A Platform for Innovation and Progress in Eastern Congo

Shalom: Helping women with fabric design


Shalom is a group of women who design, produce and sell colourful fabrics called Buisa that are used locally for dressmaking. The business is run by Narcisse and is located in Mudaka, a small town located 30 kilometres from Bukavu in South Kivu.

The women dye plain fabric imported from Burundi and elsewhere to produce authentic African designs that are sold in the markets at a price that can be afforded even by those women with little income. The designs express the vibrancy of the Congolese and are much preferred to the pre-printed fabrics from China.

Narcisse started Shalom in February 2014 having previously studied in Kampala, Uganda where she acquired the skills for dyeing African cloth. When she returned home to South Kivu she passed on her learning to other women and together they started Shalom.

In July 2015, Ensemble provided a loan to finance increases in production and a second loan in July 2016 to upgrade the buildings and production facilities. All the way through Ensemble helped Narcisse with mentoring and business advice and with planning for development. A market garden using the land next to the buildings is now producing fruit and vegetables for the women to take home along with payment for their work.

Narcisse has a vision to create a company that not only earns money for the women, but enables them to learn skills and become known for their designs. So she is increasingly using fabric that contains bazin, a polished brocade that integrates fine patterns and enables Shalom to produce more detailed designs. In this way, she hopes to enrich the skill-base and reputation for quality work.

Shalom have also partnered with Kivu Leather, a local shoemaker. Together they have developed a new line of women’s sandals. Demand for these sandals is increasing and consequently, Kivu Leather products have sparked interest Nationally.

The financial benefit to the women and their families is very tangible. There are very few jobs in Mudaka and working at Shalom carries prestige. The benefits also include the increased confidence and sense of future felt by the women who see their work is in demand and their creativity is valued. Shalom enables the women to express themselves and have a voice in a chauvinistic culture and grindingly poor environment.

Most poignantly Shalom is also a community of women that help each other in times of difficulty. They will spare a little money for someone in need, look after each other’s babies and provide comfort in times of tragedy, which sadly are all too common.