Monday, January 9, 2012

"The Road to Rwanda"

Chrissie Lam, Senior Concept Designer at American Eagle and Founding Director of The Supply Change, traveled to Rwanda in 2008. Shortly thereafter, Chrissie connected with Indego Africa and was able to connect them with American Eagle and facilitate a collaboration for an upcoming accessories line for Spring/Summer 2012.

Chrissie Lam (far right) in a dress hand-made in Rwanda

Chrissie discovered Indego Africa after a trip to Rwanda, where she was approached by the CEO of the company at a fundraiser. AE donated product and shipped it to Rwanda during Chrissie's sabbatical in the country, but she wanted to do more. Using her experience and contacts in the fashion industry, Chrissie was able to bring products from Indego Africa artisans to American Eagle customers worldwide.

Read an excerpt below of Chrissie's curation for "Source 4 Style".

Colorful textiles from the Indego Africa showroom in Rwanda

"Two friends of mine are telling me about a women’s cooperative called Amani ya Juu, Swahili for “Higher Peace,” a sewing/marketing training project for Rwandan women in need. This project started in Nairobi in 1996 with three women, and has grown to over 50 women from many ethnic groups in Africa. My friends just had clothing made and after seeing the end results, I wanted to learn more about the project..."

"...A year after I came back from Rwanda, I had a serendipitous introduction to Indego Africa. CEO, Ben Stone, noticed a Gisimba Orphanage fundraiser I was organizing. He realized that besides our common interest and work in Rwanda, we both also live in the same apartment building in NYC! He facebook messaged me and we ended up having a great discussion on the roof deck about our projects.

Indego Africa’s operation is larger in scale than Amani Ya Juu, but shares the same philosophy. Indego Africa, which stands for INdependence, DEvelopment, and GOvernance, is an innovative social enterprise built upon the belief that women in Rwanda can lift themselves out of poverty. Indego Africa provides more than 400 Rwandan artisans with access to the global marketplace, enabling them to sell their vibrant handicrafts for a fair wage.

Two and a half years ago, my employer, American Eagle Outfitters, donated product (an unsustainable charity gesture), and shipped it to Rwanda during my sabbatical. After seeing the positive impact programs like Indego Africa, Amani Ya Juu, and donations like AE made on the Rwandan community, I decided to combine my interest in helping poverty stricken women become self-sufficient with my experience and contacts in the fashion industry. These seemingly innocuous concerns united to form The Supply Change – a new company that sources socially responsible goods and manufacturers who have previously lacked access to global markets and connects them with mainstream brands in an effort to forge long-term partnerships. These connections can help the fashion supply chain create products that are profitable, as well as purposeful.

Now, my involvement with sustainable products and services in Africa has come full circle. Indego Africa is currently collaborating with American Eagle Outfitters on developing an accessories collection for the Spring/Summer 2012 seasons. The Rwandans are lifting themselves out of poverty by producing marketable goods and selling them in AE stores."

Read the full post about Chrissie's trip: "The Road to Rwanda".

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