Monday, March 30, 2009

Greater Goodness Gulu Gracious

I met Tim Kunin, CEO and co-founder of at the California Gift Show in Los Angeles. Tim was the shining star in an otherwise depressing four days in the basement of the LA Convention Center. After talking fair trade over Brazilian BBQ in LA, we've since walked the grounds of the NY Gift Show in New York City, shared a 9-hour bus ride from Kigali to Kampala, and battled tsetse flies on the journey from Murchison Falls to Kampala.

Greater Good is a network of websites ( is one of them) that raise money for various causes. There are a number of ways that they do this, but one of the most significant is through retail sales. The Greater Good team travels the world looking for unique fair trade crafts. They then purchase them wholesale and sell them in their online marketplace, giving a portion of the proceeds to the various causes they support.

Greater Good is now One Mango Tree's biggest customer, and Tim spent a couple of days in Gulu with the tailors, brainstorming some new product ideas and visiting potential sites for our production facility. He also got a taste of the Acholi culture with a dinner out at Lucy's place - complete with cassava, malakwang, millet bread and lots of beef and chicken stew.

Check out some of Greater Good's sites, and be on the lookout for One Mango Tree products - the ladies in Gulu are hard at work on their first order!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rwandan handicrafts

the Gahaya Links warehouse

While in Rwanda, I also had the opportunity to visit some cooperatives doing similar work to One Mango Tree. The first stop off was at Gahaya Links - you may know them as the Macy's basket group. There are hundreds of women working for this well-funded organization, which was started by Rwandan sisters. I stopped off at the warehouse in Kigali - which is filled floor to ceiling with gorgeous Rwandan baskets of all shapes, sizes and colors. They are all getting top dollar in the US market, generating lots of income for Gahaya Links and their cooperatives. One of the keys to their success is their partnership with Fair Winds Trading, a company that links up Gahaya Links with huge buyers (the likes of Macy's, Starbucks and Project Red) in the US. I got to see the production and packaging of new beaded cell phone charms that you may soon see at a Starbucks near you.

I then learned about Urban Village, which is a retail front started by Rwanda Community Works. My friend Amy is spearheading their design process. They had a first go with some very soft scarves, which sold at some boutiques in the US. Amy's working diligently to find a sustainable product for their artisans to create, given their challenges. One of these challenges is that their cooperatives are spread out. Amy sometimes spends much of her day in the car, traveling between the groups. Urban Village is now working on horn - Rwanda has some of the highest-quality horn in the world. It's a no-kill, non-harming product, so One Mango Tree will soon be adding some of Urban Village's horn toggles to our products. Stay tuned!

The final stop-off on the cooperative visits was to Indego, a small project started by a group of American lawyers. Indego is truly grass-roots, working with womens cooperatives on a small product line - but with some very innovative products. Their wine coasters are fantastic - check them out here. Like One Mango Tree, one of Indego's concerns when I visited was in creating a healthy work environment for their artisans.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Momenta Workshop in Gulu

One Mango Tree has been lucky enough to work with some incredible photographers in the past year. Shortly after arriving in Uganda, I received an email for Jamie Rose, from Momenta Workshops, asking if One Mango Tree was in need of professional photography [free of charge]. Momenta was getting ready to run a workshop in northern Uganda, and needed an organization to pair with one of their photographers. I quickly accepted, knowing the value of beautiful images to promote One Mango Tree's work.

Momenta Workshops connects journalists and media experts from around the world to create a network with common interests, filling the void current media institutions cannot by getting photographers out to the field to hone their skills, perfect their craft, and carry on the mission of journalistic integrity.

What does this look like on the ground? From March 8-15, photographer Stephanie Makosky traveled to Gulu and spent a week with the One Mango Tree tailors, capturing their work and personal lives, to tell their story through images. I've updated the One Mango Tree website with Stephanie's beautiful product shots, and you'll see her work wherever you see things written about One Mango Tree. It was an incredible experience having her in Gulu for the week; my favorite shot is one that took her hours to perfect - perched on a table looking down at the workshop.

Interested in learning more about Momenta Workshops? Check out their website to learn about upcoming programs. Interested in doing photography for One Mango Tree? We're always looking for talented photographers, both in Uganda (for documenting our work) and in the United States (to photograph our products for the website and promotions). Send me an email at

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Retailer Profile: Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Sometime in 2007, while researching the history of wax-print fabrics in Africa, I came across the work of London-born Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare (artist, left). I was immediately drawn to his sculptures, both for the ironic use of wax-print, and the way in which his figures mocked other works from the colonial period (see dueling ladies below).

At the California Gift Show, I connected with the buyer from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art - from March 14 - June 21, 2009, they are hosting Yinka Shonibare, MBE: A Flying Machine for Every Man, Woman and Child and Other Astonishing Works. One Mango Tree market totes, neckties, originals and lunch bags are among the products you'll find in the museum store to complement the exhibition.

Just like Shonibare's work mocks colonial leadership in Africa, you can similarly mock "the man" by donning a One Mango Tree necktie at the office!

It's a great honor to be included as a part of this exhibition, and we're hoping to see a sustained One Mango Tree presence both at SBMA and other Shonibare exhibits around the world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Aromatherapy Adventures

Some of Marion's tea blends sold at local grocers, and the re-designed One Mango Tree eye pillow.

Yoga is getting big here in Kampala. Big in the sense that there is really good ashtanga vinyasa, and there's a nice (and growing) contingent of yogis that show up regularly for classes. Through the network of Kampala yogis, it's not too difficult to find meditation classes, massage therapy, lomilomi massage (and training workshops!), cranialsacral therapy, ayurvedic practice and counseling, etc. etc.

It's getting so big, in fact, that "The Munyonyo Studio" (as I call it) - Kevin and Gavin's beautiful home on Lake Victoria - is hosting Africa Yoga's spring teacher training course. One Mango Tree is providing all of the yogic accoutrement - mat bags, bolsters, eye pillows, meditation cushions, malas, organic cotton t-shirts. The resulting new product development has sent me to some amazing and unusual new places.

Yesterday it was Happy Herbs Ltd. - 100% organic herb farm near the airport in Entebbe. Started as a hobby garden by Marion Boenders (when she's not co-running Wagagai Ltd., a flower export company), Happy Herbs is a small farm that grows a wide range of aromatherapy and medicinal herbs - from tea tree (only grower in Uganda!) to staple cooking herbs like basil, thyme, marjoram. Marion and I spent the afternoon pinching leaves to get ideas for fillers for the One Mango Tree eye pillows. After a stop off at the drying shack (shelves and shelves of harvested herbs drying out and awaiting the chopper or blender - depending on their final destination) - we went into the storage room to start mixing.

The room is lined with rough shelving and neatly organized, colorful plastic buckets - labeled with all sorts of interesting things - including pulverized specimens like plantain, moringa, alfalfa (Marion makes capsule supplements as well). We took out some buckets and started mixing, smooshing the herbs in our hands to combine and release the smells - settling on five scent varieties. My favorite is Lemon Mint - which I imagine will be quite energizing and refreshing (especially when chilled) as an eye pillow. We mixed Lemon Balm, Lemongrass, Spearmint and Peppermint.

I'm currently checking into the export rules for products that include herbs - so you might be seeing Happy Herbs as part of the One Mango Tree line up in the US very soon!

Marion also makes a variety of herbal teas - I sampled a delicious one with lunch, which we shared on her patio overlooking Lake Victoria. Happy Herbs indeed.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

One Mango Tree in Ohio Magazine

Check out our latest press - Fabric of Life, an article by Bob Sberna about One Mango Tree in the March issue of Ohio Magazine, with photos by Glenna Gordon.


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