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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog #africa

How the artisan sector can change the world

#artisans, #inspiring, #community, #africa, #indegodiaries

Did you know that the artisan sector is the second largest employer in the developing world, behind agriculture? That’s right: millions of people in developing countries around the globe—most of them women—participate in the artisan economy, practicing traditional crafts as a means to earn income and sustain their livelihoods.

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These numbers are exciting, and there are more where they came from. The global artisan economy is a $34 billion per year industry. Promisingly, countries in the developing world have a competitive advantage in this sector because of their rich cultural traditions, diverse artisanal skills, and unique raw materials. In fact, developing countries today account for 65 percent of handicraft exports around the world.

While these facts paint a powerful picture, the artisan sector still has a long way to go to reach its full potential as a sustainable source of income generation, employment, and economic growth for impoverished communities around the globe. This World Fair Trade Day, we—Indego Africa—wanted to take the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the artisan sector and share more about why we support artisans and fair trade.

First, a little bit about us: we are a nonprofit organization and design company dedicated to empowering artisan women in Africa. Founded in 2007, we partner with 1,000 artisans in Rwanda and, most recently, Ghana to sell home décor, apparel, and accessories that are designed in New York City and handmade in Africa—combining traditional techniques, local materials and amazing artisanal skill. We pool 100 percent of the proceeds from sales, with grants and donations, to run business and entrepreneurship training programs for the women who handcraft our products.

Our model combines access to market opportunities and access to education because these are some of the most pressing challenges that artisans in Africa, and across the developing world, face today. We help integrate artisans in Rwanda and Ghana into the global economy by bringing their products to the international market and providing them with fair, consistent income for their work.

Since day one, we have been committed to paying our partners fairly and in accordance with the Fair Trade Federation’s principles of respect, transparency and accountability (learn more about these values here). We believe that paying artisans fairly is both the right thing to do and the wise thing to do. It’s right because it honors the time, skill, artistry, and expertise that goes into the making of each product and treats people with the respect and dignity they deserve. It’s also wise because empowering artisans—and especially women—is a powerful way to drive economic growth and sustainable development in communities around the globe.

Since working with us, our Rwandan partners’ income has increased significantly (700 percent, to be exact) from approximately 25 cents a day in 2008 to, on average, $2.00 a day or more in 2015! These women use the income they earn to invest in the health, education, and well-being of their families. For example, today, 72 percent of our partners never run out of food (versus only 5 percent in 2008); 89 percent send all or most of their children to school (versus 50 percent in 2008); and 90 percent have medical insurance for their entire families.

We (along with many others) like to call this phenomenon the multiplier effect—that is, the reverberating positive impact that investing in women has on their families and also on their communities. However, we don’t stop at providing women with income. We like to ensure that our impact is self-sustaining by providing women with the education they need to become confident, independent businesswomen. Our training programs equip women with knowledge and skills that empower them to build their own sustainable businesses, create employment opportunities for others, and become agents of change in their communities.

Over the past nine years, we have seen firsthand the power of the artisan economy to improve livelihoods and drive sustainable development in socioeconomically marginalized communities in Rwanda (and soon, we hope, in Ghana). Around the world, there is still much to be done to truly harness the power of this sector. According to the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, the artisan sector remains “fragmented and under-resourced,” and many artisans continue to work “in isolated environments, without business skills, market access, and the financial tools needed to boost production and sales.”

With these challenges in mind, organizations and individuals that aim to make a difference by advancing fair trade and investing in the power of education—with an eye towards long-term, sustainable impact—are off to a good start.


ONE and Indego Africa teamed up last year to create an exclusive basket, woven with colorful sweetgrass and delivered with a note from the artisan by whom it was hand-crafted. You can find it now in the ONE store.

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#FunWithFriends - Brother Vellies

#funwithfriends, #africa, #handcrafted

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.

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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. 

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Crazy for Cowhorn: Indego Africa x Olivia Knox

#artisans, #collaboration, #impact, #handmade, #africa

If you haven’t noticed already: we’re crazy for cowhorn – its versatility, natural variation, and stark, organic beauty. It looks like you love it too because – due to growing demand for our cowhorn products – we recently began partnering with Uganda-based cowhorn supplier, Olivia Knox, to bring you more of this stunning material!

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Olivia Knox, founded by Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox, ethically manufactures products made out of Ankole cowhorn with the dual goal of bringing East African craftsmanship to luxury and lifestyle markets and conserving the indigenous Ankole cow, which is at risk of becoming extinct.

Ankole cows are known for their magnificent horns and are central to the rich culture and history of Uganda’s Bahima tribe, to which Olivia belongs. She says: 

“My people came from the horn of Africa – Ethiopia, Egypt, Somalia – nobody really knows. We migrated with our cows, looking for greener pastures. Our whole life revolved around this cow. It’s a distinct breed - with the largest horns of all the bovine species. We revere it. You find it every aspect of our lives. Our song and poetry. Our dance. If a women has beautiful eyes, you tell her her eyes look like those of a newborn cow – innocent and pure.” 

Despite the historically important role of Ankole cows, Ugandan farmers have begun to crossbreed the species with western cows that produce more milk, and thus, are more economically lucrative. These new cows have increasingly smaller, more brittle horns, and as the crossbreeding process continues, may cease to have horns all together.  

Olivia Knox is working to reverse that. By building market demand for Ankole cowhorn, Olivia Knox is seeking to create economic value for the cows and for the farmers who choose to keep their breeds pure. The stakes of this project are high, Olivia says, “If these cows become extinct, my culture will go with them.” 

Olivia, while raised in Kampala, spent much time growing up on her father’s ranch in Western Uganda where he had 1,500 cows – each of which, she says, he knew by name. While the personal and cultural symbolism of Ankole cows is deeply important to her, so also is the material itself. “It has a natural finish,” she says, “and it doesn’t need be glossed. How many other natural materials can you say that about? The color range is unbelievable – from black to ivory – every piece is different. No one else can ever have the same piece you have.”

We too cannot get enough of cowhorn’s unique and stunning color variations. From pieces that evoke deep amber sunsets to dark smoky nights, the range is striking and truly beautiful. Were Ankole cows to die out it would not only be a loss for Uganda, but for the rest of the world, which would no longer be able to experience the lustrous beauty of their horns. 

Olivia Knox is dedicated not only to conserving the Ankole cow species, but also to empowering the communities in which it works. While at the moment Shanley & Olivia partner with a local factory to manufacture their products, they plan to open up a factory of their own in the near future and to hire local Ugandan women to work there. Olivia Knox's commitment to entrepreneurship, empowerment and cultural appreciation fits right in with our mission and we are proud to betheir partner!

Click here to shop our cowhorn collection and here to learn more about Olivia Knox.

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Summer of Dreams

#inspiring, #inspiration, #summer, #new, #artisans, #africa

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our collaboration with Spoke Woven on a beautiful collection of textile dream catchers!

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To bring this dream to life, we sat down with Genga – the wildly creative designer behind the iconic oversized dream catchers of Spoke Woven. Over the course of one marvelous day, we learned all about the inspiration behind her craft and filmed an instructional video for our artisan partners so that they too could learn the art of dream catcher weaving.

IA x Spokewoven from Indego Africa on Vimeo.

Once the video was complete, we sent it along to the artisans of Ibyishimo who quickly mastered the new technique – handcrafting an array of gorgeous textile dream catchers that we are thrilled to now offer on our website. 

One of the {many} things we love about this collaboration is the deep cultural history and mythology surrounding dream catchers. A longstanding Native American tradition, dream catchers are meant to protect sleepers from bad dreams, allowing only positive ones to enter the minds of those at rest. The belief is that bad dreams will get caught in the dream catcher’s web and vanish when struck with the first rays of the morning sun. Happy dreams, on the other hand, will float through the hole in the center of the dream catcher and gently glide down the feathers or fabric to reach the sleeping person below.

We were delighted to bring these traditions across the globe to our artisan partners in Rwanda and we hope that you too will be inspired by the unique blend of Native American and Rwandan traditions encompassed in these textile wonders. As Genga likes to say: All dreams spin out of the same web.

Shop the Dream Catcher Collection >>>

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Staff Picks

#art, #africa

Sharing with you all the things we love - Staff pick by Brittany Barb – Branding Associate

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As a life-long lover of elephants, photography and a good coffee table book, I can’t get enough of Nick Brandt’s incredible collection, Across the Ravaged Land. It is the third in a trilogy of books depicting the disappearing animals of East Africa and its images of elephants are particularly beautiful (and heartbreaking).

Nick Brandt
Nick Brandt Photography
Nick Brandt Photography

Nick Brandt advocates against elephant poaching both through his powerful photography and his organization, the Big Life Foundation, which is dedicated to eradicating poaching activities in East Africa.

I promise this book will become a staple of your coffee table accoutrements. Speaking of accoutrements (and lovers-of-all-things-elephant) I can’t forget to mention Indego’s elephant pendant, my personal favorite, which I promise will also become a staple in your life!

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People, Places & Things

#art, #africa, #artisans

Magic Ladders Exhibit at the Barnes Museum We love people, places and things – here is a person that creates beautiful things that you can see at a place!

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Meet Yinka Shonibare – the artist behind the stunning and provocative Magic Ladders exhibit at The Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. Born in Britain but raised in Nigeria, Shonibare subversively examines the relationship between Europe and Africa through the colonial and postcolonial period.

The Magic Ladders exhibit is sponsored by Anthropologie and features Shonibare’s signature life-sized mannequins clothed in colorful Dutch wax fabrics produced in Europe but most closely associated with Africa (similar to those we package our products in!) These dramatic, playful, and irreverent sculptures are both visually spectacular and deeply thought provoking, inviting the viewer to think critically about notions of race, gender, and cultural identity*.

So if you’re in the Philly area, we highly recommend checking out this exhibit. And if you’re not then…ROAD TRIP!


Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders

The Barnes Foundation

2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy

Philadelphia, PA 19130

Dates: January 24-April 21

*Some language provided by the Barnes Museum.

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Let’s Get Up Close & Indego This Year

#africa, #handmade

A new year means new beginnings.

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New ideas that inspire, new goals that glisten, and new hope that spreads like wildfire.

We can’t wait to share new things with you this year. Whether it’s trendy new products, exciting new brand collaborations, or new stories about the incredible women artisans we partner with, we hope you’ll read all about it right here.

It’s time to get Up Close and Indego this year.

But before we say hello to 2014, we want to take a moment to reflect on all of the amazing things that happened in 2013.

This past year we:

Thank you to all our supporters, customers, donors and friends who helped us make all this and more happen in 2013! Now on to the next!

with love from New York City & Kigali,

Indego Africa

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