I’m Sew in love with you, Uganda: Engeye’s Artisan Project and other bad sewing puns

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in being here, that I completely neglect my blog. And, for that, I apologize. Because the truth is, there are so many wonderful things emerging in Ddegeya and you—as loyal followers and patrons of this crazy journey—deserve to know about them. So here’s an update of one of the many projects Matt and I have been working on throughout our fellowship and will finish up during our last three weeks (yes, THREE WEEKS) here:

What it is: Engeye’s Artisan program has actually been around for a number of years. Essentially, Engeye buys handmade goods from women within the Engeye community and around Ddegeya and sells them at a mark-up to American visitors. Both the women and Engeye make a profit—it’s a win-win. If you’ve ever had the privilege of coming to Engeye, you may have purchased a keychain, bag, apron, headband or basket made by one of the lovely artisans..

What we’re doing: When Matt and I first arrived in Uganda, we spent a lot of time brainstorming ways in which we could contribute to the sustainability of Engeye. When we considered Engeye’s Artisan program, we practically hit ourselves in the face. We were sitting on a goldmine. After all, American visitors loved the products and were constantly expressing their desire to share Artisan goods with friends in the U.S. And the program had already proved to be a successful entrepreneurship opportunity for both Engeye and the local women involved.

    All we needed to do was expand. Although the Artisan program was profitable, it remained small, somewhat unorganized and poorly accessed by its customer base. We wanted to recruit more Artisans and organize weekly meetings. We wanted to increase the overall inventory, formulate new designs, connect with the American market and create an online platform from which Engeye supporters could view Artisan products. Instead of purchasing items while in Uganda, customers could select items from a website and have them shipped directly to their homes in America.

However, though Matt and I wanted these things, we knew this venture couldn’t just be about our interests or desires. So we met with Maama Jackie—Engeye head cook and Artisan extraordinaire—and asked for her thoughts and expertise. Once we had both Maama Jackie and the Engeye board on board, we started our research.

Matt and I traveled to Kampala to tour a popular social enterprise called Sseko (to check out Sseko’s business model and beautiful products click here: https://ssekodesigns.com ). We examined NGOs that profit from Artisan-based goods. I reluctantly remembered principles I had learned in Econ 101. And both Matt and I reviewed notes from our social entrepreneurship class (shout out to Hal..Aloha!)

With a better idea of what we were getting into, we began recruitment and production. Along with Maama Jackie, we created a team of seven women from Ddegeya—three experienced artisans and four new members—and made a production list. We set up regular meeting times for training and collaboration. We perfected new designs and went shopping for fabric and supplies. Matt and I even made a few pitiful attempts at making artisan goods ourselves (needless to say we will not be selling the things we made…). We started sewing and adjusting and sewing some more.

It was all coming together SEAMLESSLY…

Our Goals: In a perfect world, this business would thrive. We would overcome blaring obstacles such as US shipping/regulations, connections to the American market and quality control. We would be able to provide consistent incomes for the Artisan women and their families. Most notably, we would increase Engeye’s revenue and decrease its reliance on donations.

And although we recognize the difficult nature of this business, we still want to try. After all, we all NEEDLE little faith sometimes (ok I’m done, I swear).

As of now, Matt and I are bringing the Artisan products back with us to the US to test their success, meet with a few vendors and sell what we can.

Until then, please enjoy some photos of the process below. If you have any requests or inquiries feel free to email me!

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