co-DESIGNING & ENTREPRENEURSHIP with young women
The Sara Center, located in Niamey, Niger, is a three-year, skills-based sewing school for young women. The Sara Center prepares women who do not have the ability to go to school with entrepreneurial skills, which they can apply to creative and positive work.
Role: Collaboration, Product Design, Small Business Advocacy, Branding
Time: 6 months
DESIGNING TO INCREASING MARKET SALES
The Sara Center wanted to tap into the tourist money that comes into Niger but had trouble connecting to western shoppers and making sales at their local markets. At the time, their tourist products were influenced by an influx of cheaply manufactured goods coming to Niger from China, the belief that traditional craft styles were no longer desirable, and a limited understanding of western culture and fashion.
Niger is the largest country in West Africa but one of the least developed, ranking as our world’s 5th poorest country by GDP.
There is no public education system in Niger. Women who cannot afford to attend school often end up unable to read write, and speak French (the national language) leading to high unemployment rates amongst women.
Women in Niger face many crises including high rates of poverty, lack of access to contraceptives, and poor education.
Process & IDEA SHARING
I worked closely with a local anthropologist to understand the religious and social context tied to Nigerien fashion. By understanding their culture I was able to appropriately contribute and help to bridge the gap between Nigerian wear and western clothing, accessories, and household goods.
A large part of my research was West Africa’s design influence in American and Europe. I found African American’s reclaiming African fabrics, styles, and products as the foundation of my initial prototyping tool; an inspiration binder of cataloged products. The binder was sent to Niger months prior to my arrival.
Once the book made it to Niger, the Sara Center began to incorporate new design ideas into their work. Based on their skill-sets and cultural preferences we identified aprons, oven mitts, purses, bags, laptop cases, and pillows as new product opportunities. Over the course of a month my anthropologist partner and I helped to refine these products for the market. During our time together we exchanged sewing and fabric working techniques, and style preferences.
In a short period of time, we were able to successfully refine products and create a new product line the Sara Center was proud of. Simple refinements like changing to smaller zippers on pillows, lining the inside of aprons, and making thumb whole smaller on over mitts made a huge difference in the quality of their products. By the end of my stay in Niger, I was able to fundraise over $1000 for supplies. When it came time to sell products at the market, the Sara Center did better than they ever and sold out of all their products.
1. Women at the Sara Center spoke four different languages; Hausa and Zarma being the predominate, French and English the secondary. Our anthropologist was our interpreter she spoke the native African languages, French, and English. When she was not around I heavily relied on non-verbal forms of communications like hand gesturing and acting out actions.
2. The Sara Center was used to selling their products to mostly locals at a very reasonable price. When it was time to sell at the tourist craft fair, they sold out of all their products for the first time ever. Unknowingly the women priced everything at their normal price points underselling all their products. Even though, they were happy to sell all of their products, they did not make much of a profit.
After finding out about the undersold products, I went to other tourist vendors in Niamey and completed a competitive price analysis. I created an imaged based pricing guide for the school as a guide and learning tool for tourist sales.
To contribute to new projects and resources with the Sara Center please donate. A little goes a long way!