Interview: Fraterne from Irebe Baskets

Fraterne -Irebe Baskets

Fraterne is the founder of the Irebe Basket Collective which sells some of the more beautiful pieces I’ve seen in Rwanda, weaved by a talented group of artisans. You can find out more on the Irebe Baskets website (with online ordering and worldwide shipping), Facebook group, and Instagram.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My Name is Fraterne Ngiruwonsanga, I am the founder of the Irebe basket collections, a community based cooperative operating in the southern province of Rwanda. I am passionate about hand made products and I have grown up amongst a community of weavers of Rwandan Baskets. This inspired me to create decoration to support local artisans through market network, product and skills development.

What is Irebe Baskets?

Irebe baskets is a community collective of handmade basketry weavers based in Ruhango district which brings together local weaving artisans to offer a working platform geared at improving their lives socially and economically. We have a show room in Kacyiru, Kigali to display the various products produced.

Who started Irebe Baskets and when did it start?

Irebe was started just a few years ago (2017) by myself and group of young weavers. I was born into a community deeply rooted in communal handmade crafts and I followed my lifelong desires and with group of young weavers to start up Irebe baskets as a community platform for other artisan to come and work together to improve their social life styles, as well as improve their standards of living.

How did the idea for this business come about?

The idea was derived from the challenges that were faced by various artisans who did not have a viable platform to display their products and the channelling to various markets and clientele, Irebe came to bridge the gap between the artisan and their clientele while improving the lives of the member artisans and as well as developing their skills through our training programs.

How many artisans work for Irebe and where are they based?

Irebe is currently made up of 120 members and still growing and we are based in Ruhango district. Our target is to hold more than 600 members in the soon to launch the Irebe Women’s Centre which is under construction in Ruhango district.

What does Irebe hope to provide to their artisans?

Irebe provides technical and financial support to its members in various ways including wages on production, member allowances and insurance as well as skills training programs to improve artisan production capacity. We also hope to offer our members a working station centre in Ruhango that will host more than 600 member artisans and 100,000 products with a gallery to display these products and the eventual goal to continue to improve the income for our artisans.

Besides basket sales, what else does Irebe offer?

Irebe also offers basket tours and trainings to clients, tourists and young weavers who wish to learn more about basketry. We also offer decoration services to events, hotels and homesteads.

Do the patterns on the baskets have special meanings or are they just artistic?

Some of the patterns are related to old saying the ancient life story or myths but we are innovating new patterns that match with client’s desire and attraction.

What are the different shapes of the baskets used for, traditionally?

Baskets vary in shapes and some particular shapes are significant and represent something about the tradition, for example the round basket is famously used in traditional weddings.

Where in Kigali can people find Irebe Baskets to do some shopping?

You are welcome to our showroom and gallery in Kacyiru on KG 684 Street (behind the US Embassy on the stone road) where you will pick for yourself from a variety of handmade baskets. Or you can even place your preferred order on our Irebe Baskets website. You can also find us online on Instagram and Facebook.

What do you hope for the future for Irebe Baskets?

We are developing women’s weaving centre in Ruhango district that will be hosting more than
600 weavers and increase production capacity by over 50 percent. The weaving centre will complete by
end of 2022 and we are currently running campaigns to raise the remaining funds to support us in completion of the centre and implementing its objectives.

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