KIGALI - Renowned American fashion designer Nicole Miller concluded her one-week visit to Rwanda, over the weekend, observing that the country’s progress after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is amazing.
Miller, who was in the country to promote a project she runs in partnership with Indego Africa, an organisation which supports local artisan cooperatives, said that the progress and recovery only after 17 years is unbelievable.
“Rwanda is a very beautiful country. It is more sophisticated than I thought. From the impression I had, I thought it would be sort of rough, but you drive to the countryside and it is beautiful, the homes look nice, the environment is wonderful,” Miller said.
“I am amazed that Rwanda has come out of it very well. I am just amazed because I think a lot of countries in Africa have a lot of problems and Rwanda just seems to be such a great role model of how they can come out of these problems,” she added.
The American designer, whose label generates $650 million in annual sales, with more than 1,200 stores carrying her collections worldwide, said that she was amazed by the strength and determination of the people to move forward.
Indego Africa and Miller have a partnership to buy and resell locally made jewellery and apparels from women cooperatives and then export them to America where she sells them in her stores.
Miller first joined forces with the master artisans at Indego Africa’s partner cooperatives, Cocoki and Covanya, in Rwanda in 2010 to create a collection of fair trade textile and woven bracelets. They local products have since gained popularity in the US.
The bracelets, which won the Fair Trade Federation’s 2011 Award for Excellence in Product Design, have since sold out and according to Miller, there is demand for more of the traditional jewellery on the American market.
Miller said the products are very rich in terms of quality given their originality which dates back to century but she has to give them a modern touch before reselling them.
“It is important to keep the originality but you have to give them a modern touch to make them more interesting,” Miller said, said displaying one of the bracelets she was wearing.
“They are very rich in terms of heritage. Everything I have seen is very interesting. We saw a very interesting technique of how they are made. They are tightly woven and how they wrap it around the metal makes them look more expensive,” she observed.
Miller, whose clothes are routinely worn on the covers and in the pages of leading fashion magazines around the world, visited cooperative in Bugesera and Kayonza district to witness the weaving of bracelets and traditional handbags.
The designer who has worked with top celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Beyonce Knowles, Cate Blanchett, Halle Berry and Helen Hunt said that she would wish to sell some of the products sourced through Indego Africa to celebrities.
According to Keith Casey Cobell, the Country Director of Indego Africa, Miller partnered the organisation to develop new products for 2011 and 2012, including women’s apparel in traditional African textiles and woven materials.
“When we sell the products, we channel 100% of the profit back into the women artisans, especially in business management training, computer and English literacy because we are trying to empower these women to be independent business people,” Cobell said
He added that two of the artisans Emelienne Nyiramana and Therese Iribagiza, the treasurer and vice president of Cocoki Cooperative, will visit New York City and Washington D.C. this month as part of the project.
During their visit, the two women will continue their training in sewing, business, and fashion design at Nicole Miller’s New York City showroom.
In addition, Nyiramana and Iribagiza will meet with numerous major retailers, press, and supporters to bring positive international attention to Rwanda’s handcrafts industry.
Speaking at a cocktail hosted in honour of Miller, the Head of Tourism at Rwanda Development Board (RDB) Rica Rwigamba said that the products sold on the American market will go a long way in promoting Rwanda as a leading tourist destination.
“It boosts the image of the country and the perception that Rwanda is a leading tourist destination. As RDB we think it does not only promote tourism but also the country’s exports,” Rwigamba said.
Indego Africa partners with cooperatives of world-class artisans in Rwanda, made up entirely of women, to sell their masterful fair trade contemporary accessories and home décor products at high-end retailers across the U.S. and on Indego Africa’s online store.