Carneval Costumes from Africa - Made in Labé, Guinée

     

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A story of two cities

Labé is a town in Africa, in northern Guinea. With a population of about 150,000 inhabitants, the town of Labé is in a mountainous area called Fouta Djallon. The main economic activities are agriculture, trade and crafts.

"Minsch" is a variant of the German word "Mensch" in the local dialect of the city of Cologne. It means human being, whether man or woman. The city of Cologne is located in western Germany, in the valley of the river Rhine. It has a population of about one million and is known throughout the world not only as the German capital of the Carnival holiday, but also thanks to its famous perfume called "Eau de Cologne".

The origins

During the Carnival holiday, the inhabitants of Cologne wear all sorts of phantastic multi-coloured costumes. Among the different types of costumes, there is one called the "Lappenclown" or ragman. Costumes of this type are made from the remnants of the tailors' shops. This is why this sort of costume is mostly made and worn in the poorest sections of society.

 

The first steps

It was against this background that a development worker from Cologne, working in a German development cooperation project in Labé, decided to order a first ragman costume, using the colourful cloth that is commonly worn in Africa. With assistance from a development project supporting, among other things, the regional crafts sector, a tailor's shop was contracted to produce the costume. With that, the first "Labé-Minsch" costume was created!

The first "Labé-Minsch" costume attracted a lot of attention in Cologne. It did not take long until other Carnival costumes were ordered. A boutique called "Chamäleon", near to the city centre and specialised in the rental of Carnival costumes, expressed interest in selling the Labé-Minsch costumes. The same boutique also organised publicity in the local press and during the main events of the Carnival season. As a result, the demand quickly surpassed the supply.

Perspectives

The production of Carnival costumes in Labé is in the process of addressing a broader range of customers and beneficiairies. First of all, new products have been introduced, such as children's costumes. Secondly, the present Internet site has been developed with a view to faciliting sales throughout the world. Thirdly, the project has established a partnership with the SOS Kinderdorf in Labé, which was inaugurated in 2010. SOS Kinderdorf in Labé receives the project's surplus revenues from sales of Labé-Minsch articles in Germany and elsewhere. This way, a part of sales revenues are being returned to Labé as donations to support orphans and other children living under vulnerable conditions. In the context of its family-oriented humanitarian assistance, SOS Kinderdorf in Labé currently supports 600 children living in 225 extremely poor families (in February 2011) by providing basic health care and school material to the children as well as opportunities for income-generating activities to the children's own or foster parents. Proceeds from Labé-Minsch sales are used mainly to provide sports equipment, to organize educational excursions and to fund various sportive and cultural events for the beneficiairy children and families.

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