Deirdre King is Indego Africa’s long-time creative director where she does all product design, manages brand partnerships and oversees branding, creative and sales. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband and two toddlers, Iris and Albie.
As a little girl my grandmother taught me how to embroider. I have very fond memories of spending time with her each summer at her home and learning new stitches and picking out little sampler kits to try. We would sit down on her couch and she would pull out her sewing baskets with piles of linens, napkins, half-finished projects, needles, thread, and pin cushions and we would carefully go through them to pick my newest project.
My favorites were floral cross stitch designs, and I would proudly decorate my room with my finished projects – white dresser linens and pillow cases with light pink flowers and bright green leaves and vintage textiles with churches and figures for the days of the week.
My sisters and I each received special handmade gifts from her at our birth – patchwork quilts, framed needlepoints, handknit blankets and cross-stitch embroideries. When we were born, it was important to my grandmother to be able to handcraft us a gift as opposed to buying something mass-produced. For her, that gift would carry meaning and love through each stitch she made.
When we got older and she began teaching us how to sew, she wasn’t just giving us a new craft to keep us busy, she was passing something that she loved on to a new generation, and helping us learn how to create something beautiful with our own two hands.
While I always cherished those lessons, it wasn’t until I was much older that I could really appreciate the detail and dedication to craft that my grandmother instilled in me.
The full significance and beauty of handmade craft – and the integrity within it – really came to light when I started working at Indego Africa in 2010 and began to explore the world of artisan made products. This same dedication to craft and technical detail that the women of Rwanda and Ghana that we work with – and artisans throughout the world for that matter – bring to their handmade work is mind blowing.
These artisanal crafts – basket weaving, embroidery, bead work, handknitting – are passed on from generation to generation as income-generating tools and treated as family heirlooms themselves.
I’ve sat down with these women and watched them start a plateau basket (our best-sellers which are sold around the world) and have been blown away by what goes into just finishing the first spiral of the bowl. Some baskets take up to 120 hours to make! It can be overwhelming to feel the weight of that skill and effort in your hands. It is important to these artisans to share their work and to show others what goes into their trade.
Now, as I design products for Indego Africa – and as I think about what I want to teach my children about hard work, personal integrity, and empowerment – I often think about how proud I was of the embroidery I did, and why it was important to my grandmother to show me why she loved the craft so much.
I see this pride evidenced in the products our artisans partners make too. I hope I always appreciating the craft and hard work of others, and I hope my children do as well.
As a shopper, I am now very cognizant of what the items I am buying represent. Who made them, how were they produced, what is the story behind the creation?
Things I never thought of before – how the inlay on a table was carved and with what tool, where the wool in a sweater was spun and what was used to dye it, what sort of plant did the fiber inside the weaving of a bag come from and who realized it would look like that when harvested in a certain way (this last point particularly blows my mind).
These are questions I can answer for Indego’s products and for many of the ethical companies I support, but not for the majority of the items we see day to day in the stores we frequent. We should care about these things as consumers and look for more information.