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80. Women’s Sewing Co-op Cocoki of Kigali, Rwanda

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Coop Name: Cocoki of Kigali N° of Employees: 40
City: Kigali N° of Members: 40
Country: Rwanda Year of formation: 2007
Website: http://https://www.indegoafrica.org/cocoki
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About this coop:

A women’s sewing cooperative in Kigali, Rwanda, that produces handicrafts for export to large fashion brands in the U.S. that have included Nicole Miller, Anthropologie and J. Crew.

Emelienne Nyiramana, now 37, used to fetch water for a living, walking 17 kilometers from her home in Kigali and earning 25 cents on each trip to provide for her family of six. She didn’t have a bank account, and school fees and groceries for her four children were never certainties. Now, Emelienne earns more than $5 a day running a profitable export business, enough not only to feed her family and pay for her children’s school fees, but to deposit the remainder in a savings account.

The turning point was in 2007. “Me and my fellow women who shared the same problem of poverty decided to start a cooperative with the help of an organization who found us, Indego Africa,” Emelienne said. Theirs was the first group of artisan women to partner with the non-profit, whose long-term approach towards lifting African women out of poverty was through a combination of fair trade partnerships (members of the all-women for-profit co-operatives they partner with get a fair wage that includes 50% in advance of production), international exports, and training programs.

Emelienne’s sewing co-operative, Cocoki (Cooperative de Couture de Kicukiro), now includes 40 women who use foot-powered sewing machines and coal-powered irons to craft vibrantly-colored bags, fabric-wrapped bracelets, and wrap-skirts using traditional wax prints. On their fifth year, they’ve fulfilled orders for large U.S. fashion brands including Nicole Miller and Anthropologie, and are currently finishing production on a large scale order for J.Crew for their Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Profits are used to have fund programs in English literacy, and training in computers, management and accounting.

“All members of Cocoki have a dream. Their dream is to become rich from their hands,” Emelienne said.

Author of this story
Ratha Tep
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