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Dsenyo Blog

THE LITTLE DRESS: A Journey of Hope

I am excited to share with you about Vicki Vasilopoulos' newest piece, an inspiring documentary about American women volunteers finding purpose and passion through their work with non-profit Little Dress for Africa. Not only will some of her filming take place in Malawi, but Dsenyo items have been included as donor perks on her Indiegogo campaign.

In the twilight of her life, 99-year old Iowa native Lillian Weber had a remarkable goal: to sew 1,000 dresses for needy little girls in Africa before she turned 100 years old. She inspired a community of like-minded volunteers -- and brought worldwide attention to the nonprofit organization "Little Dresses for Africa," founded by Rachel O'Neill to honor little girls and make them feel worthy. THE LITTLE DRESSfollows Lillian and Rachel's life-affirming mission and the transformative effect on the little girl who receives one of Lillian's lovingly made dresses.

By telling Lillian Weber's story, THE LITTLE DRESS gives voice to an older generation of women volunteers at a time when many of them feel that they don't count anymore. The film will reveal not only the impact of LDFA's mission in Africa, but also the transformative effect on its own volunteers. As Rachel O'Neill says "We give our volunteers a feeling that they're important and that they matter. We're changing lives here and across the ocean."

This independently produced film is intended for worldwide distribution at film festivals, on public television, at independent theaters and community screenings, as well as on digital streaming platforms.

Check out the Indiegogo campaign here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-little-dress-a-journey-of-hope/x/3636641#/

 

Guest Blogger Katherine Lariscy, from One I Love

This week we are honored to have Katherine Lariscy, from One I Love, as a guest blogger.  She has been a great supporter of Dsenyo, and we're honored to be included in her collection of curated artisan goods. Read on to learn more about her passion for artisan crafts and a little history behind artistry.

One I Love

by Katherine Lariscy

Artisans create hand-made items using a variety of techniques, skill, or artistry sometimes passed down through generations. Dating back to the Renaissance period Artisans were revered, admired, and some even famous for their creations. In the nineteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment was in full bloom throughout Europe and Artisans of all kinds flourished like never before. Prior to the Industrial Revolution craftsmen were the main source of a variety of goods such as candlesticks, jewelry, clothes, furniture, and other items. With the mass industrialization that swept across both Europe and the Americas unique and artisanal items were replaced by assembly line goods. But, the lack of cultural appreciation of Artisans throughout history is now changing. 

Artisan Women Empowerment


Through purchasing hand-made goods created by artisans around the world we are able to support fair trade practices. Companies such as Dsenyo were created with a mission to provide both artisans and consumers the channels to connect and trade their goods on the global market. Fair Trade artisan goods ensure not only fair wages but also ethical working conditions & often times the use of sustainable materials as well. Many artisans use creative methods of recycling and reusing materials in their works. The merging of environmental sustainability within the Artisan movement is a very 21st century concept.

One of the most amazing things about decorating your home or spicing up your wardrobe with artisan handmade items is how eclectic, original, & unique the pieces are. For example, I have a wall decorated with my collection of Sweetgrass baskets. These baskets have been made for generations by Artisan women in the Carolinas. With so much mass production today it is nice to find items that are not so cliche and homogenized. Artisans have a way of making statement pieces that truly stand out from the crowd. This is why we chose to highlight some of our amazing and lovely bohemian style hand-made accessories & jewelry. The Feather Leaf earrings are one of our personal faves and just perfect for the Autumn season! These earrings are made fair trade by a female cooperative and a must-have for any chic ladies collection! 

Another one of our popular and truly one-of-a-kind items are the Little Ones Stuffed Animal Collection! They are the perfect gift for little ones and make excellent stocking stuffers as well! These Little Ones are safari themed and multi colored, choose from Zebras, Elephants, Lions, Foxes, Bunnies and many more! 
Little Friends Dsenyo
These are just a couple of our lovely, Artisan fair trade items hand-picked by the One I Love Team! We chose to partner with companies that believe in empowering Artisans by providing the economic channels to connect them with consumers. A majority of these fair trade and artisan items are produced in areas of the world where people are dealing with extreme poverty, injustice, and lack of opportunities. Through purchasing fair trade artisan goods we can have a positive impact and put our dollars towards a good cause! A majority of these Artisans use their wages to benefit their local communities, neighborhoods, and families. Empowering women in undeveloped countries is one of the best investments we can make in both our children and world's future. Come check out our amazing selection of Artisan items on sale at One I Love!

Thankful: Our Team, Our Partners, Our Community and Balance

This time of year inevitably becomes a reflective and introspective time for me.  Perhaps this year is particularly so because my husband and I welcomed a baby boy (our second) earlier this year. Plus, during a heartfelt life-talk on a breakfast date with my dad recently he said, “There’s nothing about you that’s not a full-fledged adult at this point. You get to decide what your adult life will look like.”  Those words along with several other conversations with friends, mentors and recent book recommendations have me working on better defining my personal life goals and how career, family and community all become essential pieces of that vision.  It’s been an interesting practice to do this and has lead me once again to a place of deep gratitude where I often find myself around Thanksgiving.

Among other things, sitting at my desk here at Dsenyo, I’m counting my blessings for:

Our Dsenyo Team - Both Ashley and Linda joined Dsenyo full-time earlier this year. They took a risk to leave better paying, more stable professions.  Linda even left a strong community of friends and family back in Wisconsin and Indiana to move out West to join us here in Colorado.  I’m grateful for their passion and varied talents that they bring to our team.  I’m also grateful to have a team to share in this journey with.

Dsenyo Malawi ArtisanDsenyo Zambia ArtisanDsenyo Brazil Artisan

Dsenyo works with over 100+ artisans in Malawi, Zambia and Brazil

Artisan Partners - Our artisan partners are why Dsenyo exists.  We get so much satisfaction and joy out of working with them and knowing that their families are thriving because of the boost they get from income generated by working on Dsenyo orders.  Through our social impact studies (Malawi, Zambia) we have been able to see and measure first-hand that Dsenyo’s intention of positively impacting women and artisan’s lives is a reality.


Retail Partners - Did you know that Dsenyo items are sold at over 300 retail locations across the USA, Canada and Australia.  That’s amazing!  We are so grateful to work with this network of stores that values artisan-made, fair trade goods and we continue to work like crazy to design and create products that help our partners succeed in their efforts as well.

Confluence Small Business Collective

Enjoying community BBQ at Confluence Small Business Collective

 Confluence - For the first time this year Dsenyo has a real office.  We are flagship members of the Confluence Small Business Collective in Lafayette, CO with a private Dsenyo office.  It’s been wonderful to be part of this community in our home town.  

 

Dsenyo Retail Store

Dsenyo's new retail store, located in side TRI Vintage & Wares

New Shop - I am grateful for our friends at TRI Vintage & Wares who presented us with the incredible opportunity of opening a small Dsenyo retail shop this fall.  Dsenyo now has a store within a store.  For local supporters in the Boulder/Denver area you can now see our FULL collection of fair trade items from all three countries in one place.  Dsenyo shop is inside TRI at 107 S Public Rd in Lafayette, CO.


Crowdfunding Supporters - Thank you to everyone who supported our Snare Wire Kickstarter Campaign to help reinforce anti-poaching efforts in Zambia and create artisan jobs in the local community.  Right now we are running another campaign to help launch a new group of textile artisans in Zambia and get Dsenyo to a more stable place of self-sufficiency.  You can support that here and thank you! 


Balanced perspective - One of my favorite perks of working on Dsenyo is the balance perspective I have gained on life.  I can so easily get swept up in the busy-ness of our American culture, the desire for more, more, more and the relentless overwhelming, self-defeating, over-parenting of my generation.  (sorry that sounds so negative...there are so many things I LOVE about our culture too, but it’s been so good for me personally, to be able to step outside of the culture my daily life is immersed in and look at things from a different perspective.  This helps me manage the stress of running a social enterprise, build my marriage and be mom to two young boys all at once.  When I look at the women and artisans we work with across Malawi, Zambia and Brazil and take into account the daily challenges they face, I realize that I can do this...we can do this!  Our partner artisans give me that strength and inspiration every single day. Thank you!

By the way, this life goal/vision work I’m doing has been inspired by several friends and mentors alongside the following books.  It’s odd that we spend so much time planning other parts of our lives (business plans, vacation plans, education plans) but don’t necessarily do the intentional work of planning our adult lives.  I’m not a crazy planner necessarily. I really like and value leaving space for spontaneity and openness to new ideas that aren’t part of the plan.  However, I am goal-oriented and value the direction that comes with having a plan with some foundation and structure to build off of.


Book recommendations on this stuff:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,  by Greg McKeown

ReWork, by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

Making Money is Killing Your Business, by Chuck Blakeman

Marissa Dsenyo Founder

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marissa

Dsenyo Founder    

Letters from Malawi

 Dsenyo Letter

I don't know whether it's the cool air this time of year that yields moments for introspection, or maybe just the themes surrounding Thanksgiving as it quickly approaches. Whatever it may be, we're thinking about the work that we do here at Dsenyo, and we feel very grateful for this work.

We wanted to share with you a letter we recently received from Enera Mhango. She is an artisan living in Malawi, and is part of the Vipambi group who make a lot of Dsenyo's beautiful handbags and apparel. Take a look:

My name is Enera Mhango. Iam a widow with four children.

I joined Dsenyo in 2012. Before I joined Dsenyo I was just staying and life was very difficult because everything in life needs money.

Now Iam appreciating for what Dsenyo had done for me. I have managed to send my children to school, food is always available and staying at a better house. I have managed to send my son to college for three years programmes and now he is doing his last year. I know for sure that without Dsenyo there was no good future for my children.

Lastly I thank Dsenyo (management) for the introduction of this coming to Malawi to help people who are indeed. For me I benefited a lot as well in skills of sowing because now Iam independent on my own. I thank God for everything and wishing the management of Dsenyo long life so that others who are indee should also befited from it.

Thank you.

It's letters like Ms. Mhango's that remind us of the core of Dsenyo: a social enterprise focused on economic opportunities for women in areas where jobs are scarce.

Please consider Dsenyo this holiday season with your gifts. Our collection is a gift that gives twice.  

Time in the kitchen: A mother/child afternoon

dsenyo-cooking-apronsDsenyo-cooking-apronsdsenyo-cooking-aprons

 

Sometimes we forget that one of the joys this time of year can simply be spending time together. We get busy with the hustle and bustle, with the intention of doing things just right for one another and we miss just enjoying time together.

All of us here at Dsenyo would like to take a minute to enjoy time well spent with one another. What better way to do that than by cooking.

Our founder, Marissa, and her son recently spent an afternoon together whipping up some delicious Malawian sweet potato biscuits. She wanted to share with her son a favorite recipe picked up during her time living in Malawi.

It's simple, delicious and easy to do with kids.  We hope you enjoy!

Cheers,

The Dsenyo Team

P.S. Our aprons (adult & kids sizes) help keep messes to a minimum ;) 

 

 

Lions disappearing. Let's talk about it.

lions are disappearing. let's talk... 

Over the past year and half Dsenyo has not only been focused on working with artisans, but also on promoting a jewelry collection focused on wildlife conservation and anti-poaching endeavors. The collection takes confiscated snare wire (from anti-poaching efforts) and repurposes into jewelry.

This week we read an article titled Lions Quickly Disappearing in Much of Africa, Study Says by Jim Zarroli.

It was a sad reminder that these beautiful animals are facing a threatening decline.

The article addresses various causes for the decline including two attributed to people:

1. Loss of habitat

2. Uncontrolled hunting and retaliatory killing of lions 

The article also mentions some optimism for the lion population sharing:

Lion populations are increasing in four southern African countries: Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

Our speciality is not wildlife conservation. We recognize that. However, we would like to start a conversation about it and encourage more conversations.

We invite you to support these beautiful animals (and other threatened animals) through your purchase of a snare wire bracelet, earrings or a key chain. Use it as a conversation piece and bring awareness to the issues. 

These jewelry pieces are a small piece of the pie, but we know that awareness and conversations can cause a ripple effect.

Will you join us? 

$5 of each snare wire piece purchased will be donated to the Zambian Carnivore Programme and the South Luangwa Conservation Society. 

 

Cultural norms: When we miss the mark

One of the beautiful parts about working for a fair trade company are the cultural lessons we learn. The ones we learn everyday even when we’re across the ocean from one another.

We go into this work with the intention of respecting culture, and it’s even written into our code as members of the Fair Trade Federation. Principle 9: Respect cultural identity.

Our intentions are to share stories of the artisans, of their experiences and, hopefully, of the benefit of this work.

And then one day, we miss the mark.

It happens and it’s subtle and it can happen when trying to protect based on our own cultural norms.

We recently released our social impact report for Zambia. The intention of this report is to provide an overview of the life that this group lives and our partnership with them. In the beginning of the report we share a culmination of stats. At the end of the report, we share some quotes with references to first names.

What we didn’t mention in the report is that Jabbes is the youngest member of the group, he is supporting 11 family members and the family eats 4 days a week and the remaining days they eat porridge. Naomi is supporting her husband and daughter. Of her greatest challenges, she hopes to send her daughter to school someday, her husband doesn't work and she worries terribly about her 3 younger brothers she hasn’t seen since her parents passed away – 6 years ago.

We didn’t share these specifics in the report, and this is where we missed the mark. I take the responsibility for this. In my culture, we are shy about sharing our hardships. So, I wanted to protect Jabbes and Naomi - or so I thought. I didn’t want to hang their dirty laundry out for everyone to see.

But I stood corrected.

The group’s founder Kate sent me a kind e-mail. She shared:

“Don’t ever be shy about sharing the Zambian's personal info on their account as they are very open about sharing their troubles as a culture.  In fact I have been told off for not sharing if [my husband] is sick and stuff like that; for them it's a way of life to talk about their hardships.”

I had subtly missed the mark.

We have left the social impact report as is – partially for brevity’s sake. However, the intention of this blog is to share some more personal stories and to share that sometimes when we are trying very hard to respect culture, we can still miss it – especially when we are holding on strong to our own cultural beliefs.

360° Fair Trade - Say what?

Dsenyo is a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation, which means that we are part of a community that strives to build meaningful relationships with producers, and to act as good global citizens through all of our work - socially, economically and environmentally. Recently, the FTF shared with our community messaging about fair trade and what it means to be a part of the Federation.
We wanted to share this with our community as these points encompass the values and standards of Dsenyo - as well as the Fair Trade Federation.
360° Fair Trade
As a visual society, the 360° Fair Trade image is used to represent the entire breadth that we as a business encompass. Not only do we provide fair wages, but also long-term, holistic partnerships that empower small artisans to grow their businesses.  

The 360° also encompasses a rigorous screening process. To become members of the FTF, applicants are require to complete a thorough application and members are required to complete questionnaires annually.

As part of the 360°, we are committing to long-term relationships and growth with the artisans.

We practice 360° fair trade to strengthen communities and create opportunities for families.

Zambia-family

To learn more about 360° Fair Trade, please visit the Fair Trade Federation

October is fair trade month, and to celebrate we're offering FREE shipping on all US domestic orders. Join us by making purchases that support this 360° movement. You dollar spent on fair trade makes a difference.

Zambia: Social Impact Report 2015

As part of our transparency, we seek to provide you (the supporter, the consumer) with updates on how our work affects the producers. Our social impact report is intended to provide you with a window into the lives of the artisans and the power of being conscious consumers. 

Dsenyo is in partnership with Mulberry Mongoose, a social enterprise located in Mfuwe, Zambia. This group primarily focuses their work on the creation of jewelry made with driftwood, pearls, snare wire and other unique elements.

This past summer our staff member, Ashley, had the honor to visit the group and to meet with each artisan individually. The stories were touching, and sometimes difficult to hear, but more than anything an inspiration to continue doing the work. She witnessed first-hand a place where economics plays a role in the well being of both the people and the wildlife. 

A Brief History

As we shared in our previous social impact report, Zambia is a landlocked country found in Southern Africa and bordering Malawi, home of Dsenyo’s first artisan partnerships. In Zambia, over 60% of the population (and almost 80% of the rural population – the population we work with) lives below the international poverty line ($1.25 per day) according to the 2010 World Bank data.  


The Visit

During Ashley's visit to Zambia, she met with Kate Wilson, the founder of Mulberry Mongoose, to discuss our partnership and how we can improve our relationship.  It was a nice opportunity to talk in person about how things are working between us regarding communication, timelines, quality control, etc. Over many conversations, many coffees and even some glasses of wine, we had fruitful conversations listening to each other's needs. It was during these conversations that Ashley was reminded that beyond the most commonly shared principles of fair trade (fair wages, safe working environment, no child labor, etc.), fair trade also calls for stronger communication and relationship building between all groups involved.   

In addition to meeting with Kate, Ashley also met individually with all five artisans to conduct the surveys, to better know everyone and to spend time learning about their day-to-day challenges (more on that later in the survey).

 

The beautiful faces of Mulberry Mongoose

Clockwise from top left: Rosie, Jabbes, Kate, Mirriam, Naomi and Gwen

The Artisans

Our social impact survey included interviews with 5 artisans in addition to meeting with the group’s founder and leader, Kate Wilson. The artisans include 4 women and 1 man, ranging in age from 20 to 27 years old. Since our last social impact survey in 2014, this group is both younger and mostly newer to working with Mulberry Mongoose. At the time data was collected (July 2015), the group has been performing full/part-time work for the duration of 1 to 11 months. 



Mulberry Mongoose Overview
  

Skills Development

At the time of the survey, the group represented a range of good to advanced skills. However, in a follow-up with the group in September, members at the basic skill level have advanced to intermediate levels. All reported that their skills have improved since joining the group. Rosie reported that through an education loan and support from Mulberry Mongoose, she was able to get further education in accounting. Kate, Mulberry Mongoose’s founder, shared, “Rosie got straight distinctions in her subjects, she is very bright, so it was important that she got further education.” 

Supporting Families

The group supports a community of 32 people, 17 of which are children. Of the 5 artisans, 3 are the sole income providers of the household, which also means that 3 people support 25 people.

Above the Poverty Line

On average, the artisans make 39 ZMZ (Zambian kwacha) per day. There is some variability amongst the artisans based on their duration with the group. The average translates to about $75 US dollars per month and is 73% over the International Poverty Line ($1.25/day). In addition to daily wages, the group is given Thobwa (a vitamin drink), prepared lunch (which includes a protein) and bus transportation every work day. Originally, the group received money for lunch, but during the survey it came about that one member and family were eating 4 days per week and only porridge the remaining 3 days. To ensure this member and the other members were receiving proper nutrition, Mulberry Mongoose began providing prepared meals. All members with the exception of one reported eating daily. The group shared that they eat two to three meals per day.

 


Expenditures

 

 

The artisans reported spending their income on food, school fees, supporting their children and their siblings. Rosie reported spending some of her income on school loans while another reported investing in her sister’s business. 

 

 

Security of Modern Amenities

The artisans benefit from the following amenities listed below.

 

 

Challenges

We had an open conversation with the group about day-to-day challenges that they each experience. For some, it’s buying food for the kids. For another woman, it’s a lifelong challenge beginning with the separation from her siblings after her parents passed away. Another shared that the rainy season presents its own challenges on the family – which is coming up this fall.* 

Empowerment

When asked about changes they have experienced since joining Mulberry Mongoose, a couple of women shared that they can now receive credit at stores – a sign of empowerment in their community. Others shared receiving more respect in their community, being able to pay rent and buy food for their families. Rosie shared, “I feel proud.” Jabbes shared that he is able to "purchase food and basic needs" now for his family.

When asked about how their lives have changed since working, they shared that relationships have improved. For example, “So good and so nice. They come close to me now.” Rosie reflected, “see you as a person now.” The general consensus during interviews was that they felt seen now.

In their words:

“When [you] buy the necklace, I’m becoming happy knowing I’m doing a good job.” - Mirriam

“When you buy our jewelry, business grows and protects our animals. Many people not educated, so snare to sell. Buy jewelry to help animals.” - Gwen

The last quote is in reference to hunting with snare wire, an illegal form of poaching. In this community, there is a causal relationship between economics and wildlife conservation. Poaching can be a result of lack of economic opportunities.

Mulberry Mongoose produces a beautiful line of jewelry made with confiscated snare wire. A portion of the sales ($5 of each piece) is donated to NGOs focused on wildlife conservation and anti-poaching efforts. A win-win as the jewelry also provides economic opportunities for the artisans. More on the blog:

Jewelry: Impacting Artisans and Wildlife NGOs

Response to Cecil

 

snare wire jewelry success

 

Dsenyo values this partnership with Mulberry Mongoose. We are proud to bring the collection to the global market supporting these artisans and their community. We hope that through this social impact survey you can see how your purchase supports this rural community in Zambia, and how your continual support will only continue to help this area grow.

Shop the collection by clicking here.

We would love to hear from you! Questions and comments welcome. Send us an e-mail at info@dsenyo.com

 

Infographic design by Linda Xiong

* The rainy season can be challenging on people in Mfuwe, Zambia. Below are a few examples of challenges people face.

  • Roofs come off during the frequent big storms
  • Less work means less money as it's off peak season for tourists
  • Crops not able to grow so no supplementary money or food
  • Flooding of houses and roads
  • Extra malaria and sickness from the water sitting around
  • Lack of drinking water as pollution of water from rain washing litter and sewage into systems
  • Transport is harder to the clinic if you have sick kids as roads are unpassable
  • Less ability to make fires for warmth and cooking as the wood is wet

Dsenyo's New Retail Space

Illustration of our new retail space

Design by Annie Skidmore Design

 

In just a little over a week we will be opening our doors to a new retail space in Lafayette, Colorado. A while back our friends at TRI Vintage and Wares proposed the opportunity, inviting us to have a store within their store.  

As good friends of Dsenyo, this expansion with TRI seemed like the perfect fit. They, too, focus on social responsibility with their attention drawn to India.

Our new space will feature our entire collection - from the beautiful African textile apparel and handbags from Malawi to jewelry from Zambia to clutches from Brazil.

Join us as we open our doors with a special celebration:

Date: Saturday, September 26, 2015
Time: 10 am - 7 pm
Where: 107 S. Public Road, Lafayette, CO 80026
There will be a raffle + prizes!

 

 

 

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