Founded in 2007 by Matt Mitro, a former practicing attorney for Akin Gump LLP in Washington D.C., Indego Africa is a non-profit groundbreaking social enterprise that uses Fair Trade principles to help women in Africa become economically independent. Indego Africa is built upon the conviction that with access to export markets and education women in Africa can lift themselves out of poverty. Indego stands for “INdependence, DEvelopment, GOvernance”.
The enterprise works with 5 different artisan cooperatives in Rwanda that have a total membership of over 250 women. The cooperatives specialise in sewing and textiles, weaving or knitwear and produce a wide range of products from fashion accessories to home-wear all of which are sold through an online shop or wholesale to high-end retailers across the US. All the products are purchased from the cooperatives on Fair Trade principles, meaning artisans are paid a fair price and also receive half of the payment up front, allowing them to be financially stable and provide a sustainable wage to their artisans (to read more about Indego’s Fair Trade practices click here). Each product sold by Indego has a swing tag attached to it which has been personally signed by the artisan who made it, adding a personal connection between the producer and the consumer.
Indego have given their partner cooperatives access to international markets that were previously unreachable for these relatively small and poor organisations. This has helped the producer groups thrive and allowed them to make the most of their world-class artisanal talents. Indego have also coordinated a number of collaborations with large western brands and designers to raise awareness of third world poverty and also expand the market reach of their products, allowing them to bring more business to the cooperatives.
One such collaboration was between Anthropologie and Ingenzi Knit Union, a knitwear cooperative based in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The cooperative produced a gorgeous pale pink snood for Anthropologie’s fall 2010 collection, still available to buy in the online shop.
Image courtesy of Indego Africa – Anthropologie colab
These woven banana leaf bangles (above) are a new addition to the online shop and a perfect example of the high-quality craftsmanship provided by Indego’s Africa partner cooperatives. (Image courtesy of Indego Africa)
Ralph Lauren also collaborated with Indego Africa artisans to create braided rustic rope bracelets as shown below.
Image courtesy of Indego Africa/Ralph Lauren colab
The most recent collaboration has been between designer Nicole Miller and Indego Africa. This has led to two of the cooperatives, Cocoki and Covanya, producing bright “colour popping” bangles designed by Nicole Miller (see below). The bangles are wrapped and braided by hand with Dutch wax cloth in traditional prints. All the fabrics are produced using natural and non-toxic materials and dyes.
Image courtesy of Indego Africa and Nicole Miller colab
Indego Africa not only provides market access to its partner cooperatives for their high-quality handicrafts but also education and training programmes in order to empower independent businesswomen, as their mission states.
(Image left courtesy of Indego Africa)
One such independent businesswoman is Emelienne Nyiramana who founded the first cooperative, Cocoki, to be involved with Indego Africa back in 2007. Before setting up the cooperative she used to earn only 25 cents a day carrying water. Now she earns $5 a day and can support her family and even her mother. Cocoki is made up of 35 women in total and produces a wide range of textile goods. Emelienne was also chosen to take part in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 women initiative at the School of finance and Banking in Kigali and recently graduated with a Certificate of Entrepreneurship.
Emelienne’s situation prior to the cooperative is common to many of the women working with Indego Africa around 93% of the women learnt less than $1 a day, typically carrying water, and now they earn five times that.
“Many of the women have little formal education, cope with HIV AIDS, suffer from psychological trauma, care for several children – including orphans of the Genocide in 1994 – and are the sole providers for their household.” (source – Indego Africa website).
Through Indego’s work these women have been able to take advantage of an international export market previously not accessible to them and benefit from training programmes in a number of business and general life skills.
(Image right – Emelienne on her graduation day – Image courtesy of Indego Africa)
Nicole Miller, Indego Africa’s incredible partner, departs for Rwanda on Friday for an action-packed week! Plans include working with hundreds of artisan businesswomen, lecturing at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship Program (currently attended by Therese, see below), and generally exploring the “land of a thousand hills.”
We look forward to seeing more designer collaborations and hopefully seeing Indego Africa and its cooperative partners going from strength to strength in the future. As from the event below we are seeing the impact of their work as they work with cooperatives and recognise the handicraft of African artisans and local community skills.
This inspiring and unique evening includes a vibrant cocktail hour, a delicious seated dinner, an open bar, tons of Indego Africa products, and:
- “Reflections on Rwanda” – speech and photo presentation by Nicole Miller
- “Entrepreneur Spotlight” – panel discussion with Emelienne, Therese, and Indego Africa’s inspiring trainer/employee Yves Ndashimye. Moderated by New York Timeswriter Adriana Gardella.
*GET YOUR TICKETS WHILE THEY LAST* You don’t want to miss out on this truly special event.
Author: Imogen Butler