Two years ago, Anne Schipper came home to Amsterdam from a trip to the Ineza Cooperative in Kigali, Rwanda, with a colorful, quilted apron. She also returned with a promise to herself to share the stories of the women who created her apron and others like it.
Aprons are among the signature products of the 25-member women’s sewing cooperative, which is also known for its handmade bags, accessories and home-décor items. Many of the women are survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Founded in 2006, the Ineza Cooperative, which employs collective decision-making and management, provides HIV-positive women with income, emotional support and opportunities for continuing education.
“The amazing vibe of the women – their happiness, pride, power, courage and love – was impressive,” recalled Schipper, who is Starbucks operations manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “I promised myself that we would represent those ladies in our stores – sharing their story and showing the world how beautiful and brave they are. To give them identity, like everyone deserves to have in this world.”
Last month, aprons sewn by the cooperative appeared at 120 Starbucks stores across the region as Reserve coffee from Rwanda was featured and partners (employees) in each of the selected stores wore an Ineza Cooperative apron. The aprons will continue to be worn for special events, including International Coffee Day (October 1).
“Partners were humbled and proud to wear the apron and share the story about these amazing ladies,” Schipper said.
The money from Starbucks purchase of the aprons funded sewing materials, cooperative artists’ salaries and an emergency savings fund. Schipper said Starbucks, which visits the Ineza Cooperative annually as part of a tour of coffee origin countries, will buy more aprons, but the main goal of the program is to “build identity and show how beautiful these women are.”
“Whenever I make a product and it’s bought and appreciated, I not only feel happy, but I feel like a stronger woman with hope to live a better life, which was not the case a few years ago when I felt more hopeless due to violence and turbulent experiences from war,” said cooperative member Nassim.
“It was easier for me to pay my rent as well buy school supplies for my children during the period I sold my products to Starbucks,” added Cecile.
“These women are life changers, but I believe everyone can be a life changer by being the best version of yourself,” said Schipper.