One Mango Tree began in a tiny market stall in Gulu in 2007. During the conflict in Northern Uganda, many humanitarian organizations taught women to sew - in the hopes that this skill would provide a sustainable livelihood. The local market was quickly saturated, resulting in hundreds (maybe thousands) of women with basic sewing skills and no way to earn a living. Auma Lucy was one of those women - she rented a small stall in the market and sold traditional dresses. With the combination of beautiful and bright kitenge fabrics and some Western designs, we helped Lucy to develop an export market for her products, and One Mango Tree took root.
Since 2007, we have trained and employed 30 trained tailors. Many of our tailors were victims of war, having lost relatives during the conflict. Others were abducted during the war and forced to fight and serve as soldier's wives. In a shared workspace, these women came together and mended their own social fabric - sharing meals, sharing work, helping to raise each others' children. We bought bicycles for the tailors, provided trainings on health and financial literacy, opened bank accounts for each of our staff and taught them how to save. They organized into a Village Savings and Loan Association, counting on each other to help finance their dreams.
In 2011, as most people in Northern Uganda had returned to their villages, we wanted to give our One Mango Tree tailors the same opportunities. Many women had come to rent homes in town to work for One Mango Tree, and only saw their families occasionally. They missed their children, and longed to be back in the village, digging their gardens and being home with their kids. We decided to implement a work-from-home program, allowing each tailor to return home with her sewing machine. The ladies still come together once a week, now in our production manager's (Apiyo Prisca) home. They pick up cut pieces of fabric to make handbags, and bring the finished pieces back the following week.
This new system allows our tailors to be at home in their villages - they can structure their own time, digging gardens and caring for children, even teaching other family members how to sew, and using their sewing machines and high-level sewing skills to make products for their communities.
Uganda is a major producer of organic cotton. With a local source for GOTS-certified organic knit, we saw an opportunity to grow One Mango Tree to create beautiful knit apparel in addition to our handbag line. In 2009, we started up an apparel workshop in Kampala - where we could rely on a steady source of electricity for the industrial machines necessary for production. Our workshop employs 17 full-time staff. Our sewers come from all over Uganda - they first came to Kampala in 2002 for work in a local factory. That factory changed owners and saw financial struggles over the years, finally closing its doors for good in 2010. As these talented women found themselves out of work and trying to support for their families in the big city, One Mango Tree stepped in to provide a friendlier, alternative workplace, paying women more than three times the going factory rate.