(photographer: Laina Macrae)This morning started like many others for the editors of Lonny: with a visit to ABC Home, surveying the retailer's stunning array of inspired home products. Today, however, we weren't in-store to learn about ABC's holiday collection or pull props for a photo shoot; we were there to meet with female artisans—from countries as varied as Togo, Gabon, and Rwanda—who are part of the State Department's African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (or AWEP).
Left to right: Naomi Ora Ataguba of Nigerian company Aura Interiors chats with ABC's Head of Product Development, Colleen Newell; Teta Isibio of Rwanda-based Inzuki Designs, Adama Diallo of Beautiful Guinea interior design, and Ms. Ataguba present their missions. The women were visiting to showcase their wares (everything from luffa sandals and plant-based skincare to intricately beaded necklaces and hand-carved statuettes) and meet with ABC's buyers to discuss ways in which they might optimize their product for the Western market. We fell in love with more than a few of the womens pieces—especially these vibrant hand-hewn earrings by Rwanda-based Inzuki Designs—and can't wait to hopefully see some of them stateside in the near future. For now, we're just thrilled to have gotten to chat with the empowered artisans, whose incredible talent was matched only by their desire to share their craft and story.
Founded in 2010, the goal of AWEP is to help fortify the economies of African countries by aiding female entrepreneurs in the owning and operating of their businesses. An outreach, education, and engagement initiative, the hope is to increase trade both regionally and to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities. With buyers trained in mission-based commerce and a history of working with womens cooperatives, ABC is an aligned institution—and a perfect fit—for AWEP.