Jennifer Ewah is the founder and creative director of Eden Diodati, a jewellery brand committed to fulfilling a social function, which is assisting the creation of sustainable and dignified employment for disadvantaged people in Rwanda. An Oxford-trained lawyer, she balances a legal career with one of a jewellery designer. She is the winner of numerous awards, including the International Sustainable Brand of the Year 2013 outside of Latin America, from the Centre for Study of Sustainable Luxury, and she is a Fellow of Ethical Fashion Forum’s 500 Ethical Leaders around the World.
By Jennifer Ewah
The story I am about to tell is about jewellery and its impact on humanity. It is a tale of rebirth through creativity and personal journey, and about a group of remarkably brave and resilient women from Rwanda, seeking to rebuild their lives following the devastation of civil war and genocide.
I myself am not Rwandan, and originally was not even a jeweller. I come from a family of medics and politicians from Nigeria. I providentially studied law at Oxford University, and that compelled me to move further towards the path of social justice, combined with progressive philanthropy.
But I always had a creative inclination. Growing up in the environment that I did, the Benin bronzes, a group of more than one thousand metal plaques and sculptures that once decorated the royal palace of the Benin Kingdom, in what is today Nigeria, provided a constant reminder of the rich artistic legacy of the African continent. Inspired by my home and heritage, I began designing and drawing from age three, and many years later, after studying at Central St Martins, the London College of Fashion, and than at Beaux Arts in Paris, I discovered my true métier.
I established in Eden Diodati in 2015 as a socially sustainable luxury jewellery brand. A key component of its operation was and still remains a partnership with a social cooperative in East Africa, which serves formerly marginalised women artisans, many of whom experienced personally the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The brand’s name evokes the utopian garden from the Book of Genesis, but also pays tribute to Giovanni Diodati (1576-1649), the Swiss-born Italian theologian, who was the first translator of the Bible into Italian from its orginal Hebrew and Greek. He was a pioneer.
The Rwandan cooperative with which we partner was founded by two sisters in Kigali, both with a jewellery design background. They organised what was then about 20 women, teaching them how to weave and bead, and then to enhance their skills with new techniques. After gathering under its umbrella more orphaned and widowed women, the organisation today provides work for more than 5,000 female survivors, organized into 52 smaller cooperatives. Many of its members are living with HIV and AIDS after experiencing gender-based violence during the conflict.
Master weavers from the Rwandan cooperative, two of 5,000 women now involved in the creation of jewellery pieces headed for the world’s luxury markets, alongside a gold neckpiece highlighted by beading by Eden Diodati.
Eden Diodati was brand born out of my desire to capture the compassion, empathy and strength that is at the heart of the beauty of the women that I know – my mother, a doctor, being the foremost example. Its artistic style is but one aspect of its mission. Social activism is another.
My vision was to evoke beauty through crafting luxury pieces with a strong, beautiful aesthetic, yet also to commit to love for others. The ethical aspect of our supply chain is not independent of its visual aspect; it informs, inspires and sustains people and communities in the most fundamental way.
For me, talking to the founders of this Rwandan cooperative felt like the first of a series of little miracles. “The Garden of Eden” is not found in perfect circumstances, but in courageous daily acts of love, forgiveness and generosity such as those shown gracefully by the women towards each other – Hutu and Tutsi working side by side.
Employing centuries-old artisanal heritage with comptempory technique, the Rwandan women’s courage, skill, fortitude and faith help challenging pre-conceptions of “Made in Africa.” Our goal is to shift paradigms in high-end jewellery and bring to market ethical luxury, within a brand context, affording priority to craftsmanship, provenance and elevated design.
Jeanette is our lead craftswoman and Eden Diodati’s project manager artisan within the Master Weavers of my partner cooperative. She was orphaned during the genocide and was the sole survivor in her entire family. Today, we see her transformed through the community of the cooperative. She is a confident, elegant and creative woman who holds firmly to an immutable sense of personal gifting, despite the trauma of the beginning of her life.
Another master weaver, Sada, contracted HIV through gender-based violence during the conflict. She struggles daily with the scourge of her illness. Her deep courage, smile and femininity is almost always in my mind, and her courage represents the cornerstone of what Eden Diodati is. It is a brand providing sustainable income to formerly marginalised artisans, but it is also a conduit that exposes humanity through the light of love and solidarity. Each piece reflect the stories of craftswomen who had the breath-taking courage to look up beyond dark circumstances, in order to be sustained symbiotically by the work of their hands and the inherent creativity of their souls.
Reflecting how this celebration of artisanal heritage transcends cultures, Eden Diodati works on the opposite side of the globe in Italy where the metal components are manufactured by a Responsible Jewellery Council-accredited partner. These are then combined with the beaded elements produced in Rwanda. Our story represents collaboration across continents for positive social good. All the while, a geo-continental amalgam of global cultures influences the design.
We do not compromise. Although we are committed to providing sustainable employment to formerly marginalised and vulnerable women, our collections are design-led and of exceptionally high quality, to ensure that luxury customers who want to invest in our pieces receive the value they deserve. Our circle of ethical production enables clients to empower women sustainably, and enables our clientele the opportunity to experience beauty through compassion.
Eden Diodati donates 10 percent of shareholder dividends to Médecins Sans Frontières, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders. It is an international NGO, established by a group of doctors and journalists in France in 1971, which is best known for its projects in war-torn regions and developing countries affected by endemic diseases, and whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect and catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict. In 1999 MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The exhilarating reality of our story and my journey has always been and always will be the people and relationships built through it, from young, talented friends and colleagues, to visionary Rwandan social business leaders. Creative and emotional bonds have formed, and common understandings of purpose and trust have developed. I, and all those I work with closely, have a desire to see sustainable luxury brought to the fore of mainstream consciousness.
The depth of what this brand means to me is indescribable. It is the pursuit of my heart, and is why I face all challenges with optimism and faith.