Emily Grace Goodrich is our Designer here at Sseko, and we’re excited to introduce her as she celebrates her one year anniversary at Sseko Uganda. Emily searches deep in the chaotic Kampala markets for unique materials which she sews, beads and etches them into unique and creative designs that are put into production by our team of talented women.
Emily, Tell us a little bit about yourself ::
Well, I’m from San Diego, but it’s taken me a while to say that because I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve lived in Maryland, Michigan, parts of California, Utah, Serbia and now Uganda. I like cooking, gardening, hiking, anything to do with fine arts and crafts. I like quiet activities.
How did you hear about Sseko and what inspired you to get involved?
I’ve worked in Uganda for six years, designing jewelry for a co-op that works with Ember Arts. It’s a group of 28 women here in Uganda who make paper bead jewelry, and the company has a similar heart and vision to Sseko in terms of supporting a group of women who may not have other opportunities to support themselves.
I think I was one of Sseko’s first customers, and I emailed them with a special request. The first time I met Liz, we were eating Ethiopian food with some friends, and she was chatting about how much she loves it when her customers write her and talk about how much they love Sseko’s or ask for a special request. She talked about one customer in particular who made a special request – and I was that customer! I’ve always been friends with the Sseko designers and when one of them asked me to follow up on a project of hers, I went in to the workshop to check on it, and I never left.
What is your favorite thing about working at Sseko?
I really love the women that we work with and getting to know their talents and personalities. Working at Sseko has forced me to interact with Uganda in ways that have been really stretching for me personally, such as finding things in the market, working with different suppliers and such.
Thinking about the women here that you have invested in, what would you tell them to encourage and inspire them?
A piece of advice would be to take advantage of any opportunity you have to learn something new because you never know when that’s going to be useful and helpful and you never know where it could take you.
What does your daily life look like in Uganda?
In the morning, I wake up before the sun rise and I like to spend time reading and writing. I take care of my garden and my chickens that are named Edna, Phyllis and Lucille. I have to take a series of matatus (public taxi buses) to get to the Sseko office. When I get to the main taxi park in town, I have to weave my way through the chaos to board a taxi for Kisase and then get on a boda down the hill to the office. I usually bring a small breakfast with me and eat it at the office with the women while they take their tea. I sketch out design ideas, make prototypes and samples and teach the design team how to make the new designs. Some days I go to the market in town and look for beads and buttons and other kinds of interesting things.
What are the joys and challenges of working in a developing country?
One of the joys is that because most people here don’t have so many of the technologies that I’m used to in the western world, they have really practical skill sets like carpentry and welding and beading, so I can find a lot of really interesting materials and artisans to work with. The women that we work with at Sseko are really talented – exceptionally talented, and they pick things up really quickly when they learn new things. I think the biggest challenge is the terminology barrier, not even a language barrier. They use different words for so many different things so people often think I have no idea what I’m talking about. As far as materials go, I’ll walk into a store I’ve shopped at many times for specific beads and people will act as is they have no idea what I’m talking about, which can be frustrating if you are trying to make 1000 pairs of something.
What advice would you give someone passionate about empowering women and motivated to take a risk to share their knowledge?
I would say either be willing to go all in or be wise enough to invest in someone who is. It’s exciting to think about traveling and meeting new people abroad, and there are lots of opportunities for great collaborations in the world. Before you get started, take a little time to get to know people you’ll be working with, and understand their needs from their perspective. Also think about what sort of commitment you’re willing to make in the long-term. Something I appreciate about the folks running Sseko is that they see challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, rather than excuses to back down. The more the women in Uganda get a sense of that commitment, the more confident they feel in their work.
Is there anything else you want to tell our Sseko customers or… the world?
Something I’ve learned over the years working in Uganda is how important your purchasing decisions can be. We have an opportunity to do something good or something harmful when we spend money and even as a designer when I am having things produced I have the opportunity to do something good or harmful in the world. And it’s worth the thought and work that it takes to choose to do something good.