Style and sustainability. If we’ve learned anything during this series is that the two can co-exist. In Kenya, we’ve seen a strong emphasis on ethical systems and standards to improve the livelihood of workers and artisans in the industry. This definitely translates into safer practices for the workers, and the environment by extension, to abide by the rules of ethics. And then there are those brands that intentionally go the extra mile to be ecologically friendly. However big or small the initiative is, it’s a commendable move in our local industry that we at TDS would like to acknowledge and applaud. Here’s just a few Kenyan based fashion brands that are playing their part to help out our environment and remaining super chic while they’re at it.
Her travels introduced her to the beauty of feathers, but it’s her eco-consciousness that guided her decision to up-cycle feathers from bird sanctuaries into feather fashion accessories. In Kenya, she began to source the bi-product of cockerel feathers from local Kenyan chicken markets and then have them fumigated and dyed ready to be transformed into jewellery.
Ambica works closely with local organisations in bird conservation efforts. This is especially true with reforestation projects so as to increase natural bird habitats that have been depleted due to human activities. To accentuate the natural beauty of the feathers, she incorporates ethical beads, leather and metals from the continent, supporting local artisans and their crafts. This brands goes a step further in the ethical department, by working with fly-tying community to offer training, as well as, sourcing paper bags made from recycled materials from the Kawangware Street Children & Youth Project. You can read our previous interview with this feather-inspired brand here.
Located in Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, this clothing manufacturing unit was created in 2009 to provide a social and environmentally sound alternative in the fashion industry that they could turn to for eco and ethical creations. This includes fare wages, pleasant work environment and a strong commitment to limiting environmental impact. Their eco-factory, which was established in 2012, was made through a traditional building art in Kenya known as compressed earth in order to reduce their environmental impact.
If that isn’t green enough for you, by offering the full CMT (Cut, Make, Trim) services they have contributed to not only creating sustainable sources of livelihood for locals in the area, but contributed to the fight against wildlife poaching. It has major clients such as ASOS Africa, Lalesso, SUNO and Choolips and their work has been recognised and worn by influential people such as Michelle Obama. This fashion initiative is proof that a community-driven, environmentally conscious fashion and design operation is not only possible, but smart business sense.
Started in 2011, this handmade lifestyle brand was started in Kenya to exclusively empower deaf women in Kenya. Since then, their brand vision has undergone a metamorphosis now working with men and women regardless of their geographical location or physical ability. However, they maintain their primary production areas in La Gonave in Haiti and Rongai just outside Nairobi, Kenya. What has stayed the same is their commitment to empower individuals in extreme hardship situations to give them and their families a better quality of life.
Nevertheless, this brand also works to raise environmental conservation awareness and working with projects such as Wildlife Works who have an innovative carbon credit offsetting and forest preservation system. A quick perusal through their website will already illustrate their commitment to educating their consumers on the need for conservation. Take for example their Roi the Elephant 4x Wrap bracelet, any interested shopper will be informed on Kenya’s elephant poaching pandemic and raise awareness on the threat against these gentle giants. The same can be said for the Cecil the Lion Single Wrap Bracelet, which was made in honour of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most famous lion whom they lost in 2015 to poaching.
Drought in 2001 inspired founders Katy and Philip Leakey to start the Leakey collection. While the Maasai men of East Africa went off in search of pasture for their livestock, the women were left to desperately make ends meet. Working together, they incorporated the Maasai women’s beading skills with sturdy reed like grass and Zulu grass was born in 2002. The brand only used E.U approved, environmentally friendly textile dyes to create the vibrant colours Zulu grass is known for.
Therefore, this project didn’t just empower women –and later on men as well – in the community to have a sustainable source of income, it worked to educate them on sound business practices to enhance their own entrepreneurial endeavours for future opportunities. And they did so whilst maintaining cultural identity and environmental integrity.
Nawe is a Kenyan based brand that started in 2016, going against the fast fashion tide. Inspired by the Coastal and Maasai culture, the brand creates lifestyle, ready-to-wear products that gives back to the very communities. They chose to work with skilled local artisans to create these handmade products that cater to both men and women.
They reduce their carbon footprint by sourcing their leather, Maasai beadwork and fabrics such as Kangas locally. In addition, they incorporate recycling tactics such as working existing belt buckles into their handbags.
What is in a name? Kikoti – which means ‘The Place where Life Began’ is a fashion brand on a mission to aesthetically spread the message of conservation. Leading designer of Kikoti, Iona McCreath, is no stranger to the fashion industry as she grew up learning from her mother and founder, Anne McCreath of KikoRomeo. Her inspiration to contribute to the fight against elephant poaching through the Kikoti brand was inspired by renowned wildlife conservationist Dr Paula Kahumbo. The line has been crafted to be affordable in order to reach their target audience; the youth. Each design is named after an elephant, with a percentage going towards the “Hands Off Our Elephants” campaign. Although Iona is pursuing education at the moment, she still maintains her vision to promote awareness and on a global scale; especially in regions that drive up the demand of poaching. We can’t wait to see what’s next for this young and rising designer.
Their vision on their website says it best: “At Bush Princess, we believe a bag is a statement – about the one who wears it, and equally about the one who makes it. And for that, nothing but the best will do.” Started in 2009, this bag and accessories company thrives on three pillars. That is, social responsibility through ethical, sustainable products and practices, craftsmanship excellence and timeless signature elegance.
They are committed to supporting local skills, with their brass work coming from Kibera artisans, their beadwork from Maasai women’s groups and even sourcing their leather hides from a variety of Kenyan communities for their production. What’s even more impressive is their first mini collection made with vegetable tanned leather launching in January This tanning process is considered a healthier and more eco-conscious method for the environment (you can read about how leather tanning can be a toxic affair here).
You know the drill. If you know a Kenyan based designer or brand – you are that somebody – taking the steps to make fashion a beautiful industry inside and out, Share with us!