africa?

Stacy: We love what Indego Africa stands for. We strive to empower women and love how proactive Indego Africa is. We are honored to work with such amazing women to create such beautiful and special things!

Many of the amazing women we partner with in Rwanda and Ghana are aspiring entrepreneurs. As two rockstar entrepreneurs yourselves, what advice would you give to them?

Stacy: Try not to be intimidated. If you have an idea, try it out and amazing things may happen. Most importantly: obstacles are going to make you, your ideas and your business stronger, tougher, better and stronger!

Sarah: You can't plan it out too much, sometimes you just need to jump in full force and figure it out along the way.  Also, I truly believe that you have to love what you do to be successful at it.  So embrace it all, and have fun doing it.

To shop our Indego Africa x Frieda & Nellie  collection (for you and a friend – or two!), click here

#indegodiaries, #education, #impact, #ghana

We’re in Ghana! Find out why…

It’s official! After eight years in Rwanda, Indego Africa is now up and running in Ghana—bringing our mission of economic empowerment and education to artisans in the Kumasi region and beyond. But, you might be wondering, why Ghana? How did we decide to expand there and what has the process been like? Read on to have all your questions answered and be the first to get the inside scoop on our exciting initiatives to come!

Since the beginning of Indego days, it's been our vision to expand our organization beyond Rwanda and into further countries in Africa. Why? Because we are passionate about empowering female artisans across the continent and committed to equipping as many women as possible with the tools and resources they need to achieve their full potential.

However, before we could embark on such an expansion (and do so in a responsible, sustainable way) it was crucial for us to establish a strong foundation in Rwanda—to build out our programs, staff and infrastructure, validate our impact, and develop best practices along the way.

In 2013—with thousands of lessons taught, orders for our artisan partners on the rise, and a strong in-country team in place—we began the first stages of our country expansion due diligence process (much thanks to a grant from the AllPeopleBeHappy Foundation!) We conducted extensive research on ten different African countries, considering a wide range of factors such as infrastructure, governance, levels of corruption, human rights, logistics, pre-existing artisan activity and, most importantly, social impact needs.

We eventually narrowed down our selection to three countries: Ghana, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. It was a tough decision, but in the end we went with Ghana for several key reasons (and Ethiopia and Tanzania aren’t off the table for future expansions!) First, Ghana is a democratic, politically stable country with strong financial institutions, legal frameworks, and ease of doing business—factors which are important as they affect our ability to manage our supply chain, export products, and provide sustainable income for artisans.  

Ghana also has a rich cultural tradition of craft-making, with a beautiful range of artisan techniques and products that differ greatly from those we work with in Rwanda—think brightly-woven kente cloth, intricate wood carvings, rustic bolga straw baskets, handmade ceramic beads, and more. 

The most compelling reason behind our expansion to Ghana, however, was the deep need for social impact there. While Ghana has a higher GDP than Rwanda, it obscures the vast income inequality that affects the majority of its citizens. In Ghana’s poorest regions, women on average earn less than 50 cents per day, almost 70% are illiterate, and up to 50% have no formal education.

Despite these statistics, Ghana is a highly entrepreneurial country with undeniable dynamism—traveling through its busy streets it feels as though there is hardly anyone who isn’t hustling to make a living by selling some sort of product. While the energy is infectious, the overwhelming prevalence of people selling in the street illustrates the serious challenges that many Ghanaians face—lack of markets to sell their goods and lack of education needed to start and run businesses. 

The artisan sector in Ghana is no exception. Despite their incredible talent and skills, local artisans struggle to find customers for their goods and do not earn consistent or sufficient income for their work. We at Indego Africa are committed to changing that!

As of October 2015, we are now partnering with eight artisan groups in Kumasi, the capital of Ghana’s Ashanti Region, to help them improve their livelihoods and succeed as entrepreneurs. We’ve hired two fantastic staff members and are growing our vibrant Ghana product collection (check out the good stuff here.) Our Basic Business Training programs start TODAY, February 2nd, with 50 students participating Tuesday and Thursday (25 students/class) for the next six months. 

While our initial programs closely mirror those which have been so successful in Rwanda, it is important to note that, of course, there are some key differences between the two countries that have required us to adjust and recalibrate our model. For example, unlike artisans in Rwanda who almost uniformly work in structured cooperatives, artisans in Ghana tend to operate in loosely-affiliated groups and often work on their own. The artisan sector in Ghana is by and large younger than that of Rwanda and also more male-dominated, as many of the ancient crafts its artisans practice were at one time reserved for the Ashanti king and chiefs—a distinctly male domain.

While we are excited to support these male artisans, we are also fully committed to continuing our founding and driving mission of empowering women. Thus, we will take on a greater advocacy role in Ghana, educating and incentivizing local groups to employ more women, while also facilitating the formation of new women-owned artisan groups. We hope to better integrate women into the artisan sector, which will both increase its productivity and create a powerful multiplier effect across Ghanaian communities (women in the developing world on average invest 90% of their income in their families.)

The artisan sector is, in fact, the second largest employer in the developing world. Yet, despite its potential, the industry remains untapped as a resource for income generation, job creation, and economic growth. We are dedicated to changing this in Ghana, Rwanda, and beyond (!) by providing artisans with the access to markets, vocational training, and education they need to take their businesses to the next level. We hope you’ll stay tuned as we continue this adventure, creating a vibrant and empowering artisan sector for generations to come!

To support our Ghana initiative, please click here.