I stumbled across this beautiful brand on social media recently and quickly felt inspired to do a little research about what this organization was all about. I am so moved by the mission and purpose of Indego Africa – it is such a breath of fresh air and so encouraging to see the huge change happening in families, communities, and the confidence and value of these precious women in Rwanda and Ghana. It is just beyond beautiful. Scroll down if you are ready to be inspired to the core. P.S. Standing ovation to Anthropologie for carrying this brand, too! I love companies that desire contributing to change.
Indego Africa was founded in 2007 with a simple idea: Empower women artisans in Africa by showcasing their beautiful craft and investing in the power of education. Since our founding, Indego’s mission has always been to help artisans lift themselves and their families out of poverty and become empowered businesswomen. The artisan sector is the second largest informal employer in the developing world. Despite its potential, the industry remains untapped as a resource for income generation, job creation, and economic growth in under-resourced communities. Since 2007, Indego Africa has played a critical role in changing this by providing artisans, especially women and young people, with access to markets, vocational training, and education. We believe that women around the globe have the capacity, creativity, and determination to uplift themselves, their families, and their communities—all they need are the opportunities!
What is your favorite part of working with the artisans in Rwanda and Ghana?
All of it! I love how collaborative the process is. These groups of artisans look to us for market and business opportunities, and we look to them for production and a chance to show the world their exceptional artistry and craftsmanship. Seeing how much dedication to and passion for craft they have is so inspiring to me. It helps shape the vision of our brand in the best possible way. I also love how, as partners, we’ve being able to grow together. I started at Indego Africa 6 years ago, when many of our partners were also just forming their businesses, and looking back, I feel like we were all babies in this journey! We’ve worked through cultural challenges, business related bumps in the road, collaborative successes, (epic) failures and, most importantly, we’ve experienced moments of incredible joy, growth, empowerment and pride – all together as partners. I consider the commitment of these women to our shared mission to be the most essential element to the success of our company. I love, love, love building this brand together, hand in hand with them!
How often does your team travel to Africa and what is that experience like?
Indego Africa is a global team that truly prides itself on maintaining a collaborative culture. Our design, marketing, fundraising and operations team members are based out of New York City and our wonderful local teams in both Rwanda and Ghana oversee and implement the direct to artisan social impact programs and production logistics. We believe in having a connected and collaborative relationship with the artisans we partner with and try to visit our cooperative sites as often as we can (and have our local teams visit NYC whenever possible)!
The artisans we work with share our passion for education, artistry, and the future of their country and it’s a common bond that connects us as partners. Our local teams in Rwanda and Ghana are with them, day to day, sitting down with these women and discussing their lives, their goals, and their insights into our work and or partnership. So many of our programs and educational initiatives (which you can learn more about here) were started because of the direct feedback from our partners. We are invested deeply in these communities, and it is so important to us to make sure the opportunities and support we are providing is relevant and helpful in their lives and our local teams are the ones making sure this is happening on a daily basis.
On a personal note, I am forever in admiration of these hardworking women and visiting our artisan partners is an inspiring, invigorating and motivating experience. I have learned so much about grace, strength and pure hard work from them, especially when I’ve had the opportunity to see in person the way they carry themselves, to sit down next to them and observe them at work and to talk to them, woman-to-woman, about all the things that make them who they are.
Indego Africa items are all so lovely and unique- we would love to hear about the design process in NYC. What is that process like?
Thank you! For me, the design process looks different for every product but always has the same creative spin behind it. The first thing it always starts with is the artisan element itself. What can our partners make with the skills and materials they have? What will be a good fit for our brand aesthetically and will it showcase their artistry? Whenever I’m seeking – or seeing – inspiration these are the parameters front and center in my brain. From there, I focus on using color and pattern to tell a story but also showcasing the power of texture through neutrals. I want our products to feel happy, well-made, and to evoke a sort of casual chic design element. We sell home goods, baby and kids décor and apparel, women’s accessories, art and objects, but we always make sure our product line feels cohesive and comprehensive. What are the designs that would be able to tick all these boxes while also following trends in the markets we serve? The design process can feel sort of like a puzzle sometimes – and that’s before we even start sampling! ☺ Once we have an idea that will work, I communicate with our production teams in Rwanda and Ghana, who then sit down and work with the artisans to see if the piece can come to life the way we want through a traditional sampling process. From there, we review, redesign, and resample. Then within a few weeks, months, or seasons, we have a new product. It is my favorite part of the job to be a part of this global design process!
What is the inspiration behind some of your favorite pieces in the collection?
Right now I’m really loving our woven hat and bag collection. A few years ago it occurred to me that these artisans, while experts in basket-weaving, had the perfect skill set to make the ever popular “straw” summer bag and hat but just didn’t have the right vision. It took a few months – or maybe closer to a year ☺ – of sampling but when we got the shapes and look right it was easy to think of creative ways to make the traditional woven bag feel on brand and interesting to our customers. This year we added lots of textured raffia pops and fun hand-embroidered bag charms and accents. I love how these pieces at the same time feel both traditional and of the moment and add a handmade and possibly unexpected pop to any outfit (or bathing suit for the beach beauties out there!).
Your mission is so beautiful from start to finish, but the part of profits earned going to education programs for the artisans is truly extraordinary. What are some of the education programs that the artisans enroll in?
Indego’s education programs include foundational business education and financial management, technology training for the workplace, skills-based vocational education, and advanced leadership and entrepreneurship training. It’s through these programs that women and youth in both Rwanda & Ghana develop the skills they need to grow their own businesses, become entrepreneurs, and create economic growth in their communities. Combined with access to global markets and work opportunities, Indego’s education programs ensure that our partners are not solely dependent on us for their livelihoods, but rather, are actively building the knowledge, tools, and expertise to achieve financial independence and realize their full potential as leaders and change-makers.
Recently, we’ve also partnered with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency on a special project providing artisan vocational training to Burundian refugees in the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda. The goal of this project is to help female refugees improve their livelihoods by building the skills necessary to participate in the artisan economy. We’re excited about this new program and the potential Indego Africa has to help create opportunities for a group of incredibly deserving and hardworking women!
Is there anything else you would like to add?