Creator Profile: Brittany Barb and Deirdre King of Indego Africa - New York City

 
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Hi Brittany and Deirdre! Tell us a little bit about yourselves. 
Brittany: I’m a photography & branding-obsessed creative for Indego Africa. I manage Indego’s brand and marketing strategies, and photograph all of our products and artisan partners.

Deirdre: I’m the Creative Director at Indego. I design our products and oversee all visuals, brand partnerships, and sales.

What is Indego Africa? How did it begin and what experiences led to the creation of the company?
Indego Africa was founded in 2007 by father and son, Tom and Matt Mitro. The idea? Empower women artisans in Africa by showcasing their beautiful craft and investing in the power of education.

During the 11 years the Mitro family spent living in Africa, they were struck by the incredible talent and entrepreneurial spirit of female artisans. They were also struck by a glaring problem: these women, without access to markets to sell their goods or the education needed to run their businesses, were living in poverty with few ways out. Indego Africa was launched as a non-profit organization to address these issues of access and opportunity.

Since our founding, Indego’s mission has always been to help artisans lift themselves and their families out of poverty and become empowered businesswomen. We team up with groups of women in Rwanda and Ghana to sell products that are designed in New York City and handmade in Africa—using traditional techniques, local materials, and genuine artisanal skill. All of Indego’s profits, along with grants and donations, are invested into business education and vocational training programs for the artisans who handcraft our products and the youth in their communities.

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What is your role at Indego Africa and what drew you to working there?
Brittany: My role is focused on bringing the vision of Indego Africa to life visually. I am constantly working on photography projects small & large, social media, tweaking the website, and working on our ever-evolving brand. I fell in love with Indego Africa’s mission to empower women. As Indego has evolved over the years, so has my role. I am forever grateful that I get to spend every day working creatively towards a common goal of helping others.

Deirdre: I’ve been the Creative Director at Indego Africa for the past 7+ years. Generally speaking, this means I design all of our products, run our brand partnerships, manage production in Rwanda and Ghana, and oversee our sales and branding efforts. Most of my time is focused on products and photoshoots- I love being in the thick of the creative work.
It sounds like a big job but our teams in New York City and Africa are so amazing that much of what I do on a day-to-day basis is “sign off” on the really great work of my colleagues (like Brittany!) and the artisans we work with in Rwanda and Ghana! Those moments make me really proud of the strong team and organization we’ve built. One of the best parts about Indego – and my role – is that I am able to work with people around the world who are open to collaborating and working creatively to make change. For me, this makes work feel like play – with an incredible mission to do good.

How do you find the women in Africa that you partner with?Could you share a few of your artisans’ stories with us?
Brittany: The women we get to work with in Rwanda & Ghana are true inspirations. They have been dealt tough hands but despite their struggles, they continue to push forward to create brighter futures for themselves and their communities. There are so many stories I could share but one in particular always sticks out in my mind.

When photographing portraits at a weaving cooperative of 139 women in Bugesera, Rwanda, Laurance (one of our incredible partners) came up to me after to take a peek at the image I had taken of her. She said, “I love to see the photos you take of me when I am smiling. I feel so happy and open now, and you can see it in the pictures.”

When I first started photographing these women over five years ago, many of them were a lot less confident than they are now (and so was I). In the years since, I have witnessed true
transformation take place. I have seen firsthand what economic empowerment can do for a woman and I am so committed to sharing that story.

Deirdre: We always say our local teams are our eyes and ears on the ground! They are constantly scouting out new groups to work with and trying to play matchmaker between our designs, client orders, and artisans throughout Rwanda and Ghana. Finding new techniques or materials to work with is always a plus. We rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from our current partners, and the truly expert knowledge of all-things-artisanal by our teams in Rwanda and Ghana.

Incorporating our artisan partners’ own creativity into the design process is part of what makes Indego so unique! Instead of fighting against shifting priorities and trying to fit ourselves into someone else’s model, we take pride in the collaborative relationships we have with our partners, and the distinctive design, production, and marketing flexibility behind our brand.

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What does your product design process look like (i.e. conception of design, the crafting of the product in Africa, selling the product, etc.)?
Deirdre: We’ve seen our product line and brand grow immensely over the past ten years. When Indego first started, our product line was driven exclusively by artisan capacity. We focused on simple, traditional home goods and accessories (baskets, coasters, tote bags) because the artisans we partnered with were not used to sampling new products and working with different designs. When we decided to focus on building our brand and creative team, Indego began to rely much more heavily on market opportunity, customer demand, and our own vision and aesthetic to shape our product offering.

The design process looks different for every product but always has the same creative spin behind it. The first thing we always start with is the artisan element itself. What can our partners make with the skills and materials they have? What will be a good fit for our brand aesthetically and will it showcase their artistry?

Whenever I’m seeking – or seeing – inspiration, these are the parameters at the front and center of my mind. From there, I focus on using color and pattern to tell a story while also showcasing the power of texture through neutrals. I want our products to feel happy, interesting, and well-made. We sell home goods, baby & kids décor and apparel, women’s accessories, and art, so we always make sure our product line feels cohesive and collectable. What are the designs that would be able to tick all of these boxes while also following trends in the markets we serve?

The design process can feel sort of like a puzzle sometimes – and that’s before we even start sampling! Once we have an idea that will work, I communicate with our production teams in Rwanda and Ghana, who then sit down and work with the artisans to see if the piece can come to life the way we want through a traditional sampling process. From there, we review, redesign, and resample. Then, within a few weeks, months, or seasons, we have a new product. Being a part of this truly global design process is my favorite part of the job!

We make a conscious effort to ensure that all of our products tell the Indego story. We make so many different products and work with so many different artisans and handmade techniques that we don’t want our brand vision to get lost. That’s why it’s important for us to offer cohesive yet unique products that you wouldn’t be able to find just by visiting Ghana or Rwanda. The “design” element, which takes place in New York City, is just as essential to us as the handmade-in-Africa element. We think it’s the combination of the two that makes us special. Perhaps it’s clichéd to say, but we really are a lifestyle brand, and I want customers to feel like our product line evokes the feeling of walking into someone’s home—someone with distinct (and good!) taste and vision. That’s always my goal when designing for Indego!

Could you tell us more about the educational empowerment that Indego Africa’s products go towards?
At Indego Africa, we believe that education is the key to long term empowerment and social change. That’s why we invest 100% of our profits from product sales, along with grants and donations, into business, technology, and vocational training programs for the artisans who handcraft our products and young people in their communities.

Through our education programs, women and youth develop the skills they need to grow and scale their own enterprises, participate in the global economy, and lead change in their communities. These programs ensure that our partners are not solely dependent on us for their livelihoods, but rather, are actively building the knowledge, tools, and expertise they need to achieve financial independence and drive economic growth in their communities for years to come.

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Where do you draw inspiration from?
Brittany: I draw inspiration from pretty much everything. I’m always scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest to see what other people are doing creatively, and I love flipping through coffee table books and cookbooks that I have gathered over the years. I also keep a “Get Inspired” folder on my desktop of images, stories, and links of things I’ve been inspired by. It also helps that I get to sit in a room filled with beautiful baskets, bags, and accessories all day long!

Deirdre: Everywhere! These days I’ve been especially inspired by pictures in children’s stories, old African artifacts, vintage decorating books, the fashion world for color, texture, and trends, my husband’s surf “stuff,” and Instagram of course! When I’m thinking about a new collection, I always turn to the beautiful images Brittany takes on her trips to Africa— they make me feel like I’m there, and it never fails to spark creativity.

How do you connect with your customers and community?
Brittany: Instagram has been a huge part of our customer and community growth. There are so many things happening at Indego Africa and we have found Instagram to be one of the best ways to tell those stories.

Deirdre: Our customers are the best! They get just as excited about a new basket color or collection launch as they do about an innovative education program we are working on or a new story of empowerment we are sharing. It’s heartwarming to get that kind of feedback from our customers – they see how important our twofold mission is.

These days, consumers are looking for more from the brands they support. They want to know who, what, where, and why they should be spending their hard-earned dollars on any given product. We are happy to help them feel good about shopping. Our customers know they are bringing home a beautiful, handmade product while also supporting our mission to educate and empower women in Africa.

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What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Brittany: I truly believe in changing the game of artisan-made goods. I want people to know that they can buy beautiful, well-made products without making ethical compromises. We need to do better as consumers and I really hope to be a part of that change, however big or small!

Deirdre: The artisans we work with in Rwanda and Ghana are a huge source of both inspiration and admiration for me. These ladies are such hard-workers. They are extremely dedicated to their own success and that of their families and communities. One thing that has really resonated with me since I started working at Indego is how selfless our partners are. They’ve created businesses, taken advantage of education opportunities, and improved their technical skills, all while supporting their families and fostering a sense of hope within their communities. I learn so much from them and really treasure being a part of their stories.

What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face at Indego Africa (or that Indego Africa faces as a company)?
Brittany: One of our biggest challenges, and I think for any smaller company, is being heard. We are constantly innovating to remain relevant and get in front of the right people who feel as passionately as we do about supporting women and girls through education and employment opportunities. It’s a daily grind, but it makes it easier when you know what you are doing has real, positive impact.

Deirdre: There are so many challenges that we’ve overcome and so many we still face today! We still deal with bottlenecks and mini crises in our day-to-day work. Shipping costs are extremely high and handmade production can sometimes be slow, and both of these challenges put pressure on us as suppliers for clients and brand-builders for our own line. I’ll echo Brittany’s words – as we’ve grown and honed our brand and product line, we’ve struggled to reach new audiences and showcase our hard work, especially with a small team and budget in an increasingly competitive retail market.

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At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Brittany: I love working with all women in a creative and supportive environment. We’re all working towards the same goal of uplifting and empowering other women. I think it’s so important to support each other in whatever ways we can. Women have the ability to create positive change in our world and I love seeing more and more women taking center stage.

Deirdre: One of the things I love about my job is its flexibility as I attempt to navigate the challenging world of being a working mom. My career is so intertwined with my life and so embedded in my heart that it can often be hard to “turn off” and figure out how to achieve balance. At the same time, with two little kids at home and one on the way, I cannot be available 24/7 the way many small companies expect employees to be. Our women-led team understands that I might work odd hours or need to be remote certain days, but that I remain 110% committed to my role. Our company culture of women supporting and empowering women transcends beyond our mission in Africa. I’ve personally benefited from this philosophy, and I hope to pay that forward to colleagues in the future as well as to the women artisans we support in Rwanda and Ghana.

What creative women do you find inspiring?
Brittany: Piera Gelardi- she just explodes with color, creativity, and positivity. It’s impossible to NOT be inspired by her! And, of course, always and forever, Iris Apfel.

Deirdre: So many! Lately I’ve been obsessing over Jenna Lyons, Garance Doré, Solange Knowles, and Ulla Johnson. But my all-time creative lady would probably have to be Grace Coddington – she’s an icon!

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Find Indego Africa at:
Website
Instagram