My partner Charles and I started Tugende Design as a social enterprise initiative in response to us both wanting to do more, to help the impoverished communities across Uganda, and give back in a more concrete way. In my professional work, I have interacted with many women groups to address health issues and women empowerment strategies. And, when asked what these women needed most, they all said income. They need funds for food, for clothes and for their children's school fees.
Charles also runs a community based organization (Twekembe Slum Project) and was already looking for new ways to support the struggling community in his district in Kampala. After talking about best ways to to move forward, we created the outline for Tugende Design. Both of us love creative fashion, unique designs and artful creations. We are both passionate about African print fabrics, mixed media expressions for wearable art and jewelry. Charles and I both design clothes and make jewelry, and I also sew.
I’ve been passionate about sewing and craft making ever since my talented mother showed me the basics at our own kitchen table in Sweden long time ago. As a mother of three, I have made countless holiday decorations and gifts, sewn various Halloween costumes, and made crafts and jewelry. But, sewing my own clothes and craft making was just a hobby. It wasn't until after I had worked in Uganda on various global health projects for nearly 10 years and totally falling in love with the colorful African fabrics and crafts, particularly paper beads, that the idea of launching this social enterprise initiative came to be.
So launching Tugende Design together was a natural extension of our current passions. Particularly, we wanted to empower the hard-working and talented women who provide for their families and who often want nothing more than to get school fees for their children so that they can get a basic education and lead better lives.
After meeting with many amazing women through my research projects and also visiting the local craft markets over the years, I had come to appreciate their talent in making jewelry and bags from paper beads. We have now developed great relationships with five groups of women that have been hired to make beads and jewelry for Tugende Design. It is amazing to see them work with few tools and resources. It is also daunting to realize how labor intense it is to make these paper beads.
Using recycled paper and scraps from magazines and print shops, they carefully cut long strips of paper and roll them tightly to make beads. These are then varnished for durability and strung to make gorgeous necklaces. Charles and I love using these beads when making our jewelry designs. And, of course the talented women artisans are also making jewelry for us. Some of our intricate necklaces require three to four days of full day labor each to complete.
We are eager to support more community and women empowerment projects with your help. The idea behind Tugende Design is that the sales of our jewelry, bags and accessories benefit the community directly because it provides a living wage and sustainable income for these women in dire poverty. But, we will also reinvest 20% of the profits into micro financing initiatives and community projects that will support their financial independence.
So buy our handmade products because they are beautiful, but feel great wearing them knowing you made a difference!
But, the most important part, the word Tugende means “let’s go” in Luganda, one of the local languages in Uganda. I love this word and it was one of the first that I learned. It’s a word of action, it’s inspiring and it encourages us to move forward.
So, please join us, do something, do more, make a difference. No need to wait, no need to overthink it - let's go!
Monica & Charles