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East African countries lure US apparel retailers
Oct '13
The East Africa Trade Hub welcomed large U.S. retailers, Anthropologie and Eileen Fisher on organized buyer's visits in East Africa. The goal of the visits was to connect export-ready manufactures and suppliers to the American retailers. The Trade Hub led delegations from both companies to Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania.

The trip was Anthropologie’s first to East Africa. A delegation of four senior executives met with designers and manufacturers to assess opportunities for trade relationships. Anthropologie was so impressed with the six vendors they visited, that they have planned a second buyer’s visit in late October.

"The trip was a tour de force-a life changing adventure,” said Sebastian Brauer, Senior Designer for Accessories at Anthropologie of his recent buyer’s trip to East Africa.

“For a designer there is nothing more moving than seeing your ideas come to life from the talented hands of beautiful people. From fine cotton weavers in  Ethiopia to the women of Rwanda-all their stories are part of the product, and that is luxury."

“With this kind of opportunity comes hard work but each company is excited and willing to do what it takes to guarantee success,” said Llenay Ferretti, a Trade Hub representative who led the delegation.

Most of the vendors visited by both delegations have socially-driven business models. Gahaya Links, a Rwandan handicraft producer creates economic opportunities for women by providing in-depth training in enhanced weaving skills and new design techniques.

The company works with over 4,000 weavers across Rwanda. The delegations also visited Indego Africa, who employs women artisan cooperatives to produce unique jewelry, accessories and home furnishings for sale in the U.S. The company reinvests 100 percent of its profits for cooperative training and educational programs.

For Eileen Fisher, this trip was the retailer’s second visit to the region. Their first visit, in October 2011, was also facilitated by the East Africa Trade Hub. The company aims to expand product categories like jewelry and knitwear.

This trip included an expanded team which focused on evaluating manufacturing practices, human rights, working conditions and environmental sustainability.  The interest in how the products are produced was  evident to the vendors who appreciated the company’s interest in the process as much as the product.

Indego Africa's Creative Director, Deirdre McGuigan was delighted with the outcome of the visit. “It was really special having the Eileen Fisher team in Rwanda. The fact that they spent a dedicated amount of time with their potential partner cooperative not only pushed our collaboration forward on a design and product side, but it meant a lot to our artisan partners to be able to tell a new U.S. retail client their stories and show them the way they work. Overall, we were so pleased to host the Eileen Fisher team and feel like the foundation for a strong and long-lasting partnership has been laid.”

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