Mamafrica Designs: Spring is in the air

Hey hey fair trade fashionista(o)s… after racking my brain trying to find one plus to these polar vortexes and snow that keeps you homebound for days, I finally thought of one! It provides the opportunity to dust off the ol’ blog and help educate, inform and then empower others to do the same!

First up in my power postings will be Mamafrica Designs. I thought they’d be a great highlight on Valentine’s day simply because of the heart of Founder, Ashley Nemiro. She is an amazing woman who, while studying for her PhD in Counseling and Psychology, visited Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and her life was drastically impacted. She first visited DRC to conduct mental health research for women who were survivors of sexual gender based violence and were experiencing somatic and cognitive symptoms that were disrupting their everyday lives. It’s a great time too because they are releasing new leather products that are locally made in Bukavu, DRC and are also highlighted on globalgiving in the hopes to raise awareness in the belief that together we can RISE UP and change the narrative of women in DRC. She also goes back and forth from the US to DRC staying for weeks on end.

Come meet my friend Ashley and hear her roar…

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Brandi: I’d love to highlight Mamafrica on my blog. I love your new spring pieces – especially the bags!! 😍 
 
Ashley: I can tell you a little about us and why we do the work we do and how amazing the women are! Mamafrica Designs is a non-profit organization based out of Bukavu, which is located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Our mission is to change the lives of the women and the future of the children that have been most affected by conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
Brandi: How do you “change lives”?
 
 
Ashley: Well, we take a holistic approach to creating this change by providing education, healing arts programs and economic opportunity. This fosters self-empowerment, community and sustainability for the women and will ultimately result in generational change. Our programs reflect the basic premise that when women have equity, nations and the world become more secure. At Mamafrica we believe that human relationships can be a mechanism for growth and recovery.
 
Brandi: Ashley, you’re a young woman, attending a competitive PhD program. Why are you taking on a problem that’s on the other side of the world??

Ashley: Why? Well, I moved to DRC for a four month stay in the summer of 2012, and I was quickly hit by the level of poverty, the pervasive narrative of suffering and loss, and the unemployment rates of women. In a region (south kivu) where women are neither the owners nor the top-decision makers in the business market, I was not surprised to hear that 90% of women were unemployed. Out of that summer in DRC, Mamafrica was started with the help of Aline Malekera, our co-director. We had the vision of creating a program for the women and their children that were most affected by the ongoing conflict. We work with women who have been internally displaced and have resettled in Buakvu, DRC with little skills to compete for limited employment. At Mamafrica we aim to provide employment for these women and give her the tools and skills to stand on her own two feet. I’ve mentioned our programs, but we also provide educational seminars on health and business, mentorships, and we collaborate with local hospitals to provide classes on family planning. In addition, we create a savings plan for women to send their children to school and have an on-site nursery for women to bring their children with them to work. We are unlike other programs because we are not just a non-profit we are a community of women banding together to create systemic change.  

Brandi: I honestly don’t know THAT much about DRC. I have heard that it is one of the economically poor countries in the world. And it sounds as though, as is the case in most developing countries, women are second rate citizens?

Ashley: Absolutely. Sexual violence against women and girls is epidemic in DRC. The good news is that UN studies have found that when women have jobs, there is economic growth across all sectors; and if a girl goes to school, for even one year, her earnings increase dramatically and her children are healthier. At Mamafrica, the women are paid bi-weekly and because of this are able to feed their children more than one meal a day, which according to The Women’s Under Siege research team: 60% of women only eat one meal a day. Which means more to me than a statistic. I have seen it with my own eyes. 

Brandi: I really believe in the work you’re doing and the difference you’re making! Tell me a little more about your products and Spring line.

Ashley: Each product sold is unique to the website and sold as a limited edition piece. Our fabric is one of a kind and each piece tells a story. All of the leather is bought locally in the markets of Bukavu. It’s all natural, organic leather and handmade into these beautiful bags/clutches.

We named this clutch ”Rasta,” after our new leather sewing instructor: Image

 

Brandi: I can’t decide which one I prefer! That one or this one!?

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Ashley: They are both great and only $60 and $75 respectively. 

The skirt here, the Nabintu skirt, is named after one of the beautiful women of Mamafrica who is now one of the sewing instructors. This is a mini-length skirt! It is perfect for work, a night on the town, or just to throw on with a solid colored top for the weekend. It has an elastic back, a tie in the front, and pockets! It comes in a variety of fabrics all handpicked (3 of those shown below) from Bukavu, DRC, and is only $35.

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Brandi: Those are super cute! And I love how you’ve styled them. What else would you say to inspire any fair trade fashionista reading? 

Ashley: Mamafrica Designs aims to connect you to female artisans in Democratic Republic of Congo through their handmade items, the unique fabric, and the women’s stories of resilience and hope.  When you buy from Mamafrica Designs your money is going to help the women we work with build hope in their community with the ultimate goal of empowering them to stand proud and independent. Our products give the women at Mamafrica a way to earn money and a way to be part of the work force in Congo. We are creating opportunity where there is none. Each product is handmade by the women of Mamafrica and all the proceeds go straight back into the program. In conclusion, as a woman I felt called to speak loudly for the women of DRC and tell their stories because even though they have nothing {by American standards} they exhibit raw beauty in their smiles alone. The sing, they dance, and they fight harder than I would know how to. Their products serve as a way to tell their story…to help them stand proud. 

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I am so encouraged by the lovely people I meet and learn about all the time. There are many of you out there who see a need and are coming up with ideas, starting businesses, lending advice, doing your little bit of good. Keep pressing on! As the wise Desmond Tutu said “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

In Style and Love,

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One thought on “Mamafrica Designs: Spring is in the air

  1. Love your blog! And the power posting on Mamafrica is great. Thanks for linking to Rugged Beauty – because of that we have now discovered “the fair trade fashionistas”. Excited to explore and see what comes next!
    Cheers! -Kim

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