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We love it when successful fashion designers take the clout they've attained and use it to do good for the world. That's why we were particularly pleased to be invited to Nicole Miller's Soho store last night to celebrate the designer's collaboration with the Rwandan artisans she partnered with through the non-profit Indego Africa.
Instead of just making a donation to charity, Miller has actually been helping these Rwandan women, most of whom survived the horrors of the 1994 genocide to lift themselves out of poverty and become successful entrepreneurs. She's doing this by collaborating with them to produce clothing and accessories which she can then sell.
Miller stayed at the Hôtel des Mille Collines—the hotel from Hotel Rwanda—during her travels there, and has been guiding the women to make designs which will appeal to her customers. The designer told us when she first met the women, "They brought me bracelets which were too touristy. I told them how make them better."
Later, they showed her necklaces of lacquered paper beads, which she suggested they combine with hand-woven beads she'd seen in other Rwandan necklaces. The next day, the women returned with a batch of completed necklaces, all designed to her specifications. She loved them so much, she bought them all. Miller explained, "They don't want handouts. They just kept asking, 'Can you get us an order? Can you get us an order?'" So she's giving them orders—and also a supply of old fashion magazines they can use to make more beads.
The designer's stores and the Nicole Miller website are selling the artisans' colorful print designs at affordable prices. The bracelets are three for $25 and the necklaces are $35 a strand. Also available are totes for $60 and shorts and sarongs for $65. We saw a sample of a cute backpacks that will be coming out in a few months, and the designer herself was wearing a prototype for a print dress which we—and everyone else at the party—coveted. We suspect it too will eventually be added to the collection.
Nicole Miller was joined at the party by the traditionally dressed Therese Iribagizaand Emelienne Nyiramana, the master seamstresses and executives from Rwanda's Cocoki cooperative, whom she's been working with. In short, this collaboration is truly empowering for the women; it's allowing them to support their families and send their children to school.
While discussing the Indego Africa collaboration with Miller, we learned that not only is she a Racked reader, but she's also a confirmed foodie and major devotee of our sister site, Eater. On our end, we've always been big fans of Nicole Miller the designer, but now, having seen the life-changing work she's doing in Africa, we've also become major fans of Nicole Miller the person.
· Nicole Miller [Official Site]
· Indego Africa [Official Site]