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Fun With Friends # 5 – Rose & Fitzgerald

Four years ago, husband-and-wife duo Courtney Rose & Laren Fitzgerald moved from California to Uganda, where they began the creative adventure that has since become known as…Rose & Fitzgerald! Inspired by the beautiful raw materials and craftsmanship of Uganda and East Africa, Rose & Fitzgerald sells simple, elegant home décor & jewelry, which is handmade from start to finish by local artisans in their Kampala-based design studio.

We love Rose & Fitzgerald’s gorgeous products—from geometric wooden candle holders, to brass jewelry, woven baskets & more—that artfully blend the founders’ sense of coastal living with their love for the indigenous materials, beautiful landscapes, and master craftspeople of Uganda.

Now back in California, Courtney & Laren continue to design their rare goods from afar, with the intention of surrounding themselves and the world with beauty that makes us all feel more alive. We chatted with Rose & Fitzgerald co-founder, Courtney, to hear more about her journey and the amazing artisans that R & F is partnering with. Check out our interview below! (Spoiler alert: it’s super inspiring and may incite wanderlust.)

So, you’re from California and spent three years living in Uganda, where you started Rose & Fitzgerald. Tell us  more about that: how did the adventure that is R&F begin? 

Starting Rose & Fitzgerald was an adventure, indeed! My husband Laren and I moved to Uganda in 2012 for his career with Bridgeway Foundation, which had several projects happening in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We chose to move to Uganda’s bustling capital, Kampala, as it was central, stable and rapidly developing. Almost instantly after moving there, I fell in love with the richness of the colors and textures of handmade goods found at markets, and was really impressed with the methodologies for crafting them. I began working with local artisans to decorate our big, empty house – designing items mixing my coastal, modern design perspective with the timeless methods of these master craftsmen. All of the goods that came back as a result of our collaborations were stunning, and I knew this was the beginning of something much bigger. Starting a business that would sustainably employ these talented artisans to practice their craft became a dream. Rose & Fitzgerald is that dream realized. 

We love the way your jewelry & homewares truly showcase the beauty of Ugandan craftsmanship and raw materials through simple, elegant designs. What is your design process like and where do you get your inspiration?  

My goal since day one has been to design products drawing inspiration from their African origins, while still being relevant to a modern home. We want each of our products to hold deeper meaning than what meets the eye. This means that every aspect of how the products are made, what materials are used and where the materials come from, is of great importance to us. We limit our collection to the use of local materials, like Teak and Mugavu hardwoods, indigenous Ankole horn, pure brass, and raffia and bukedo (a type of palm leaf). Working with natural colors (shades of tan, brown, black, ivory and gold) and textures is endlessly inspiring to me, and when I design new goods, I always focus on cohesion among our offering, which usually results in clean lines, and geometric shapes and patterns. I am purposeful about creating goods that will add warmth, contrast and character to a space; goods that are completely unique, imperfect and one of a kind. Typically, I create a mood board for a new collection and then sketch out my own design concepts, which my husband patiently turns into digital spec sheets (alongside his own designs), which we then pass on to our artisan team for sampling. The artisans almost always add their own unique touch to each design, and we love that their artistry and talent shines through in the end result. All that said, our designs are certainly a team process.

We’d love to hear more about your design studio and the artisans you work with. What kinds of changes do you see taking place in their lives? 

Our design studio in Kampala is a space we poured a great deal of love and energy into. We wanted this workshop to feel unlike any in Uganda, so we focused on making the space feel creative and energetic. More than anything, we wanted our studio to give these incredibly talented artists a space to master a craft they have practiced for years. Many of the techniques they use are sadly dying out, due to large craft factories, so we’re doing everything we can to preserve their traditional artistry. In a world where many artisanal goods are produced in factories and sold through mass marketing campaigns, the Rose & Fitzgerald studio was created in hopes of giving people something truly unique. Currently, we have a team of 9 full-time Ugandan staff working there each weekday, which includes a metal smith team, a cow horn team and a production/quality control manager. Tea is taken each morning before starting work, and a healthy lunch is provided in the beautiful, large yard everyday. We introduced the “Friday happy hour” tradition, which of course, has been received very well. I think the stability our artisans have within their well-paid roles, along with working each day in such a creative, free environment, gives the artisans a great deal of joy and allows them to focus on perfecting their art.

Your motto, “seek the rare,” is awesome. Can you tell us what that means to you?

Living in Uganda together was perhaps the greatest adventure of our lives. It opened our eyes to a completely new part of the world, allowed us to travel to far away places in Africa that we’d never even heard of, and discover so much unique talent, skill and beauty among many cultures. Simply put, we felt like we were always seeking out rare experiences, and we really wanted this to become the motto for our lives and our company. We made it our passionate commitment to look toward the forgotten places—shedding light on over-looked talent and designing and creating rare goods from far away places. And now, we invite everyone else to seek the rare in their own lives, however that may look for them. 

Do you have any favorite Indego products? If so, which ones & why?

Yes! I love the Double Pin Shade Hat and the Cutout Beach Tote. We moved from Uganda back to California about nine months ago, and spend so many of our evenings and weekends at the beach with our Rhodesian Ridgeback. The hat feels so fresh for summer and protects me from the sun, and the tote is the perfect carryall for things like sunscreen, a soft blanket and a good book. I know it will come in handy in a few months when our baby boy is here, and we have lots of baby gear to tote down to the beach as well! Both of these items feel so natural and simple while still being feminine and stylish. And of course, I absolutely love that they are handcrafted in Africa, empowering women to care for themselves and their families.