The effectiveness of Indego Africa's market access program for our artisan partners is only as good as its globally-integrated sales, creative, and production function. With that in mind, we would like to you meet Indego Africa's Creative Director, Deirdre McGuigan, and Production Manager, Grace Tsuni Uwase.
Stationed approximately 7,046 miles away from one another in New York and Kigali, respectively, Deirdre and Grace remain in sync by communicating 20-25 times per day in order to steward and grow Indego Africa's purpose-driven brand and to generate income for our over 500 artisan partners. Here, they each take a moment to share the divergent paths that brought them together.
I developed a passion for design as a young girl; my father and I drew and made crafts together. In secondary school, I was introduced to a local artist and began sketching faces and animals. I did not have any professional training besides a few painting workshops.
I studied biology as an undergraduate at the National University of Rwanda. It was during college that I first encountered Indego Africa. I received a competitive university scholarship from Indego Africa's partner organization, Generation Rwanda. Indego Africa provides professional development opportunities for 15-20 Generation Rwanda scholars. In 2011, I joined Indego Africa as a production intern.
Working with older women made me at first self-conscious. I worried that the women would not trust me because of my youth. However, over time, we developed unique bonds. I did not grow up surrounded by women so working side-by-side with these female entrepreneurs felt special. I will never forget the pride I felt the first time they successfully completed a production order that I placed with them.
I worked hard as an intern to earn a full-time position on Indego Africa's staff. I even applied my scientific background to my production work, as I explained the swampgrass-dying process to groups of weavers.
This summer, I will enhance my leadership skills by participating in the Women Deliver global conference in Malaysia and Indego Africa's 2013 Artisan Trip. The Artisan Trip will be my first visit to the U.S. I look forward to meeting Indego Africa's clients and partners face-to-face and strengthening our relationships with them.
I believe that women worldwide often do not have as many chances or opportunities. In the future, I hope to obtain a master's degree in Community Development. I will continue my work within the development sector in Rwanda and other communities world-wide. By evaluating the particular needs of each community, I believe we can make sustainable impact.
-- Grace Tsuni Uwase, Production Associate, Indego Africa
I always was interested in fashion and design but never put any real effort into developing my personal interests into professional skills. Besides befriending a slew of architecture students (who seemed very creative and very cool) in college and some day-dreaming about attending summer programs at FIT, I didn't venture into the design world further than constant apartment redecorating and playing stylist for my sisters.
A few months into my first year of law school I was accepted for a summer fellowship in Johannesburg to work with refugees and asylum seekers. The inspiring work I did that summer resulted in a determination to make a career in human rights work in Africa. I took every chance I got to intern at large-scale human rights and development institutions for my remaining semesters and breaks and gained valuable experience at places like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, the ACLU and within asylum and refugee clinics. I loved it but still couldn't figure out where my skills would be best utilized for the long run. After graduating law school and taking the bar, I began a fellowship at Indego Africa, focusing on social enterprise legal issues.
After a few weeks of legal work and learning how a small start-up social enterprise operated (very different from the large organizations I was used to), I started chiming in on design and creative discussions. At the time, it was often just three male-former-corporate-attorneys and I in the office, and I think my interest in colorways and fit of jewelry and accessories went a long way in making me an appealing candidate for the newly developed position of retail manager. Luckily enough, it was at the time that I moved into that position that Indego started to shift from a traditional African handicraft company to a design focused brand, and my role grew from handling sales to managing design, branding, and beyond. Despite my inexperience in the creative industry, I had to start learning on the job.
Interacting with designers and brands that I wore and love was definitely cool but also super intimidating. Trying to learn about and follow the (complicated) retail and fashion calendar continues to be a challenge. Understanding the difficulties of doing quality control, sampling and product development not only with artisans in Rwanda, but also as part of a global team, still keeps me up at night (and awake super early)!
Fast forward three years into this job and Indego is truly becoming the lifestyle brand I always hoped it would. However, I'm still surprised at how I ended up here, still correct anyone who calls me a "designer," and still laugh when people are surprised that I answer every customer service email. This job has taken my career from extremely focused on human rights in Africa to sometimes forgetting I'm working at a social enterprise at all because I'm so bogged down in the design and business details. Every day is different - with unique highs and lows - but being able to use my creativity to solve problems and provide opportunities for our artisan partners is the most rewarding use of professional time I've found.
-- Deirdre McGuigan, Creative Director, Indego Africa
Contribute to Indego Africa's fundraiser in the Raise for Women Challenge and support over 500 women artisans and their over 1300 dependents obtain increased access to food, education, and housing.