Interview #12: Meet Margarida from Seeds & Stories

It has been a while since I have done an interview here on The Immaterialist. But now I am finally ready with a new talk with an incredible, inspiring human being: Margarida from Seeds & Stories.

Read about how the company was started, about regenerative agriculture, building bioregional textile communities, the importance of women’s empowerment, and about the profound and inspirational visions Margarida has for the future of Seeds & Stories.

Read also about how you can support the project and get engaged in sustainable entrepreneurship.

I hope you will enjoy!

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What does sustainability mean to you?

I have to say regeneration means more to me than sustainability. I believe we have reached a point where sustainability is no longer enough. Hence, rather than doing less harm and mitigating the negative impacts of our actions and choices, we should focus on amplifying positive impacts and making things better for all people, mother nature and future generations.

Regeneration, for me, is about healing. It is about restoring a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship between people and nature, increasing the prosperity of human and natural systems. It is about implementing solutions that have multiple benefits to the natural world and people in an integrated, reciprocal and long-lasting way. Ecological health, meaningful livelihoods, food security, socio-cultural vitality, quality growth, greater resilience, diversity, and fairness. In a nutshell, for me, regeneration is all about improving the world from how we found it, and to do so in perpetuate.

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Tell us about your journey with Seeds & Stories

Let me go back in time so you understand where the idea and inspiration come from.

I have been an advocate for women’s rights and empowerment since an early age but ended up working for 14 years in Westminster as a political/legal researcher. I was unhappy with my job for a long time and started looking at ways of making a real, long-term, positive impact on people and the planet, making the world a better place while bringing meaning into my life. My journey towards a more sustainable life started ten years ago when I became vegan. I started being more aware of the impact of my choices, from food to fashion, on people and the planet. I progressively started changing my lifestyle and making more conscious choices. I started travelling for a purpose, visiting and supporting women’s groups and local artisans; I completely embraced community-based tourism. The work of the women groups and social enterprises I visited around the world and the difference they can make to the women they work with and with little resources certainly inspired me to launch my social enterprise.

The Fashion Revolution further opened my eyes towards the negative impact of the fashion industry on people and the planet. It empowered me to make my contribution towards a fashion industry for good. Then I came across Fibershed and Rebecca Burgess’s book, Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy, which had a massive impact on me. I became fascinated by the regenerative movement and wanted to learn more about how we can make the world better by applying nature-based solutions. I even took a Permaculture Design Training course. Needless to say, Seeds & Stories is greatly inspired by the Fibershed.

Why Uganda?

Well, in 2018, I visited Uganda as a community-based tourist. I had the opportunity to visit several women’s groups and learn more about the difference they were making to local women. I spent some time in Bigodi and fell in love with the village and its people. I had a wonderful time with Tinka’s family, who introduced me to Stella, a local artisan. Stella showed me a few basket-weaving techniques and shared her knowledge of local natural dyes. Stella is now the chairperson of Seeds & Stories’ women’s group. During this time, I also learned about the economic, social, and environmental issues women in Bigodi face.

In 2020, the time had come to change my life and follow my passions for women’s empowerment and my commitment to making fashion force for good. Brexit happened, and I lost my job and didn’t miss the opportunity to finally change my life and career and focus on what matters to me. The idea for Seeds & Stories started developing. I approached John Tinka, the founder of The Kibale Association For Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED) and Betty Tinka, the chairwoman of Bigodi Women’s Group, with whom I stayed in 2018. I shared my idea for a women’s social enterprise in Bigodi, which they loved. They conducted a survey of local women regarding their interests, challenges and aspirations. The survey demonstrated that they had identified a lack of sustainable income as their biggest challenge and demonstrated a strong interest by local women in being involved in a new income generating project.

Obviously, during the pandemic, I could not travel, but I managed to travel again to Bigodi in the summer of 2021. I met with a group of local women who confirmed the urgency to develop income-generating alternatives outside mainstream tourism. I thoroughly explained the project, its aims, values and activities. They welcomed and showed their willingness to be part of Seeds & Stories. In fact, they didn’t waste time setting up an executive committee and electing their chairperson, Stella.

Seeds & Stories was officially launched in September 2021, when our constitution was unanimously approved and we registered as a community-based organisation. By talking to local conservationists, I also learned that there was also a strong need to revive traditional farming methods. I spent one month in Bigodi and used my time there to get to know the women and the community better, and also to teach them embroidery. I encouraged them to use their creativity and traditional craft-making skills to create new products. I encouraged them to support and learn from each other. It was wonderful to see their confidence progressively growing.

Seeds & Stories enables me to move my values forward; it combines my passion for women’s empowerment, craft making, and regenerative fashion. It allows me to make a real difference for women in rural Uganda, contributing to gender equality, social justice, climate justice and environmental regeneration.

Seeds & Stories is a women-led social enterprise based in Bigodi, a rural village in Western Uganda, that uses circular fashion as a tool for women’s empowerment and environmental regeneration. Seeds & Stories is developing slowly, but steadily. It was only in the summer of 2022 that we started creating products, after we finally got funds that allowed us to provide training in product development to our group of artisans.

We aim to create quality artisan-made, soil-to-soil products that support the livelihoods of women artisans in Bigodi and can be returned to Mother Nature at the end of their life-cycle. We source and produce locally. We use what is locally or regionally available to make our products: Bigodi is rich in natural fibres, and we only use local fibres indigenous to the region, such as palm leaf, papyrus, banana fibre (agricultural waste) and marantacloa. Likewise, we only use natural dyes, a combination of foraged plants, leaves, seeds, roots and rainwater to dye our natural fibres.

It is a fascinating journey to work with the Seeds & Stories group of women and learn more about local natural fibres and dyes, and about what we can create with them. I have learned a lot from them, but also shared my knowledge on natural dyeing, eco-printing and natural ink making. Working alongside other community-based organisations, such as Kafred, I am doing my best to empower the community to embrace the circular economy and regenerative practices, and to revive traditional ways of doing things so they can work with nature, not against it.

After five hardworking months, we were able to develop six products. I am incredibly proud of all our artisans and team and what we have achieved so far. It has been a long and challenging journey, but a super rewarding one.

All our products are 100% made in Bigodi in harmony with nature. Our group of local women artisans use traditional techniques passed down through generations, such as basket and mat weaving, to make our unique, soil-to-soil handbags. Some products take around two weeks to complete, and hence, it is challenging to sell them at a fair price in local and national markets. What people expect to pay is not enough to cover the amount of work, time and dedication of our artisans.

Seeds and Stories is a non-profit social enterprise. Selling products will make us financially sustainable, pay wages, training, materials or tools, and invest in community projects. Well, we just started selling, so hopefully, soon we will find customers that love the products and appreciate what we do, thus willing to pay a fair price.

Since starting this journey, I have met many like-minded, inspirational, impactful people like yourself, Kristine. It has been a joy to meet, exchange ideas and join forces with people and organisations with the same values and principles. I am also honoured and grateful for all meaningful connections and partnerships with other community-based organisations and social enterprises in Uganda.

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What are your visions for Seeds & Stories?

Seeds & Stories’ vision is to support rural communities to become more resilient and self-reliant, healthy and equitable by providing them with the necessary skills, resources and facilitation. We aim to achieve financial sustainability within three years by selling our products. I furthermore hope that our impactful products will allow us to offer training programmes and employment to an increasing number of women artisans, providing them with a regular income and sustainable, meaningful livelihoods and enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty through work that values their skills and culture.

I strongly believe that by switching from conventional agriculture to regenerative farming we can turn problems into solutions. Regenerative agriculture has the potential to create a range of environmental and social co-benefits: soil restoration, increased biodiversity, improved water cycles, maximised community resilience, environmental regeneration, and livelihood enhancement. 

We want to produce soil-to-soil products that create social and economic opportunities for local women and positively impact communities, animals, and the planet. Hence, we have set a goal only to use local raw materials that have regenerative properties in local ecosystems, namely increasing soil fertility, enhancing biodiversity and increasing the rate of carbon sequestration from the atmosphere into the soil, contributing, in this way, to climate change mitigation. 

We want to buy a piece of degraded land and transform it into a permaculture demonstration site. This site will allow the local community to learn about regenerative agricultural practices that will help build community capacity in the future. Hereafter, we wish to build a workshop run by renewable energy, with rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment systems. Having our own space, a permaculture-designed farm will allow us to put in place effective and efficient production processes that generate no waste, reduce water usage and run on renewable energy. It will enable us to design, create and sell products in a closed loop incorporating innovative and creative solutions to regenerate natural resources.

I am absolutely fascinated by bioregional textile communities and ‘soil to soil’ fashion and textile systems. Bigodi is rich in natural fibres, and we want to explore what community-led bioregional integrated systems of natural fibres, natural dyes, and food growing could look like in Bigodi. I believe, in this way, we can play a more active role in restoring ecosystems, regenerating natural resources, creating meaningful and sustainable livelihoods and helping build resilient communities while advancing gender equality. 

We hope, Bigodi can serve as a pilot project which can be adapted to other rural communities in Africa.

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How can people help your project grow?

Ohh, people can help us in many different ways. First of all, by buying our products – if they love and need them, of course.

If you purchase Seeds & Stories products, you make a meaningful and positive difference in the lives of women in rural Uganda by helping us creating jobs, more economic opportunities and meaningful livelihoods while having a positive impact on the environment.

You can also help us moving forward with our regenerative journey by contributing with advice and spreading the word about us. You can follow us via our website, on Instagram, and on Linkedin.

By sponsoring an artisan, you can help us to continue to offer training and build up the skills of our artisan. We plan to provide our group of women and other farmers in the community with regenerative agriculture training. And we also want to offer literacy classes.

By making a donation, you can also help us immensely. Any contribution can make a difference to the women in rural Uganda and help us with our mission.

We are also always looking for passionate volunteers to help us out online or on the ground. So, if you love Seeds & Stories and support our mission and feel that you would be able to contribute in some way, please feel free to reach out.

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What is your advice for entrepreneurs working with sustainability and women’s empowerment?

To deeply engage with the communities you work with.

To build meaningful partnerships with women’s groups and other local organisations.

To listen to the beneficiaries and to involve them in decision-making. Listen, and ask lots of questions, and embrace people-centred approaches.

To respect and embrace the cultural and ecological uniqueness of places where you work. Start small, step by step. Stay faithful to your mission, vision and values.

And last but not least; to make sure you have a solid and dedicated team.

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