Filling Your World With Warmth and Positivity, One Basket At Time
By: Kelly McDermott, Contributor, Songa Designs International
If the home is an expression of the owner, what does yours say? Is it filled with comfortable decor and muted tones? Or featuring vibrant, bold and inviting pieces that tell a story? On a mission to spread confidence, joy, and women’s empowerment, lifestyle and home décor brand Songa Designs International is changing the lives of women around the world by creating accessories with purpose.
Sarah Sternberg, founder of Songa Designs, dreamed of a career that made a major impact on the lives of others. As part of a third round of layoffs at a real estate development company in 2008, Sternberg traded in her safe 9-to-5 job for cold-water bucket baths, sleeping under the stars and working in a rural Ugandan village.
When she moved to Rwanda to do skills training for women’s cooperatives all over the country, Sternberg met women like Mama Tito, Mama Dan and Mama Merci. Sternberg observed how the Mamas worked best together; they were able to support one another as individuals by being a part of a tenacious community of strong women. Their determination and skills as artisans inspired Sternberg to co-found Songa Designs International, a company that thrives as a home décor and accessories brand celebrating the significance of women all over the world.
Every part of Songa Designs, even down to its name – Songa means “the path forward” in Swahili – strives to support Rwandan women on their journey toward financial liberation. Crafted with fair trade principles in mind, Songa Designs currently provides 175 women in Rwanda with the opportunity to make their own income using special skills they acquired at a young age.
“Being an artisan means being creative and open,” said Eugenie, Songa Designs’ seamstress. “I used to be lonely and closed but from the time I started working with other women, my life changed. I have become more creative and can do more new things than before.” For the first time, many of Songa’s artisans are earning wages that allow them to purchase plots of land, send their children to school, purchase livestock and provide invaluable support to their families, all without depending on a husband.
“My work means a lot to me,” said Thamar, Songa Designs’ sisal plant weaver. “It means security and dignity. I have relied on my husband to meet my needs in the past, which made him think of me as a useless person. From the time I started weaving with Songa, things have changed. I am happier and confident. I can meet my needs without waiting on my husband.”
Using skills passed down for generations, each of Songa Designs’ unique baskets is handmade with eco-friendly materials such as banana leaf, sisal plant, upcycled fabric, recycled paper, and repurposed cow horn that otherwise would end up in landfills. Each tightly woven basket takes an artisan approximately one week to create and brings a little piece of the world into your home.
All of Songa’s collections are named after one of the Mamas who initially inspired Sternberg. The basket collection is named after Mama Tin Tin who Sternberg warmly refers to as her “Rwandan Mama.” Each of the baskets also has a special meaning. The Bedawi basket and tray means “nomad” in Swahili, giving tribute to the homage of Songa. The Mudita Basket means “to delight in the happiness of others.” The Fernweh Basket means “a longing to travel, missing a place you’ve never been,” while the Elysian Magazine Holder means “beautiful, creative, divinely inspired.”
To learn more about Songa Designs International, or to purchase a basket for your own home, visit www.songadesigns.com
Photos courtesy of Songa Designs International