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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog

#collaboration, #mama

Celebrating Motherhood – HATCH x Indego Africa

As an organization that celebrates motherhood around the world, we are so excited to announce our partnership with HATCH! One of our favorite mama brands, HATCH is known for its chic and timeless maternity clothes that are perfect for before, during, and after pregnancy.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we teamed up with HATCH to create a capsule collection of hand-embroidered t-shirts for mamas (and onesies for the babes!) that celebrates comfort, creativity, and the joy of motherhood. The collection features 100% linen (and oh-so-comfy) HATCH t-shirts and classic cotton onesies, with cute phrases and icons that are hand-embroidered by the talented artisans of the IBABA cooperative in Rwanda.

 

We are so excited about this collection, made for moms, by moms, in Rwanda. Scroll down to see images of our HATCH x Indego Africa products, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at the handmade process behind the collection’s hand-embroidery. PLUS, keep your eyes peeled for more exciting features to come in the month of May, including inspiring quotes and stories from the mama-makers of IBABA and an exclusive interview with one of our favorite superstar moms, HATCH-founder, Ariane Goldman. Shop the collection here!

Baskets Baskets Baskets!

We <3 a good basket stack.

​At Indego Africa, we are all about the baskets! We love bright colors and patterns and can always get behind a good black and white. Whether fringed catchalls, classic plateaus, or lidded minis, our handwoven baskets are the perfect way to liven up any space or home. Check out some of our faves below!

#funwithfriends, #africa, #handcrafted

#FunWithFriends - Brother Vellies

We are obsessed with the safari chic footwear of ethical fashion brand Brother Vellies! Founded by designer Aurora James, Brother Vellies celebrates traditional African craftsmanship and style, while also creating sustainable jobs for artisans on the continent.

With shoes handmade in South Africa, Kenya, and Morocco, Brother Vellies offers a range of swoon-worthy sandals, heels, and booties that draw on local raw materials and ethically-sourced animal products (think: leather, fur, mohair & more.)

We can’t get enough of Brother Vellies’ fierce footwear so we decided to team up with them for a photoshoot featuring their best-selling shoes and our brand-new apparel line. We love the way our African printed textiles play off Brother Vellies’ textural, striking footwear for an all-around culturally-inspired and (ethically) fashion-forward look. Check out our shoot below and get inspired to create your own made-in-Africa look. 

#inspiring, #handmade

Made-in-Ghana: The Brass Edition

We’re excited to bring you the second installment of our new made-in-Ghana series—a monthly blog and newsletter introducing you to the amazing handmade processes, cultural histories, and, of course, talented artisans behind our Ghana product lines! This week, we’re taking a behind-the-scenes look at our new recycled brass collection, made by hand, with heart, using the ancient art of lost-wax casting (trust us - it’s as cool as it sounds.)

Tucked away amidst shady banana trees, in the heart of the Krofrom village, lies Krofrom Brass—the artisan workshop behind the handcrafted home décor and jewelry pieces of our new brass product collection. The Krofrom workshop is run by Akwasi Nortey, master brass craftsman and father of four, who first learned the art as a child from his own father, who learned it from his.

Metal-working runs in Akwasi’s family and the art-form has been passed down from generation to generation, starting with his great-great grandfather who was the revered jewelry-maker of the Ashanti King and Chiefs, known for crafting elaborate gold adornments to be worn during official rituals and ceremonies.  While at that time the fruits of metal-working were reserved only for those of the highest status, over the years the products became popularized and more and more people began to order and buy items made from silver, gold, and brass, which was less expensive.

Today, Akwasi helps keep the art of metal-working alive through his family business, which employs 11 people who use the ancient technique of lost-wax casting to create beautifully detailed pieces out of local recycled brass. But, you might be wondering, what does wax have to do with it? Keep reading to find out.

The whole handmade brass process, in fact, begins with wax. Step one? The artisans use beeswax to create a model of the object they would like to create. They then cover the model with a mixture of ash, palm fiber, and clay to make a protective mold (leaving an opening at the bottom.) Once the mold is dry, they place it in a pot over fire so that the beeswax inside will melt and seep out, leaving behind an empty cast of the item they wish to make. They then pour in melted brass, wait for it cool and harden, and finally crack open the mold, revealing beautifully golden shapes and designs that are then sanded and polished to become finished products.

We are in awe of this complex, magical process and the incredible handmade products that come out of it. It is a process that spans days—that involves remarkable knowledge, skill, artistry and patience to get just right—and is truly a labor of love for Krofrom’s artisans. 

One of our newest products celebrates this handmade process, as well as the aspirations of those who have made it their lives’ work. Our new Indego Africa Brass Wishbone represents the wishes, hopes, and dreams of our artisan partners, while adding a beautiful, sculptural touch to any home. 

In honor of this new product launch, we asked Akwasi about his wishes for the future—the future of his business, his family, and his community. Here’s what he shared with us: 

“I would like to make a name for myself and be well known in my community as someone who taught young people the brass-making trade and helped them gain a source of income. I would like my children who are interested in the brass business to take over and expand our workshop, and I would support them in any way possible to help them learn the trade and continue the business. I would especially like to teach my daughter all aspects of the brass trade. There are very few females in the brass business and I would like her to be one of them. In the future, I hope to provide vocational training to young people in my community and open a shop in the city center to sell the beautiful brass products we make.”

We hope you are as inspired as we are by Akwasi’s wishes and by the beautiful handmade process that he and others use to create their brass masterpieces.

To shop the Indego Africa brass collection, click here

#inspiring, #indegodiaries, #education

Meet the inspirational female entrepreneurs of Indego Africa Leadership Academy

Last April, we published a story on ONE.org about the inspiring female entrepreneurs we work with in Rwanda. The piece featured students from the inaugural class of the Indego Africa Leadership Academy—an institution in Kigali, Rwanda dedicated to building powerful businesswomen, entrepreneurs, and leaders across the country.

This April—one year after their graduation—we sat down with these very same women to find out how their time at the Leadership Academy had impacted them. We wanted to know: How had their lives changed? How were they putting the business skills they had learned into action? And what were the results? The answers we got were nothing short of astounding.

But let’s take a step back. First, a few words on our Leadership Academy. The Indego Africa Leadership Academy, launched in October 2014, is a free-of-cost, six-month advanced business training program (the only one of its kind in Rwanda) that enrolls 25 students per semester. The program was created in response to the incredible achievements of some of our artisan partners who, having mastered our basic business training courses, were eager to take their education to the next level.

Students at the Leadership Academy study advanced lessons in accounting, marketing, supply chain management, product innovation, technology and more. They are then able to apply the knowledge they learn to the real-life context of their artisan enterprises, something which the World Bank contends is crucial for the long-term success and viability of business training programs in the developing world.

As one of our Leadership Academy graduates, Annonciatha, said: “Many people have vocational skills but lack business skills. Others have business skills and lack vocational skills. By combining both together, Indego Africa helps us use our knowledge to become truly competitive in the market.”

So, how are our Leadership Academy graduates using their knowledge outside of the classroom? For starters, all of our graduates have used the lessons they learned to improve the management of their businesses. They’ve set up new systems to track and manage inventory (Just walking into one of their workplaces allows you to see the difference—talk about organized shelves!); they’ve developed budgets; built out savings and growth plans; created new marketing strategies; diversified their products; instituted better bookkeeping systems and more.

As one of our graduates, Laurence, said about the artisan cooperative she is a member of, Abasangiye, “Before, we didn’t know much about how to manage a business. At the Leadership Academy, we learned how to organize our financial records, logging our expenses and revenues separately. We learned how to work with banks and opened up our first bank account. We learned the meaning of customer care and have improved the way we communicate with clients. We even created a plan to increase our revenue by 20 percent this year.”

Many students are using their Leadership Academy lessons to help generate new, local business for their artisan products. For example, one of our students, Marie Josee, said: “Before we didn’t know how to market our products. We used to sit around and wait for orders to come to us. Now, we go out into our communities and try to find markets on our own. For example, we started knitting uniforms and brought them around to local primary schools. At one of the schools, the principal loved them so much that she ordered sweaters from us on the spot.”

In addition to improvements made at their artisan cooperatives, many students have gone on to start their own businesses. While most have begun with small-scale enterprises (like selling agricultural goods or breeding livestock), others have hit the ground running with larger operations. For example, one of our graduates, Daphrose, recruited 14 people to band together and start a brick-building business, which now contracts up to 60 laborers per month depending on the project.

Daphrose said that before starting at the Leadership Academy, she noticed that there were a lot of construction projects going on in her community. She thought that there might be a good market opportunity there, but felt that she didn’t have enough money to get a business going, let alone the skills to manage it.

At the Leadership Academy, Daphrose learned how to create a viable business plan and gained the management knowledge and skills she felt she had lacked before. She also gained the confidence to recruit others from her community to set up a cooperative and pool their capital in order to get the business off the ground.

Together, they’ve created a plan to bring in 5 million Rwandan Francs by the end of the year (around $6,400 USD) and are well on their way to doing so, having already secured orders from several primary schools in their community. In Daphrose’s mind, “anything is possible if you set a goal,” and we have no doubt that she will be successful in meeting hers!

Many students also highlighted the way the Leadership Academy connects artisan women from across the country to help them learn from one another and build valuable networks. Since graduating, the Leadership Academy students continue to leverage these networks to support each other in myriad ways. For example, now when tourists come to Cocoki Cooperative and ask about where to buy traditional Rwandan baskets, Cocoki directs them to the sweetgrass-weaving cooperatives, Covanya and Imirasire. (You can find bracelets woven by women of the Imirasire Cooperative at the ONE store!)

Imirasire’s Leadership Academy graduates, recognizing the benefit of diversifying their group’s skill sets, hired the grads from Cocoki to teach their members how to sew. Since then, they have saved up money to buy several sewing machines and have begun a small apparel collection, which they showcase and sell from their workplace.

This spirit of mutual assistance—of collaboration and empowerment—is pervasive among all of our Academy graduates. As Jacqueline, the president of Twiyubake Cooperative and a Leadership Academy grad, expressed: “It’s important to me to use my knowledge to uplift others. It’s a cycle, and I want to give back.”

Today, our Leadership Academy graduates are doing exactly that—using their education to give back to their communities and make a difference in the lives of countless others. They are building powerful networks of skilled, confident, and hopeful women who are creating employment opportunities and economic growth across their country, all while setting new precedents for what women can achieve.

We couldn’t be more proud of the first graduating class of our Leadership Academy and are thrilled to report that the results continue to come in! 

Of the 25 students in our second Leadership Academy class, 52 percent started a new business, 12 percent expanded a pre-existing business; and the remaining 36 percent plan to start a new business in the near future. 

These women have employed eight additional people so far, with, we’re sure, many more to come!

As Annonciatha said, “There is where we have come from and where we are going. Twenty-two years ago, Rwanda was in a dark place. Today, our leaders are moving our country towards development, and we are helping them get there.”

To support our Leadership Academy and empower female entrepreneurs in Rwanda, click here.

#indegodiaries, #inspiring, #education, #leadership academy, #hope, #peace

Rwanda’s Inspiring Entrepreneurs | Genocide Remembrance Day 2016

Today, April 7th 2016, marks the 22nd commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, when more than 1,000,000 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.

In light of this day, we want to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate the incredible progress that Rwanda has made over the past two decades. Before the genocide, women in Rwanda did not have equal rights as men—they could not inherit land, open a bank account, or work outside the home without their husband’s permission.

However, when the genocide ended, Rwanda was 70% female—women were left to rebuild their country. They cared for children on their own and took in orphans; they paved roads and repaired buildings; they sowed fields and collected the harvest. They tried as best they could to piece their lives back together.

The new Rwandan government recognized that, in order to move their country forward, they needed to invest in policies that promoted the rights of women. Through their concerted efforts, and women-led activism movements across the country, Rwanda passed new laws to advance women’s rights and increase their participation in the workforce, as well as in government. Today, women make up 64% of Rwanda’s parliament—the highest representation in the world!

Even with these remarkable achievements, though, Rwanda still has a long way to go. To this day, more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, women are far less likely than men to have wage-paying jobs (when they do, they earn on average 50% less than men), and 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence.

In this landscape, our Leadership Academy—a six-month advanced business education program in Kigali, Rwanda—is helping women to move their country forward.

The Indego Africa Leadership Academy was founded in 2014 with a mission to empower the next generation of powerful female leaders, entrepreneurs, and businesswomen in Rwanda. The program focuses on teaching women advanced management skills that they can use to grow their own businesses, become entrepreneurs, and drive economic growth in their communities. {For more details, see here.}

The second class of our Leadership Academy graduated on January 14th, 2016 and we could not be more proud of their accomplishments! Of the 25 students, 52% started a new business; 12% expanded a pre-existing business; and the remaining 36% plan to start a new business in the near future.

Those who started new businesses hired 8 people and are now earning on average an additional 52,500 Rwandan Francs or $70 per month. These women are now not only better able to provide for themselves and their families but are also creating employment opportunities and economic growth in their communities—paying it forward and using their newfound knowledge and skills to uplift others along the way (how great is that?!)

As we look towards the future, we are so excited to introduce you to our third Leadership Academy class, which began the course on January 20th! We chatted with them to find out what they were most excited to learn and hear their thoughts on the importance of education for women in Rwanda, as well as their hopes for the future. Here’s what they had to say:

Beatha, Cocoki Cooperative

“I am so excited to learn about financial management, business plans, and how to work with banks. Once I find out, I’m going to create my own business plan and ask the bank for a loan.”

Celine, Ingenzi Knit Union

“I want to use what I learn at the Leadership Academy to improve my cooperative and empower other women. On a personal level, I plan to start saving, budgeting, and recording my expenses so that I can open my own business one day. I hope for all of us that we continue to live well and do the work that we love.”

Aisha, Covanya Cooperative

“Because women are the hearts of their families, my hope is that we will continue to develop ourselves and invest in our children, who will in turn contribute to the development of our country.”

Jacqueline, Imirasire Cooperative

“Education is important because it will help us  increase our confidence and be bold in all that we do.”

Josephine, Ibaba Cooperative

“I am excited to learn Word and Excel programs to improve financial records and communication at my cooperative.”

Liberatha, Ingenzi Knit Union

“Education is the foundation of community development. When you educate a woman, you give her the means and the power to educate her children, and that is an important thing.”

Judith, Ejo Hazaza Cooperative  

“My goal is to share the knowledge I receive with other women in the community and equip them with skills so that we can all start businesses and provide for our families. I hope that we will be able to eradicate poverty through  access to educational opportunities for all.” 

We are so inspired by these women and all they have set out to achieve. They have a powerful vision for their own and their country’s futures, and we have no doubt that—with the right tools and resources—they will achieve it. 

To help these aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders realize their dreams, click here.