How Kate Spade New York is Changing the Game of the Social Enterprise Model

leather pocket

Obviously kate spade new york isn’t the first company to use the social enterprise model in the developing world — it’s not a new concept — but they seem to be one of the first to be so public about it. Maybe that’s because they are doing it differently than other companies and they want to spread the word? I don’t know, but what I do know, is that I’ve now been there, and seen it with my own eyes, and it’s making a huge difference in Masoro, Rwanda.

If you’ve been around MB for the past month, you may know that I went to Rwanda with kate spade new york (ksny) in November. I wrote about it in this post, and did a little photo diary in this post, and posted lots of photos on Instagram and videos on my Snapchat while I was there.

I’ve had time to digest the trip and want to share with you what I learned while I was there. And I want you to know I’m sharing this, because I want to, ksny did not ask me write a post like this, but I think it’s important to share. Why would I not share!?!

It’s important that we know where our products come from and what goes into making them. I think you’ll be shocked at how so many of our products are handmade. Machines just can’t make certain types of products. Might give you a new perspective on the cost of goods. I know I look at price tags much differently now.

artisan in masoro, rwandaArtisans at the ADC in Masoro, Rwanda


5 Ways kate spade new york is Changing the Game of the Social Enterprise Model

1 / ksny helped build a company called ADC in Masoro, Rwanda, that is a separate company from ksny and can be sufficient on it’s own. ADC is simply one of ksny’s suppliers, not a part of ksny. It is a for-profit business that employs 150+ artisans who get a salary regardless of ksny product sales. I got to meet many of the women and men they help employ.

artisan in masoro, rwanda

Masoro Community Center

2 / ksny is invested in the community. They actually care about the people and the village and Rwanda in general. Those who are employed at the ADC now have money to spend and the economy in the small town of Masoro has gotten much better (it has a population of around 20,000, mostly made up of farmers).

Since the ADC has opened, other businesses have been able to open. Many artisans are supporting up to 4 other people – helping more residents access healthcare, housing, and pay school fees for their children. ksny also helped build a community center, and added a playground to the school in Masoro. Next year, they are renovating a health clinic that was struck by lightning and are supporting the build out of new housing for the nurses that staff the clinic.

artisan in masoro rwanda

Sarah is one of the beaded handbag artisans on the sample team. The beaded clutches take up to seven days to complete just the beading.

artisan in masoro rwanda

kate spade new york friendship braceletsThese friendship bracelets take up to three hours to complete.

3 / ksny wants the ADC to expand and create products for other brands. Even though the ADC is currently at capacity, they hope other brands will come in and help expand the facility. They want ADC to grow and be more profitable than it already is.

artisan in masoro, rwanda

kate spade new york spring 2016 toteThe fabric for these tote bags is cut by hand.

4 / Trade, not aid. Instead of doing a donation-based model like many companies do, where a certain percentage of profit is donated for certain products that are bought, ksny is creating jobs for people. This is huge!

Contrary to what you might think, many people in the developing world don’t want handouts. They want jobs. They want to work, they want opportunity, they want to provide for their families.

Just like here in the US, on top of their salaries at ADC, the employees are given paid vacation and sick days, paid maternity leave, and health insurance.

bloggers in masoro rwandaNikki, Rachel, Nicolette, me, Corrine, Sasha

5 / ksny invited press to come into ADC and check it out. The purpose of the trip was to expose a few bloggers and magazine editors (and then you!) to ADC and how the ksny on purpose label is produced.

I want you to know that nothing was off limits for us to ask, photograph, take video of — it was all encouraged. They weren’t hiding anything or asking us to only cover certain parts of the facility. If you were following my Snapchat, you saw probably saw all of it!

interview with an artisan in masoro, rwanda

We all had the opportunity to interview three women who work at the ADC. Most of them don’t speak much English (but many of them really want to learn!) so we had a translator.

artisan in masoro, rwanda

Janette is 20 and is super soft spoken. Most Rwandan women are soft spoken, but I could hardly hear her! She is one of the most talented artisans at the ADC and works on the sample-making team. She lives with her parents and siblings, and she makes her own clothes. She walks an hour to get to work (each way!). She saves half of her money, and gives the other half to her family. So far with the money she has made, she has bought land and hens. She already has seven hens and wants more (so she can sell the eggs).

She gave her sewing machine to her sister so her sister can learn how to sew, in the hopes that her sister can also come and work at ADC. She said her family was so happy that she got a job at ADC. She took her first paycheck and paid to have cement floors put in the house and she also said “made the house beautiful.”

She said that she loves making the leather bags, she said “they’re beautiful and I made them.” She really wants to travel around the world and see how other sample-makers work. Sometimes she draws out clothing she wants, and has a more talented sewer make it so she can learn better sewing techniques. When we asked her if she had any questions for us she wanted to know what countries Corrine and I had been to and what we loved about them.

She said that ksny is so important because most of the people that now work there were jobless before working at ADC and spent their days just sleeping at home. She said people are hearing about Masoro and how there is a company there that is hiring people. She said that the ADC and people having jobs has changed people’s behavior. That when the woman of the family gets hired at the ADC it has changed the husband’s behavior. Many of the men hang out and drink all day (I witnessed this), and now they are more motivated to work and look for work.

artisan in masoro, rwanda

Donata, 21, is a machine operator for leather bags, and before that she was working on the key fob team. She learned how to use the machine for leather and loves it. Her family lives in Kigali so she rents a house in Masoro with three others that work at ADC. She wants ADC to expand, produce more products, and hire more people. She wants to own a house within the next five years. She goes back to Kigali once a month (by taxi) to see her family.

artisan in masoro, rwanda

Claudine has worked at ADC for one year. She started as a cleaner and was promoted to working on leather bags. She walks 30 minutes to get to work. She’s 32, has two kids, and said that before she started working at the ADC she was farming, not making much money, and now she has bought chickens and sells the eggs. She said now she can buy rice when she couldn’t before. She was able to take out a loan from the bank, add two more rooms on her home, and buy furniture. She said that before she worked at ADC she was treated like a poor person, but now she is respected.

We spent two full days at ADC, learning about the facility, how several of the products are made, from start to finish. We even attempted to do parts of each product ourselves (and mostly failed). We got to interview some of the women, learn how to make friendship bracelets, and at the end of our last day they had a surprise for us.

dancers in masoro, rwanda

A traditional Rwandan dance. Dancing, singing, drums. They even pulled us out to dance with them at the end. Which was funny, for them, to watch us try to dance.

dancers in masoro, rwanda

dancers in masoro, rwanda

Meg Biram dancing with Rwandan dancers.

artisan in masoro, rwanda

Meg Biram with dancers in Masoro, Rwanda.

So many things to say about this trip I’ve struggled to figure out how to do it justice in my posts. I’ll be expanding on Rwanda and my experience on the gorilla trek in future posts, but today I want to thank kate spade new york for giving me this opportunity. I don’t know that I ever would have visited Rwanda otherwise, and it’s such a beautiful country that I’m happy to know.

It was amazing to meet the women who make the on purpose label. Now that I have a few pieces of the collection myself the pieces are so much more special to me. I know who made them. I know that they are treated well, that they love their job, and that I’m supporting something that is breathing new life into a community that really needed it.


Learn more about our trip here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3


Photos by Jeremy Stanley & Meg Biram

My experience in Rwanda was provided by kate spade new york. All opinions are my own.