At the beginning of May, I packed my bags for a month in Rwanda to spend time with our Local + Local artisans. The itinerary was chock full: we were shooting our first L+L brand video, finalizing new product development/designs for fall, meeting potential partners to expand into new product lines, and most importantly, gaining first hand experience on the ground. I spent weeks alongside the incredible women who weave our baskets to better understand their production process and learn more about who they are and what they dream of achieving. To say the month was the most transformative of my life would be an understatement. I returned home to Los Angeles more inspired by the mission of L+L than I ever thought possible.
You can become accustomed to the lack of hot water in homes or the unreliable electricity relatively quickly, though it’s certainly an adjustment from all of the comforts we enjoy in the US, but there’s one thing that left me speechless all month long. In order to really understand life there, one must absorb the difficult recent history in this beautiful country. In 1994, a horrific genocide occurred in Rwanda. Over one million people died in 100-days. Think about that. One million people. For context: 2,400 people died in the bombing at Pearl Harbor and approximately 3,000 in 9/11. Children watched their parents die, only to then be slaughtered themselves. Family members were forced to kill one another. Women were raped then murdered. Thousands of individuals lost their entire families. Every single person in Rwanda that was alive during the genocide has a story of that ugly, ugly time. Many of the women I met shared their heartbreaking stories with me. To my surprise, they didn’t share these stories with tears or sadness, but instead they beamed with happy memories of the loved ones no longer with them. Mostly, they’re driven by a bright hope for a peaceful future. This, more than anything else, represents the spirit of these people. It left me in awe of their perseverance. I’m eternally grateful for the impact they had on me personally and the future of this business. Together, we can do anything.
As showcased by their tenacity, our weavers are truly a remarkable group of women. They have surmounted an unimaginable experience and come together, weaving in unison to create stunning products inspired by their environments. In addition to providing a form of income, the weaving represents culture and tradition in Rwanda, and is passed down from mother to daughter throughout generations. Our artisan Rose weaves side by side with her daughter, and loves the bright colors we have incorporated into our baskets. Her daughter observes Rose in awe of her work, and spends time practicing on her own during breaks from school homework.
Everyone I met welcomed me into their lives with enormous smiles and open arms. They could not have been happier that I was there, visiting their beautiful country. I wanted to know why they weave, and found myself immeasurably moved by the ubiquitous answer: to support the future of their children. It is each woman’s dream that her children be able to stay in school and go to college, all in the pursuit of providing a better life for the next generation. Since most of our artisans are also farmers, often children are forced to drop out of school once they are strong enough to help the family on the farm. But these women are smart. They are determined. They want to change the course of the next generation by focusing on education and ensuring they earn enough income to keep their children in school. And through our partnership, they are now empowered to achieve more than ever before. For us at Local + Lejos, there is nothing more rewarding. We can’t wait to share our latest collaborations in our new designs this fall! Enjoy some pictures of our travels, captured by the talented Hazel & Pine.