Angelo Igitego is a Rwandan based luxury brand that produces extraordinary printed accessories in order to create a support system for the local community. Started last year, their three primary objectives were to build a business that can sustain 20 high-quality jobs in Rwanda (their home base) by 2020, to celebrate the beauty, richness, and culture of East Africa on a global level, and to also create a fashion brand and a line of products that contribute to a larger movement of empowerment (through fashion) for populations that are often marginalized or oppressed, from maker to wearer.
Katya Akuma, founder of the Council for Fashion and Social Change, New York, met with the founders to find out more.
How does Angelo Igitego contribute to the community?
In Kigali Rwanda (where we are based) we employ uneducated, displaced, or otherwise disenfranchised men and women in their 20s and 30s who were previously living below the poverty line. Our goal is to be able to employ 20 people by 2020. We have a team of 4 tailors right now, Mariam (our master tailor), a refugee from Burundi named Carine, and two local women from Kigali named Sada and Beatha.
In addition to stable, ethical employment, our work provides a sense of community for our team. We make ties, cook meals, and learn skills together, from language and sewing techniques to math and geometry. As employers, we’re teaching our team how to budget and save for longer-term needs. We provide health insurance and pay salaried wages, which is rare in the local economy but fundamental to financial inclusion and upward mobility. We’re already seeing amazing changes in the lives of our tailors. This is only possible because of people around the world who share our values and are willing to go above and beyond to find, support, and share businesses that contribute to social good. We are excited to grow our business and do our part to help close the gap in living standards around the world.
Tell us about Angelo Igitego’s beginnings
Though his life today is extraordinary, his background is quite typical of a Rwandan millennial in the sense that Angelo was born in Rwanda during the height of the 1994 genocide, and grew up in a country that was too busy repairing the damage to be able to provide for the needs of the younger generation and invest in their future. The resulting gaps in education, financial literacy, and jobs are major barriers preventing a lot of young people in Rwanda today – the so-called “lost generation” – from climbing out of poverty. This is what makes Angelo so passionate about education and job creation, and is ultimately what led us to start a small business. We had seen enough charity work to know that advocacy through industry was the approach we wanted to take. And fundamentally, we believed job growth was central to the problem and something that we could influence, so this is where we began.
Your desire to create an ethical business led you to fashion, although you had no previous fashion experience. Why choose this industry?
Although it was somewhat opportunistic at the start, we’re very excited about working in fashion because, for better or for worse, people have a tendency to make judgments about one another based on what you wear and how you present yourself. Those judgments can have a significant personal impact but also significant social and cultural implications. In short, we think what you wear matters. Our goal is to create a fashion brand and create products that can contribute to (and perhaps even become a symbol of) a larger movement of empowerment through fashion, from the maker to the wearer. For makers, empowerment means providing jobs, health insurance, and a sense of community and opportunity for disenfranchised men and women in our community. For wearers, empowerment means offering products that contribute to the “dapper” zeitgeist that’s happening right now – which tends to be more concentrated in historically marginalized populations (people of color, the queer community, etc.). Through that work and our connection back to Rwanda, connecting our customers around the world to the experience of Angelo and his family, our hope is that we can bring people together and highlight the shared experience of humanity. Even more, our hope is that fashion, and our work, can inspire and change people, and perhaps can even change culture.
What are your plans for the future?
Looking toward the future, we set the explicit goal of being in a position to provide 20 high quality jobs by 2020. We’re making progress toward that goal, but we know that in order to get there we’ll need more consistent sales volume. As we grow, the vision is to set our team up in a dedicated manufacturing facility that is much more than a workshop; we want to create a safe space – almost like a community center – where people can work, eat, socialize, utilize daycare, take classes, and generally rebuild the sense of family and community that was robbed of so many of our Rwandan brothers and sisters due to the genocide. As our global economy grows and expands, we see a lot of the manufacturing that happens in Asia and other parts of the world migrating to Africa, and we want to set our team up to handle that transition well, and do it in a socially responsible and ethical way. We hope to encourage many brands to source from small guilds of artisans like ours, and to make an explicit connection between the makers and the consumers of their products.
To see more of Angelo Igitego click here.