Last week, I visited the Ibaba workshop in Rutongo and was totally amazed. I placed a customized order few weeks ago for a friend of mine who is expecting her first baby and I decided to go to the workshop to take my order instead of waiting in Kigali. I already knew their products but seeing the ladies behind the wonderful embroideries was so great.
Ibaba Rwanda is a social enterprise empowering women with a beautiful story. During the seventies, in Rutongo, Belgian nuns started to teach embroidery to help young women from the village . After the training, they could start working in the workshop earning a salary and adding an income for their families. This great initiative represented for many years a great source of empowerment for women of Rutongo . The women of Rutongo had an incredible expertise in embroidery and they were known beyond Rwanda’s borders. Having an embroidered piece from them was a must.
The best materials as linen and yarn were imported from Belgium to guarantee the best quality. At this time, about 300 embroiderers were working at the workshop. Alas, the story ended in 94 when the genocide against the Tutsis began. The nuns moved back to Belgium and the workshop closed.
This wonderful enterprise that supported the Rutongo community for so many years was over. But in 2011, two French sisters Véronique and Pascal realized that the embroiders were still living around and still doing amazing embroidery when they could find a customer. Touched by their story and the fact that these talented women were living in precarity with no real opportunity, they decided to help them to reopen the workshop.
In 2012 , 22 ladies with the help of Véronique and Pascale created a new cooperative. In 2013, the two sisters and their cousin created the brand « Ibaba development » to support the production of the women of Rutongo and re-open the training center. The idea is to allow these talented embroiders to live from their expertise and to be able to teach it . Since then the workshop is growing and more and more women from the area come to learn embroidery and find a job thanks to that at the workshop. Tje workshop will soon move to a bigger place to be able to welcome the new women who want to learn the technique.
The embroidery made by these rwandese women are so incredible that a lot of foreign fashion brands want to work with them. A part of their productions go to Indego Africa, they made also various collaboration with Sawa Shoes or Macon Et Lesquoy,Sok Sabaï or Claudie Pierlot but also with Haute Baso, a rwandan brand.
If you visit Rwanda, you should definitely take the time to go visit them and see their amzaing hand-made work. The workshop is not too far from Kigali ( 45 minutes), the road is a bit difficult ( if it rains) but the scenery is magnificent and the workshop worths totally the bumpy road ! You will be able to buy some products there (make a call before to be sure they have some stock, it goes so fast !). You can also support them in buying some products at Inzora rooftop café or at the Go Kigali boutique.
But going there is so great and talking with Véronique will give you something more. The Ibaba workshop is now in my top 5 in the « what to do in or near Kigali ». I can’t wait to go back visit them. You can also order customized products and make amazing gifts thanks to them.