Ibaba Rwanda : the rebirth of a workshop of embroidery

In Rwanda, “ibaba” refers to a traditional design representing a bird’s wing. It is also the name of a clothing brand created by two sisters, Véronique and Pascale Gamard, and their cousin Solange, six years ago. The history of the embroidery workshop in Rutongo, located an hour’s drive from Kigali, begins in 1976 with sister Lucienne and sister Zoe. “Active within the village, the two religious belgian occupied to train the girls who were leaving the school. They learned embroidery, sewing, and everything they need to become good wives. But, at the time of their marriage, they left the workshop and thus lost a source of income and their autonomy, ” says Veronique Gamard, who is the head creative of Ibaba Rwanda.

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At the time, the workshop counts up to 300 people and is part of the sites visited by the officials and celebrities passing. Orders were pouring in and their expertise was recognised throughout the country. In 1994, the Rwanda switches in horror. In a few months, about 800,000 Tutsis were killed during the genocide. Traumatized and bruised, the two nuns fleeing Belgium and the workshop closes its doors. Only a handful of women will continue to embroider in order to diversify their financial resources.

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In 2011, Veronique Gamard discovers the work of these embroiderers through her sister, Pascale, married to a Rwandan. “She showed me some items and asked me what I could do to give them a boost. I immediately saw that there was a real know-how, but a lack of creativity. “A graduate in architecture, interior and graphic designer self-taught, she began by modernizing the basic motifs. His drawings under his arm, and without another project in mind, Véronique joined her sister in Rutongo.


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“Initially, I was supposed to meet three embroiderers. But, on the day of the appointment, seventy women were waiting for me in the garden of my brother-in-law. All thought that I was going to restart the workshop. I was not at all prepared for it ! ” said Véronique. She also discovers that her drawings are difficult to adapt. Then begins a real exchange of knowledge between the graphic designer and five embroiderers.

The brand Ibaba Rwanda produces its own behalf but mainly for other houses

Through word-of-mouth, the first collection, presented in a private sale in Paris, attracted a clientele of family and friends. Excited by the project, their cousin Solange offers to accompany them in the development of trade. The family trio will launch in the social entrepreneurship. “It was with the embroiderers in the creation of their cooperative, called Corum. In parallel, it has set up a company in Rwanda and one association in Paris in order to raise funds, ” explains the head of the company. The financial support from associations, NGOS, and the embassy of France in Rwanda can pay for the training in management and sewing to about thirty workers of Corum. “Thanks to this prize of the fondation Hermès, we have been able to bring in a seamstress working for Dior and Chanel, for three weeks. We will also be able to build a new building, which will accommodate up to one hundred people, ” says Veronique Gamard.

As a customer of the co-operative, the brand Ibaba Rwanda produces its own behalf but mainly for other houses. Bonpoint, Claudie Pierlot, Lemlem (created by supermodel Liya Kebede), Edun (brand made in Africa with the singer Bono), Indego Africa, a High Baso (manufacturer rwandan), Sok Sabai, Macon & Lesquoy, Sawa Shoes… collaborations are to come and install the know-how of the co-operative in rwanda in a universe of mode sharp and premium. This strategy allows you to pay for each employee of the workshop or 45 euros per month, where a teacher earns 37 euros. Income which is added bonus. “Ibaba Rwanda has become a national reference in the area of embroidery craft,” says the entrepreneur, who is full of ideas for the years to come. Today, the cooperative is living nearly 400 people in Rutongo, offering these women a new financial freedom. “Several of them have made marriages of love. Mothers give their children the image of a woman who takes charge. Everywhere in Rwanda, the “women empowerment” is a reality “, insists Veronique Gamard, who has only one wish : that the co-operative Corum soars with his own wings.


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