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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog #weaving

#MakersMonth: The Beauty of Banana Leaf

#makersmonth, #artisans, #inspiring, #weaving

We love creating products made from the natural raw materials of Rwanda: imigwegwe, sisal, palm…and banana leaf! A quintessential part of any Rwandan landscape, banana trees – which look like miniature palms – grow abundantly atop the country’s beautiful green rolling hills, and their leaves have been used for centuries to weave traditional Rwandan baskets.

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We are so excited about some of our newest banana leaf products – like floppy floor baskets & summer beach totes– whose simple, airy, and elegant design highlight the beautiful artistry of the artisans who make them – the 30 talented women of the Twiyubake cooperative!

Located in Kayonza in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, Twiyubake is made up of female genocide survivors who work side-by-side with the wives of imprisoned génocidaires. A powerful and inspiring group of women, they first met in 2007 through a nonprofit called the Prison Fellowship, which seeks to promote reconciliation among people affected by genocide. 

The Prison Fellowship hired a local artisan to teach the women how to weave banana leaves as a way to help them earn income while working together to foster reconciliation. In 2008, we began our partnership with Twiyubake and over the years have helped them to refine their skills and create new, innovative products designed to add a touch of natural, Rwandan beauty to your life and home (and hearts!).

The artisans of Twiyubake often pick their banana leaves by hand from local plantations or sometimes buy them from a distributor. Once the leaves are harvested, they are left out in the sun to dry and take on varying shades of brown, black, and white depending on the length of their tanning time and the type of tree they come from. They can also be dyed to take on deep new hues from the brightest of pinks to the darkest of indigo blues.

Once the leaves are dried, dyed, and ready-to-go, the artisans use them to weave a range of beautiful products, altering their techniques based on the specificities of each object. For example the artisans will use their fingers to twist and weave the banana leaves by hand to make bag handles or bracelets, but will braid them to make baskets. To create more complex items – like woven stools or chairs – they will often use a needle and thread to finely weave the leaves into the desired shape and size.

Whatever the technique, their final products are always beautiful, intricate, rustic yet refined, and true testaments to the natural beauty of Rwanda and the remarkable artistry that resides there.

To shop our newest collection of woven, banana leaf pieces, click here

This post is part of our #MakersMonth — a July-long campaign celebrating the incredible artistry and skill of the master-makers who handcraft our products!  To learn more, click here

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The Peace Basket

#artisans, #inspiring, #inspiration, #new, #weaving, #handmade, #community, #peace, #hope

We recently added traditional Rwandan peace baskets to our home decor collection. In addition to being unique and beautiful items, these baskets also have a poignant history that make them all the more special.

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Following the genocide in Rwanda, women were left to pick up the pieces of their shattered country. In order to provide for themselves, their families, and the countless orphans left in the destruction's wake, many banded together to form artisan cooperatives {like the incredible ones we partner with today}.

Women who had been caught on both sides of the country’s violence – both Hutus & Tutsis – came together to make traditional Rwandan baskets, which have since earned the title of “peace baskets.” By working and weaving together, these women were able to overcome their tragic pasts and foster peace, hope, and reconciliation in the face of enmity and despair.

To this day, peace baskets are a powerful symbol in Rwanda. They represent the generosity, compassion, and forgiveness that have helped this country to rise from its ashes towards a brighter future.

Shop Peace Baskets >>>

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#artisans, #weaving, #inspiring

Beatrice is the Secretary of Gakamba group, part of the Imirasire cooperative known for its vibrant and intricately woven plateau baskets.

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Before joining the Imirasire family, Beatrice worked for many years as a primary school teacher, providing a crucial service for a generation of children whose education had been violently disrupted by the 1994 genocide. 

In 2003, she was selected to become a community educator for the Gacaca jurisdictions—a transitional justice system that was created to address the massive buildup of cases awaiting trial following the genocide. The Gacaca courts were comprised of village councils that conducted public trials aimed both at trying the accused and fostering country-wide reconciliation.

Beatrice joined Imirasire in 2007 and has worked there as a weaver ever since. She uses her income to support her four children and hopes to own a farm someday.

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Inspiration from Rwanda

#artisans, #community, #weaving

Guest post by: Nicole Heim // There is something very special about an item that is handmade. Great care and quality goes into a product when a single craftsperson sees it from start to finish. When that same product also empowers a female artisan, you have a deeply meaningful end result.

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Upon arriving at Cocoki, the sewing cooperative where I’m training a group of five women, I found a large room of highly skilled artisans. While I may have been teaching Claire, Florence, Ngabire, Beata and Goretti a few skills they hadn’t already mastered, you wouldn’t have known it by watching. As I presented each new piece of information, they quickly digested and executed every step, thoroughly and thoughtfully. They collaboratively worked to measure, cut, and sew with special attention to detail, taking initiative when necessary, proving just how capable they are.

In addition to my time spent training at Cocoki, I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to various other cooperative partners of Indego Africa. Each group of artisans possesses their own set of skills, and every woman holds a unique spirit and smile. The walls and windows of each co-op provide a backdrop of inspiration through varying color, pattern and texture.

As the language barrier makes communication difficult, I love to observe the ladies at work. From the outside looking in, I see a family. The women enjoy each other’s company, and many bring their young children to work. As a toddler sits at a sewing machine or a baby sleeps strapped to her mother’s back, it seems clear that when you empower a woman you empower a generation.

Furthermore, the work of Indego Africa offers meaningful ways to empower that extend far beyond a needle and thread. In addition to having an access to income that allows the artisans to send their kids to school and provide for their families, they also receive invaluable education, which instills confidence and encourages them to be independent businesswomen.

I feel very fortunate to have witnessed these initiatives first hand, and to have met many of the female artisans who are being positively affected by them. When you make your next purchase, know that each handmade step was done with meticulous care, and that it’s truly impacting the life of a woman in Rwanda.

want more? check out Nicole’s beautiful blog

photos courtesy of Nicole Heim
photos courtesy of Nicole Heim
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Rebuilding Through Design

#artisans, #handmade, #weaving, #impact

We’re super excited to tell you about a recent collaboration between Judith Haentjes, a Dutch product designer, and the ladies of Twiyubake—one of our first partner cooperatives.

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We’re super excited to tell you about a recent collaboration between Judith Haentjes, a Dutch product designer, and the ladies of Twiyubake—one of our first partner cooperatives. Twiyubake specializes in the art of banana leaf weaving, a complex and challenging technique. Judith, who works mainly with organic & recycled materials, embraced this challenge, collaborating with the women to create innovative new products with a distinctly geometric feel.

The women of Twiyubake are especially impressive not only for their exceptional artisanal skills, but also their backstory. The word “Twiyubake” means “to rebuild ourselves” in Kinyarwanda, and this is exactly what these women are doing. Made up of genocide widows working side-by-side with the wives of imprisoned génocidaires, this remarkable cooperative fosters unity and reconciliation in post-conflict Rwanda. Here’s what Judith had to say about working with them:

“I had the honor and pleasure to work with seven women, who are part of the Twiyubake family. I spent two weeks with them in their workspace. Together we experimented with banana leaves and developed some new products for Indego Africa. It was an absolutely touching experience for me, as they welcomed me warmly, were extremely open towards me and motivated to make the most out of the weeks.

It was definitely a new experience for both sides. Me as a European product designer travelling to the countryside of Rwanda to collaborate with women that I don’t share a language with (I had a translator) and that are culturally very different from me. And on the other side seven women from Kayonza that have a designer, a profession that they don’t fully grasp, coming to work with them. We definitely needed a warming up period with each other, but it became such a successful time because we stayed open to each other. In addition these ladies are very distinguished in their craft and have a great group dynamic, which makes it very easy to work with them. After two weeks I had learned so many things about these women’s lives and became so fond of them that it was difficult for me to leave. All of them are truly fascinating, lovely, warm and talented women.”

Photographs from Twiyubake courtesy of Judith Haentjes
Photographs from Twiyubake courtesy of Judith Haentjes
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