Theophila Uwase, the intellectually curious but aimless 20-year-old who had recently graduated high school and found herself in the midst of a government-induced mandatory gap year before university, was in need of a new hobby. With an abundance of free time on her hands and a dwindling social life, she sought something beyond the realm of endless Wattpad stories and Netflix binges, “which weren’t doing it for her anymore.” Seeking something different, Uwase turned to YouTube. She was on a skill voyage and these videos were her guiding compass. It was through these videos that she stumbled upon the world of crochet. Initially taken aback, Uwase furrowed her brows in confusion. “It wasn’t the craft I had in mind when I began my search, and I hadn’t expected it to capture my attention.” However, intrigued by the possibilities and determined to explore new avenues, she decided to delve deeper into the world of crochet. A couple of years earlier, even more aimless then, Uwase found herself idly pulling at a loose thread from her knitted school sweater. In a spontaneous moment, she continued unraveling the thread until the entire sweater lay in a pile before her. It was a simple act, but it planted a seed of curiosity within her, hinting at the hidden potential of an old, worn-out garment. Little did she know that this incident would lay the foundation for her future exploration and discovery, which would take shape a few years later. On a gloomy Wednesday four months ago, within the air-conditioned confines of the Marriott Hotel, Uwase, accompanied by her partner Fiona Uwase, presented their sustainable business idea. The room was brimming with around 4,200 participants and distinguished guests, including representatives from the Ministry of Environment and UNDP delegates, among others. A hackathon had been organised by their alma mater, the African Leadership University (ALU), which had challenged its young students to apply circular principles within a business context while addressing a problem within their local community, as well as design circular solutions that could be implemented to enhance the circularity of the fashion and textiles industry in Rwanda. Among the thirteen participating teams, two teams emerged as standout performers in the business challenge, earning the opportunity to present their innovative business ideas on the grand stage of the World Circular Economy Forum 2022’s final session. Uwase and her partner were among these accomplished teams, securing a remarkable second-place finish. They devised an innovative solution to salvage the valuable materials within textiles such as school uniforms. The process involved the collection of used textiles, which were then meticulously sorted and carefully shredded. “Once we had the reclaimed yarn, the possibilities for repurposing it were numerous. It could be used for handcrafts, such as knitting and crocheting, creating unique and sustainable items. The yarn could also be used in making carpets or incorporated into art projects, giving a new life to what was once considered waste,” Uwase eloquently explained. The process will most often be undertaken by society’s marginalised groups with a focus on teenage mothers. Their approach was met with enthusiasm in the hackathon. “It was so encouraging to see all these smiling faces deeply interested in what we were saying,” she said, clearly proud, referring to their presentation. “I could tell they were impressed by young people who are involved in seemingly mundane activities.” Almost every type of post-consumer waste (the more complex ones by machines) can be recycled, but Uwase’s niche is discarded knitted materials. What defines the ideal discarded knitted clothing? For Uwase, it’s all about the texture - not overly rigid nor excessively soft, with a worn quality that gives the colours a muted appearance without fading completely. The skill Crochet offers versatility with a wide range of yarn options, from affordable local cotton to luxurious silk and fine wool. With such varied materials, crocheters can create practical items like stockings and mittens, as well as intricate lace edgings, exquisite tablecloths, and delicate collars. The primary tool used in crochet is a hook, similar to a small knitting needle but with a hooked end. This hook is essential for pulling the yarn through loops to create the basic crochet stitches, which are then joined together to form a delicate and lace-like fabric. Additional tools that may come in handy for crocheters include small scissors for cutting threads, a yarn needle for sewing or weaving in loose ends, and a curler for shaping specific elements. Uwase honed her skills in manipulating basic chair and single crochet stitches, deftly infusing her creations with vibrant color combinations. Employing a clever technique, she doubles the yarn’s thickness, resulting in larger, more striking stitches. The outcome is truly remarkable as old school sweaters undergo a metamorphosis, emerging as a diverse collection of breathtaking items. From cozy beanies and stylish cardigans to elegant dresses, stockings, afghans, and shawls, each piece carries its own unique allure, capturing the essence of creativity and reinvention. “It emphasises the notion that there is inherent value in items that have been cast aside, giving them a fresh purpose and transforming them into something fashionable and meaningful,” Uwase said. Another thing: Uwase also wanted to explore a cultural heritage that stemmed from growing up watching her mom crochet household items like bath scrubs, rugs, and coasters. In the Kinyarwanda language, crochet is referred to as “Kuboha,” a term associated with the traditional practice of weaving baskets, primarily performed by women. “In Rwanda, ‘Kuboha’ is also a way for women to meet, connect and learn from each other while being productive. “Single mothers, often facing poverty and the associated stereotypes and stigma, have the challenging task of raising their children alone. However, when these mothers come together, it serves a purpose beyond just earning money.” They gather to share their problems and seek solutions, engaging in brainstorming sessions. If by chance they secure sponsors willing to support their cause, they could establish a space where women genuinely in need of help can congregate and make the most of their situations. Crochet, in this context, becomes more than just a hobby or craft—it becomes a form of healing, self-expression, and therapy. If one person best explains how crochet works as a soothing balm for mental health, it is Chantal Mudahogora, a wellness coach and therapist at Solid Minds. “Yes, art therapy is a thing,” Mudahogora said, “Similar to therapy, engaging in artistic endeavours like crochet allows for a creative outlet that can effectively distract the mind from negative thoughts.” When you immerse yourself in creative pursuits, the brain releases oxytocin, a rewarding chemical that brings happiness upon accomplishing something meaningful. By focusing on the process of creating intricate wall hangings or designing beautiful crochet pieces, you activate the release of oxytocin, which can positively impact your mental well-being. In the same line, crochet helps to redirect your attention away from the turmoil of your thoughts, reducing mental clutter and promoting a sense of calm. There’s an important caveat: “Art won’t help if you suffer from a chronic medical illness like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Therapy by itself is ineffective. Art is a supplement, not a cure,” Mudahogora concluded. Thanks to the internet’s ability to facilitate the sharing of craft ideas, the beautiful art of crochet is experiencing a well-deserved resurgence. In recent years, crochet has transcended its association with grandmothers and evolved into a fulfilling activity embraced by people of all ages, including both men and women. And that’s what Eudoxie Umwari, a 21-year-old entrepreneur and founder of the emerging brand EUDOXIE Crochets, is actively demonstrating and succeeding in showcasing the inclusivity and appeal of crochet through her online start-up. Umwari highlighted the difficulties in persuading investors, as crochet is often perceived as an idle pastime. “It’s challenging for people to recognise its market potential and see it as a viable business endeavour,” she explained. However, Umwari has successfully utilised the earnings from her crochet business to support herself, proving that it can be a sustainable and reliable means of livelihood. Looking ahead, Umwari has plans to foster a community of crocheters, enabling her to enhance her production capacity. Meanwhile, Uwase envisions expanding her portfolio to include knitwear and further refining her sustainable concept in collaboration with her partner, Uwase. In that spirit, it’d be great to see crocheters, perhaps led by Theophila Uwase, join forces to advocate for a large-scale transformation to address environmental and social impact associated with clothing production and disposal. By 2030, textiles should be repairable, recyclable, and made from recycled fibres free of hazardous chemicals. Indeed, crocheting has the potential to contribute to environmental sustainability, foster community connections, and potentially alleviate anxiety. Additionally, if fortunate, it can yield beautifully crafted items that have market value. Moreover, it is worth noting that the demographic engaged in crochet has shifted towards a younger generation, reflecting a growing interest and participation in this age-old craft.