It’s difficult to miss a batik fabric. Its weblike, brightly hued designs stand apart, punctuated as they are with floral or spiral patterns.
Chantal Donvide, founder of Aklala Batik and a 2012 African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) alumna, first encountered the dyeing technique in 1999 in Kpalimé, Togo. Chantal, then a seamstress, was recovering from an illness that limited her mobility and was forbidden by her caregivers to use her sewing pedal.
“I decided to take a course on making batik fabrics,” Chantal says. “I was not only taken by the technique — I knew I wanted to share it with other women.”
Today Aklala Batik offers training in both batik dyeing and sewing to women across Togo, Chantal explains, affording the country’s women and girls a newfound financial independence.
Chantal then sells the clothing, handbags, and other accessories these women produce in U.S. markets under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which aims to create better business environments and promote U.S.-African trade. By selling AGOA-eligible goods, Chantal is able to ship her products to the U.S. duty-free, among other benefits.
For Chantal, becoming AGOA-eligible came down to strict observance of agreement guidelines.
“I followed the standards set for Togo,” Chantal says, “and respected the country-specific deadlines.”
Chantal owes her AGOA eligibility, too, to a keen understanding of the market and consumer tastes.
“You have to find the customers who need your products,” Chantal says. “Only then can your business make a difference.”
But Chantal’s work extends beyond simply supplying market needs; as she sees it, working with artisans is giving women across the country a new lease on life.
“We are empowering these women to create a stronger home, community, and economy,” Chantal says. “That starts by promoting women’s rights, education, and creative training.”
In addition to their dyeing and sewing courses, Chantal and her colleagues also offer women training in personal development and female entrepreneurship.
Chantal’s work stems, too, from her involvement with AWEP, a program focused on identifying and building networks of women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa.
Over the years, Chantal has found that a concern for the vulnerable gives her work meaning. Born one of seven, Chantal learned early the value of close friendships and strong networks; today, she is equipping other women with the skills they need to start organizations, meet new people, and shape the country’s future.
“Helping others is, to me, a great joy,” Chantal says. “It’s something my family always encouraged me to do. Something as simple as delivering school supplies to local institutions or orphanages is a start.”
But it’s Chantal’s work with women that inspires her today. As she sees it, the onus is on parents throughout Togo to stress the importance of women’s empowerment to their children, to raise their girls to be financially independent, and to create a more equitable reality for future generations.
“Parents need to teach their daughters that their futures are about more than finding a good husband,” Chantal says. “They need to emphasize the importance of finding a good job and a good place in society, too.”
Through her batik, sewing, and women’s empowerment classes, Chantal and her colleagues are imagining new futures for the country’s women and, through economic programs like AGOA and AWEP, are making those imagined futures a reality.
Interested in learning more about AGOA? Read our guide Understanding the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and explore more business resources on our YALI Professionals page.