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Imagine transforming entire communities through fashion? Imagine using fashion to not only create jobs but bring independence, education and hope to thousands of women. Imagine helping women not only lead better lives, but providing them with the tools to grow their businesses, hire other artisans and provide for their villages. This is exactly what Indego Africa has done and continues to do for hundreds of women artisans in rural Rwanda.
A non-profit social enterprise, Indego Africa was founded with the mission to empower women artisans in Rwanda through design. Indego Africa serves to connect its artisan partners to the international export market, increasing both their opportunities and exposure of their craft. To date, Indego Africa supports 400 women artisans who run nine for-profit cooperatives that produce the crafts that are sold by Indego.
As one artisan, Domitille, testified, “I am now a well-to-do woman. I can eat what I want, wear what I want. I am confident, independent, and self-sufficient. I think back to what I was like only a few years ago and I do not recognize myself. And that is a good thing.”
Modavanti had a chance to sit down with Indego Africa creative director Deirdre McGuigan to talk about the design process.
Modavanti: “How did you get involved with Indego Africa?”
Deirdre: “I actually have a law degree and joined as a legal fellow. At a small company, you continually take on more and more – and different – roles. As we grew and as was required, I helped out in various areas. I have a passion for design and found myself gravitating towards the design process and towards working with the women in Rwanda. Over time I took on the creative responsibilities and loved it. Now I manage Indego’s product development and final design, as well as many other responsibilities when it comes to sales, partnerships and brand awareness.
Modavanti: “What is the design process?
Deirdre: “Well when we work with a group like J. Crew or Anthropologie, they give us guidelines for what they want specifically. Otherwise, we work with our artisans rather than directing them so they have a lot of creative control. I work with them to make sure that the final products are on style and appeal to a broader audience.”
Modavanti: “How did you form the partnerships with these big design houses?”
Deirdre: “Brands love what we offer. Our artisans make high quality products and we can either source materials for them or we can work alongside these retailers. We have a great story and mission so brands love aligning with us and know that our artisanal communities will deliver. The women we support take incredible pride in their work. It’s more than just their livelihood, it’s their craft. It’s their very being, their source of independence and their path to a better future.
Modavanti: “Can you tell us about your education programs?”
Deirdre: At Indego Africa we’ve created our own proprietary education materials from scratch, by consulting with wide range of development organizations and experts, including UNESCO, UNICEF, and government agencies in Rwanda and the United States. We focus on four main areas along with basic education: Literacy, technology, health access and management and entrepreneurship. Hundreds of women have gone through our training.