Economic Empowerment through Fashion: Musana Jewelry
By Meredith Duncan
Nestled among expansive sugarcane and tea fields, Lugazi is largely known as little more than a pass-through town on your way to Jinja for a Nile River rafting adventure. However, with the recently opened Musana Jewelry storefront, now you’ve got a reason to stop.
Musana Jewelry is a Community-Based Organization that empowers women through making unique jewelry that is sold locally and around the world. Musana has been in operation for three years selling jewelry online and in boutiques in the United States. This summer has been an exciting season of expanding sales in Uganda with the grand opening of a retail store in June, and there are plans of adding freshly blended fruit smoothies to the establishment in September for those just dropping in for a break between Kampala and Jinja.
Musana Jewelry started in 2009 as a partnership between three American women and a group of Ugandan women who had become close during the Americans’ summer of volunteering in Lugazi. The Ugandan women were bright, capable, hard-working women who were essentially the sole providers for their homes of four children or more, but they had little opportunity for employment. With skills in handcrafts, like beading and sewing, but with no market for their items, the American and Ugandan women came together to collaborate on designs that could be marketed in the United States.
With several years of hard work on both sides of the Atlantic, Musana’s home has grown from an open garage to a two-room combination store and workshop, and it has slowly made its way towards being a self-sustaining venture. Nine funny, warm and outgoing women with their small children fill the space with laughter, songs and stories each day, and Musana has recently expanded to work on short-term jewelry projects with other women’s groups in the community.
This opportunity for expansion came at just the right moment after local mismanagement during winter 2011 caused the US staff to ask the question, “Is this really worth it?” As a final effort to evaluate the time and resource investment versus the impact on the target population, Melissa Sevy and Meredith Duncan came to Uganda in May to review the on-the-ground situation. They quickly observed that the impact was measurable and necessary – there just needed to be a reinvigoration of energies in both Uganda and America to take things up a notch.
Even at the small capacity at which Musana had so far been functioning, many of the artisans had already blossomed into stronger women and spoke of how their employment was giving them the opportunity to live more independent lives. Eve, once a shy, sweet girl who spoke no English, now speaks English fluently and is the sassiest of the artisans, and Susan is sending her son to university. All of the women’s children are in school, they own cell phones, and they put money away in their savings accounts each month towards building better futures for their families.
Seeing the deep impact on the women’s lives and the opportunities for organizational growth, Melissa has extended her stay indefinitely, and Meredith has returned to New York City to increase Musana’s presence stateside. Musana is growing its Ugandan management to sustain the organization locally, and we continue to focus on sourcing unique local materials to make jewelry that is exclusively Ugandan – everything from tree bark and roadside seeds to traditional dancing chimes.
As you pass through Lugazi over the next few months, be sure to stop by the Musana store for some shopping, smoothies and a chance to interact with the artisans. Just give Melissa a call to set up an appointment!
For more information on Musana, please contact:
Melissa, Mobile: +256 781036197