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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog #ghana

Introducing Mudcloth Poufs!

#handmade, #ghana

We are so excited to announce our newest piece of decor, handmade with heart for your home! Our brand-new ottoman poufs are upholstered using indigo mudcloth, hand-dyed in Mali & sourced in Kumasi, Ghana.

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Mudcloth, or bògòlanfini in Mali’s Bambara language, is a traditional Malian and West African textile that is typically made with—you guessed it—mud. The process begins with narrow strips of cloth which are dyed in baths of leaves or bark and left in the sun to dry. Once they’re dry, the cloths are painted with fermented mud and sewn together to create intricate patterns and symbols, all with different stories, myths, and meanings behind them.

 

We love the beautifully rustic look of this West African textile, so when we expanded to Ghana, we knew we needed to add mudcloth to our line! We teamed up with a local businessman named Alhaji to help us source the fabric.

Alhaji was born in Ghana but his ancestors came from Mali. As a child, he used to travel back and forth to visit his relatives and he loved to watch them make traditional mudcloths. When he grew up, he thought there might be a market for these textiles in Ghana and began to bring them to local craft fairs to see how they did. People loved them. 

Alhaji began traveling back to Mali more regularly to buy mudcloth and eventually built a relationship with an artisan group there. When we met with him, Alhaji was excited about the opportunity to create a more consistent market for their products and the artisans were happy to work with us on custom colors and designs. 

We started by carrying indigo mudcloth on our line as a tapestry and now are using it to upholster poufs and pillows, with more items to come! We love the unique story behind this product and the significance it holds as a symbol of Malian and West African culture and history. Plus, we love supporting this time-honored technique, which is 100 percent natural and eco-friendly from start to finish!

To shop our upholstered mudcloth poufs, and bring a touch of West African design to your home, click here. 

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Rad Dads

#ghana, #artisans, #community, #indegodiaries

It’s almost Father’s Day in the U.S., and we’re excited to give a special shout-out to some of our newest artisan partners: the 65 men of the Ahwiaa Woodcarvers Association in Ghana!

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While Indego Africa is known for working with women in Africa, some of our newest artisan partner groups in Ghana are made up of men (more on that here). While supporting women remains the core of our mission, we are also excited to work with these talented male artisans and to help them grow their own businesses and better provide for themselves and their families. So for Father’s Day this year, we thought we’d introduce you to some of these rad dads and the awesome artisan techniques they’re working with.

Woodcarving is a time-honored craft in Ghana with a rich cultural history (more on the myths & meanings behind it here). Legend has it that in olden times a man named Akwasi Yoyo traveled to the Ashanti kingdom of Denkyira, where he learned the craft of woodcarving. After mastering these skills, he brought his finished carvings back to his hometown (which today is called “Ahwiaa”) and showed them to the King. The King was so impressed that he instructed the entire village to learn and practice the art form. Since then, this beautiful craft has been passed down from family to family, generation to generation. 

The Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association carries on this legacy by continuing the practice of traditional wood-carving today, creating beautiful handmade products ranging from Ashanti warrior masks, to traditional fertility dolls, beaded stools, and more.

The handmade process all starts with—you guessed it!—wood. The carvers source wood from a nearby forest and work with a range of locally-grown trees, including cedar, tweneboa, mahogany, teak, and pawpaw. To create the intricately detailed wooden objects you see on our site, the artisans start by sketching their designs directly onto the wood and then carving out the desired shape with a hacking knife. They then switch to a smaller, more refined knife to shave the piece down and carve out fine details.

After sanding and polishing, the artisans add finishing touches and design elements to each product ranging from wood stains, to brightly colored paint, delicate beads, cowrie shells and more! The final results? Unique, handcrafted products that showcase Ghana’s beautiful raw materials, rich cultural histories, and impeccable craftsmanship.

For the artisans of the Ahwiaa Woodcarvers Association, woodcarving is not only a lifelong art form, but also a source of livelihood. As many of these craftsmen are dads, we chatted a few of them to hear more about what fatherhood means to them and why they come into work everyday. Here’s what they shared with us:

“Being a father is a difficult but important task. Sometimes when we wake up in the  morning, I have nothing in my pocket. All I want is to be able to provide for my family. I want to be able to give my children what they need in life to help them be successful and become good leaders in the future. It’s what every father wants.” – Adom Gyamfi

 

“I love it when my children welcome me and come to meet me when I return from work. It makes me happy to answer all their curious questions. I feel so proud when I hear good reports about my daughter from school. She is well known and applauded for her good conduct and her passion for keeping the school clean.” – Yaw Antwi.

 

We are so excited to support these artisans as they seek to support and enrich their families! To all the rad dads in Ghana and around the world, we wish you a very happy Father’s Day!

To shop products handmade by the artisans of the Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association, click here.  

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Where Modern Meets Traditional

#artisans, #inspiring, #handmade, #ghana

We are so excited to announce our brand-new Made-in-Ghana Series—a monthly blog and newsletter introducing you to the handmade processes, cultural histories, and, of course, talented artisans behind our Ghana collections!

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First up? The hand-carved wooden pieces of our new Modern Traditions collection. Inspired by traditional African ritual dolls, warrior masks, and Bamileke stools, the Modern Traditions collection celebrates the time-honored techniques and stories behind hand-carved wooden crafts in Ghana, while adding modern design elements and details.

 

Wood-carving has a rich cultural history in Ghana. Legend has it that in olden times a man named Akwasi Yoyo traveled to the Ashanti kingdom of Denkyira, where he learned the craft of wood-carving. After mastering these skills, he brought his finished carvings back to his hometown (which today is called “Ahwiaa”) and showed them to the King. The King was so impressed that he instructed the entire village to learn and practice the art form. Since then, this beautiful craft has been passed down from family to family, generation to generation.  

In the past, wood carving was used to create a wide range of items including: household utensils, combs, baby raddles, and furniture; drums for festivals; masks for ritual dances; figurines for religious practices; and, perhaps most significantly, the Ashanti Kings’ and Chiefs’ sacred stools. 

Indego Africa’s partner artisan group, the Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association, carries on his legacy by continuing the practice of traditional wood-carving today. Comprised of 65 artisans, the Association is located 30 minutes north of Kumasi, which is the capital of the Ashanti region and the heart of its artisan sector (as well as the bustling home-base of Indego Africa’s Ghana operations!)

The Ahwiaa Wood Carvers are known for their incredible craftsmanship, as well as the striking intricacy of their products and designs. However, despite these remarkable skills, the Carvers are struggling to sustain their business. Given the increasing accessibility of commercial goods in Ghana, fewer and fewer Ghanaians are seeking out hand-carved wooden products for their day-to-day purchases, favoring instead more readily-available, mass-produced goods. In this shifting landscape, the art and practice of traditional Ghanaian wood-carving is at risk of dying out.

We at Indego Africa are enamored by the beauty and history of Ghana’s wood-carving tradition and are dedicated to supporting the artisans that continue to practice and preserve this craft. By partnering with the Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association, we hope both to improve the livelihoods of Ghana’s wood carvers, as well as to create value and appreciation for their handmade craftsmanship around the world. 

Our new Modern Traditions collection features traditional African crafts and objects accented with elegant design details to create unique, storied objects that reflect the cultural history of Ghana while appealing to the design aesthetics and sensibilities of today’s modern global consumer. 

Our new Fertility, Namji, Nyamwezi, and Fali Dolls are inspired by  traditional Ashanti, Cameroonian, and Tanzanian ritual dolls that were thought to bring good luck to women trying to  conceive, as well as health and happiness to expecting mamas-to-be. Historically, women would wrap and carry these dolls on their backs as if they were children, a practice believed to induce pregnancy and ensure a safe delivery.

Our traditional Ashanti Fertility Doll is a pregnant woman carrying a baby on her back, which symbolizes a caring mother, both during pregnancy and after childbirth. These dolls have significance in each element of their design: they have a small mouth for a quiet baby, a large forehead for great intelligence, and a pregnant belly for good nutrition. We chose white beads to symbolize the innocence of the baby and love the delicate and elegant look they bring to the piece.

Our Warrior Masks are inspired by the traditional ceremonial pieces worn by Ashanti men during social and religious dance rituals. At one time, these masks were believed to bridge the gap between the spiritual and physical world, bringing the spirits of ancestors and forbearers to life. Warrior Masks were particularly significant in some of these rites, as they were meant to bring good luck to soldiers before battle. 

Our custom collection of Warrior Masks features sleek brass inlays, intricate beadwork, and beautiful cowrie shells (an ancient form of currency) to create striking, yet refined décor pieces. Designed to be hung on walls, either alone or together, our Warrior Masks will add a touch of majestic elegance to any home.

Last but not least, our Cameroonian-inspired Bamileke stools feature carved wooden animal figures, lined with white and black beading, as well as cowrie shell accents. They are truly one-of-a-kind pieces that also celebrate the long-standing Ashanti tradition of carving sacred wooden stools for the King, Queen, and Ashanti chiefs. 

We hope you love our Modern Traditions collection and the special stories, traditions, and practices it honors. To shop the products, click here

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We’re in Ghana! Find out why…

#indegodiaries, #education, #impact, #ghana

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!

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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.  

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Inspiration & Impact This Giving Tuesday

#artisans, #impact, #inspiring, #givingtuesday, #ghana

This Giving Tuesday, we are inspired by the incredible artisans we’ve met in Ghana who—against all odds—are determined to create brighter futures for themselves and their families.

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Since the beginning of Indego days, it has been our vision to change the lives of female artisans across Africa. That’s why, after eight years of impact in Rwanda, we are so excited to bring our mission to Ghana and empower more women who are deeply in need of resources and opportunities.

In Ghana’s poorest regions…

  • women on average earn less than 50 cents per day
  • almost 70% are illiterate
  • up to 50% have no formal education 

We are committed to addressing these inequities by providing artisans with opportunities to earn sustainable income, receive education, and achieve their dreams.

In January of 2016, we plan to complete our Ghana launch and bring life-changing economic empowerment and education programs to more than 150 local artisans.

But we need your support to make it happen. Help make an impact this Giving Tuesday.

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The Fertility Doll: A Story of Femininity, Motherhood and Wishes for Wellness

#inspiring, #artisans, #ghana

One of our favorite gifts for the holiday season this year is our just-launched handmade-in-Ghana wooden fertility doll. This beautiful statuette is a traditional symbol of femininity, fertility, and motherhood in Ghana’s Ashanti region, and we simply love its special meaning and history.

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In Ghanaian mythology, fertility dolls are thought to bring good luck to women trying to conceive, as well as health and happiness to expecting mamas-to-be. Historically, women would wrap and carry these dolls on their backs as if they were children, a ritual believed to induce pregnancy and ensure a safe delivery. How beautiful is that? 

Our Indego fertility doll is a pregnant woman carrying a baby on her back, which symbolizes a caring mother, both during pregnancy and after childbirth. These dolls have significance in each element of their design: they have a small mouth for a quiet baby, a large forehead for great intelligence, and a pregnant belly for good nutrition. We chose white beads to symbolize the innocence of the baby. We know all mamas and mamas-to-be have hearts full of wishes for their babies and children, and we love that these special dolls can help these women carry those wishes during both pregnancy and beyond. 

We love the rich history and beautiful meaning behind these dolls and think they make an extra-special gift for all moms, women, and mamas-to-be. We hope you agree!

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Babies & Bolgas!

#collaboration, #forthebabes, #ghana, #babiesandbolgas

Babies…bolgas…babies & bolgas! We were so excited about our newest kiddie clothes & fresh-from-Ghana basket collections that we decided to put them together in a brand new, oh-so-cute photoshoot!

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The wool vests & hats you see in the images below are made by the artisans of Handspun Hope - a True Vineyard Ministries {link: http://www.truevineyard.org/what-we-do/handspun-hope} empowerment initiative that employs  58 people in Rwanda to handspun & dye 100% organic merino wool {to learn more about our partnership, click here}The bolga baskets, a traditional Ghanaian craft, are handwoven out of locally-grown straw and are the latest addition to our quickly growing Ghana collection.

We hope you love these photos and the handmade-with-heart  products in them! You can shop these collections here PLUS find some new made-with-love-in-Rwanda goodies for you and your little ones. Think wrapped wire flamingos, our best-selling “I Heart Bunny,” and our go-to print rompers and bloomers styled for fall.

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