We recently sat down with Eric Mukunzi (below, seated), Technical Specialist at the Masoro, Rwanda workshop that produces every handmade item in our On Purpose collection. We asked him about his favorite parts of the job, what he does in his spare time and about his home city of Kigali.
Tell us about your role at the Masoro workshop.
I learned from the handbag specialists who traveled here from Korea, so I can teach all the artisans how to make the bags and totes we create here. I learned how to make all the shapes and make sure all the artisans are able to make high quality bags. I also work on belts and ties, while also overseeing the machines and the workshop.
What inspired you to take up this line of work?
I learned this job because I was doing something before that I didn’t like. I went to university for science and technology, but it was miserable. I was really unhappy because I wasn’t doing what I loved. What I loved was art. In art there’s a lot of different activities, but first I really wanted to work with clothes. I always noticed all the clothes that were here from abroad. I saw that these clothes from abroad are so clean and well made, and I thought “why can’t I do the same, why can’t I produce something like this?” So, first I traveled to Uganda and learned how to make shoes. At the same time, I learned how to manage the factory there and how the management functioned.
So, then, I came back to Rwanda and started my own workshop. I started by making sandals that Rwandans could wear. They’re fast to make, so I could sell them at low prices so locals could buy them. I was working by myself, so it was really hard. From cutting to selling to looking for clients. I didn’t like being by myself so I joined a cooperative of cobblers, but a lot of the other members weren’t well educated or able to produce at the quality level I was used to.
What’s your average day at the workshop like?
I arrive around 30 minutes before the artisans do. I arrange all their supplies for the day to make sure the artisans will meet their daily quota. Then, I make sure the Team Leaders have all of these supplies set up and prepared for production. Also if we are working on a new pattern or a new shape, I first teach the Team Leaders and spend time ensuring they know exactly how to make the bags. Then these Team Leaders pass on this knowledge to the artisans. I also spend most of my day making sure everything is running smoothly, and helping the artisans since so many of them are very new to making products like these. I always look for ways that we can improve the facility and make it better for production.
Then, at the end of the day I close the workshop and make sure everything is ready for the next day.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to read. My favorite book is Jack Kenfield’s Success Principles. It’s all about how you deal with life. I also really like history and powerful people. I also play guitar, I’ve been playing for 14 years. I’m in a band and we play classic rock and blues, and sometimes jazz. It’s fun to play that big variety. If I’m not doing that, I’m probably having a beer with my friends and watching beautiful women pass by! My favorites are actually oldies, like U2, The Eagles, The Scorpions, Buddy Guy, BB King, and Eric Clapton.
Kigali keeps growing, so mostly when I’m out with my friends, we’re usually talking about new things as the city is getting access to the newest technology and things.
Do you have a favorite tool?
Right now my favorite tool is a sewing machine. You can do so much with one sewing machine, whereas with other tools, they only do one thing. The machine gives me lots of versatility to make items. When you’re making a bag, the thing that makes it beautiful is the finishing, which only the machine can really do besides some of the work we do by hand. I also really like the tools we use to cut fabric – rotary cutters. Wherever there’s a rotary knife, you will find me.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part about my job is to see the finished product. I’m so proud to see the product go from pieces to a finished item.
Is there anything you’d like to tell the world about yourself?
I’d want people to know that I’m positive and I know there’s a lot of negative things out there.