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.

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