(Photo credit: Emily Snider, Sales and Partnerships Manager at Heshima Kenya. UNHCR fashion show for World Refugee Day at Heshima Kenya)
When Angelina Jolie appeared at World Refugee Day in 2017, she wasn’t expecting to receive the “Angie Scarf” crafted in traditional Shibori-style tie-dye by artisan girls trained by Heshima Kenya.
Heshima Kenya has come a long way since 2008. Over the years, Heshima has served more than 3,300 refugee women, girls and children through the organization’s holistic model, redefining refugee protection and offering the gold-standard of care, protection, and empowerment for refugees, including education and training of artisan girls and women in the time-honored technique of Shibori tie-dye.
Through the support of the USAID East Africa Trade and Investment Hub (the Hub) Heshima’s education program was given a boost through an intensive 2-week training in the Shibori tie-dye technique. Emily Snider, Sales and Partnerships Manager at Heshima, explains how the training has impacted their program and the 20 women and girls who were trained.
“The USAID training on the Shibori technique has pushed our vocational training program to another level. In addition to learning a new technique, our artisans have exceeded expectations in their creativity and problem solving during production since the training. This translates to higher productivity and product diversity.”
Some of the business outcomes Heshima Kenya has experienced because of the Hub supported training are:
- The shibori design scarves have elicited a special interest from their buyers, both in the local market and in the US.
- In June, Heshima started a new livelihood project in Kakuma refugee camp with UNHCR, where they engage refugee artisans in production of bags made from Shibori fabric created through the training program.
- So far, this new program has produced 250 bags for this project. In addition to the fabric, another artisan group is crafting beaded straps to add value to the collection. These bags will be sold both in the local and international markets.
- The launch for the Shibori handbag collection will take place in February at the Ambiente trade show, where the UNHCR Livelihoods team will showcase several refugee artisan groups, including Heshima Kenya.
- In addition, Heshima has recently partnered with Sandstorm Kenya, to produce a small line of canvas bags featuring one of the Shibori methods that Apurba taught to the participant.
Some of the direct impacts (both immediate and long term) of the Shibori technique to Heshima’s beneficiaries include:
- Improved household income for 14 refugee artisans (both men and women) in Kakuma and 23 refugee artisans (all women) in Kalobeyei who will benefit directly from the handbag project.
- The gradually increasing sales will ensure that Maisha artisans engaged in direct production of Shibori scarves earn monthly wages and allowing for savings.
- 5 of the 15 participants trained in Shibori technique have risen to be team leaders, and one of the trainees who has shown exemplary leadership has been promoted to the position of a supervisor and a mentor, where she engages in training new enrollees in the technique.
Heshima’s team has also noticed a visible increase in confidence and motivation by the girls, which has enhanced their workshop atmosphere. Emily says, “The most surprising part of the two-week training, was watching as the participants grew together with the guidance of our trainer Apurba. It is always beautiful to see people from different backgrounds, cultures, and, in this case, generations, sharing with one another in the creative process. Art is truly universal, and we had the honor of experiencing this firsthand during the Shibori training. In working with the new technique, there has been a learning curve. The girls are testing and practicing every day as they work to mold their own take on the patterns. One of the best–and sometimes most frustrating–parts of Shibori is how meticulous and detailed the designs can be. I think it’s been such a vital lesson for our artisans to learn as they apply their creative freedom to this centuries-old technique.”
Benedict Nganga, Heshima’s Country Director, reflects on the training: “I have seen our artisans being trained, but the tactic, concentration, and keenness which was required and exhibited by them during the training left me convinced that the artisans' capacity is limitless. These young women only require the opportunity.”
As for Angelina Jolie’s observations at World Refugee Day, she had never attended a fashion show of this type before, and the one conducted by the artisans was awesome. Among the dresses they wore were those designed using Shibori-dyed fabric. She observed that the girls are talented and can become fashion show movers.
Emily says, “We couldn’t have asked for a better experience with the USAID East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, who saw the greater potential in each of our artisans and generously acted on it.” Emily concluded with, “It is clear to us that the training provided a new level of craftsmanship for the Maisha Collective is not only elevating our product line, but also attracting new partnerships from local and international companies. “
Emily Snider, Sales and Partnerships Manager at Heshima Kenya
UNHCR fashion show for World Refugee Day at Heshima Kenya