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14 Ethical & Sustainable African Fashion Brands You Need To Know

These brands are doing the work to transform the fashion world's impact on the environment.

For years, the retail industry has grown exponentially without much care as to how this growth is impacting the environment. Some would argue it is one of the main perpetrators of climate change as fibers find their way into oceans and companies burn clothes so as not to discount them. More often than not the retail chain—manufacturing, sourcing, packaging and transportation—disregards its carbon footprint. Thus, the term "sustainable" serves as a buzzword that suggests the use of recyclable materials, ethical labor practices, and fair trade.

Brands in the industry, both large and small, are faced with a number of challenges, while trying to remain prominent. Where some have implemented the use of organic fabrics and ethically sourced packages as well as the education and empowerment of artisans through programs, others do not see the urgency in transforming.

Today, a number of consumers are opting for second-hand and eco-friendly clothing in an effort to fulfill their altruistic needs. In a number of African countries, unwanted and out-of-season clothes from the US and Europe find their way to merchants who stock them in bulk in markets.

The endeavors above are not cheap, but they are necessary in a world where extreme and unusual weather patterns continue to appear.

Below are the ethical and sustainable African fashion brands that are doing the work and caught our eye.


AHLUWALIA STUDIO

Priya Ahluwalia, the London born Indian-Nigerian designer behind the upcycled menswear brand, Ahluwalia Studio, went from a stint at Beyoncé's IVY Park to pursuing a masters in menswear from the University of Westminster. While there, she was challenged to alleviate fashion's problem with waste.

Trips to both Lagos, Nigeria and Panipat, India, where she was met with piles of surplus clothes, further ignited a flame in her to attempt to combat the issue. Her Spring/Summer 2019 graduate collection, made in collaboration with the Indian women's union SEWA Delhi, was her answer. The trench coats, oversized denim jackets, and vintage football jerseys were all produced using second hand clothing. She would go on to show at London Fashion Week, be featured in Vogue, win an H&M Design Award, and more recently, collaborate with Adidas Originals. Today, she continues to study the application of ethical methodologies to fashion.

BUKI AKOMOLAFE

Buki Akomolafe's eponymous Berlin-based contemporary women's clothing line prides itself on a hint of androgyny, meticulous tailoring and high quality eco materials like certified cotton, organic Hemp-Silk, and african wax prints. The line purposefully juxtaposes Europe and the African continent; an homage to Buki's two worlds.

MAYAMIKO

Mayamiko is an ethical and sustainable womenswear and lifestyle brand headed by Paola Masperi. The brand's clothes, accessories and homewares are made in Malawi by a team of artisans. Mayamiko aims to assist the most disadvantaged people in Malawi by nurturing their creative talents, while giving them the means to feed their families.

SOLEREBELS

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu started Ethiopian footwear brand, soleRebels, in 2005, as a means of empowering her community and country. Hailed as the world's first World Fair Trade Federation (WFTO) and FAIR TRADE certified footwear company, soleRebels products are handcrafted by Ethiopian artisans.

SUAVE KENYA

Suave Kenya creates eccentric leather goods, backpacks and accessories from materials like kitenge and denim. Founder Mohamed Awale has been turning waste into quintessential items for traveling around Nairobi since 2014. The sustainable brand, whose products are created with unwanted fabrics and leathers, offers a variety of bold or subtle prints and patterns.

LISA FOLAWIYO

Nigeria's own Lisa Folawiyo is regarded as one of the first African designers to use ankara. Her line has dominated her country's fashion scene since 2005 with fabrics that are locally sourced. She has also worked collaboratively with the Ethical Fashion Initiative.

STUDIO 189

Ghanaian designer Abrima Erwiah co-founded eco-friendly label Studio 189 with actress Rosario Dawson. Together they work with local artisans in Accra to produce garments. The craftsmen use plant based dye, hand-batik and kente weaving. The brand partners with the United Nations ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, NYU School of Business and has worked with LVMH and Net a Porter.

OSEI-DURO

Founded in 2011 by Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh, Osei-Duro creates textiles and turns them into clothes in Ghana. The products are hand-dyed using traditional techniques like West African batik, wood carving, botanical dyeing, block printing, hand painting, and more.

OLOOH CONCEPT

Kadar Diaby is the auditor who doubles as a photographer and the creator of Olooh Concept—an ode to Ivorian artisans. Where female workers in the commune of Treichville dye the eco-linen used for the clothing, the bronze buttons seen are made in the commune of Grand Bassam's artisanal center. The wide-brimmed wicker hats and leather sandals featured also hail from Abidjan. "Olooh" which signifies "Our" in the Senufo language is influenced by Ivory Coast, Morocco, and the creator's exposure to the West. It is a boundless passion project aimed at clothing both women and men.

REFORM STUDIO

Hazem and Hend Riad, the co-founders of Cairo based design studio, Reform Studio, have built a business around the invention of Plastex, a material made from discarded plastic bags. The studio's fashions and furnitures are helping to alleviate Egypt's problem with waste and employing women of impoverished backgrounds.

QUAZI DESIGN

Swaziland's Quazi Design began in 2009 to create much needed jobs. Since then, female artisans situated in a workshop in Sidwashini continue to create handmade jewelry.

ARTESAN

For the past few months, Anne-Lise Fotso has been working collaboratively with female artisans from the Fondation Jean-Félicien Gacha in Cameroon to build the brand, ARTESAN. ARTESAN is a handmade clothing brand that incorporates African traditional beadwork and delivers both high-fashion and culture fusion. It aims to bridge the gap between African makers and consumers, through authentic stories. The first capsule collection is comprised of a repurposed army jacket and workwear clothing with embroidered beading.

ALLËDJO

Founded in 2018 by Beninese designer, Kassim Lassissi, ALLËDJO is a menswear clothing line designed and produced by artisans in Dakar, Senegal. The brand is the merger of the designer's love of travel and exquisite apparel. The print-heavy color palette and free flowing materials used celebrate the renaissance man on the move.

LA FALAISE DION

Cowry shells are one of the most recognizable symbols in African culture—utilized as a form of currency and even as a religious and cultural symbol. In the 17th century, cowry shells were used as a means of embellishing hats and headdresses dawned by titleholders in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kuba Kingdom. In western Ivory Coast, the Dan ethnic group also dawn these shells for rituals.

Today, creative La Falaise Dion has repurposed them for fashion. Her headpieces made with sustainably farmed shells are both powerful and mystical.

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Audrey Lang is a Boson-based writer and merchandiser. Keep up with her on Instagram.

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Photo by Abena Boamah.

Photos: Here's What Happened at Daily Paper & Free the Youth's Design Talk for Accra's Young Creatives

Founders of the popular brands discussed all things African streetwear in a conversation facilitated by OkayAfrica and moderator Amarachi Nwosu.

Last week, Amsterdam-based, African-owned streetwear brand Daily Paper and Ghanaian streetwear label Free the Youth held a talk for young creatives at the Mhoseenu design studio in Accra, Ghana.

Moderated by Melanin Unscripted creator Amarachi Nwosu and presented in partnership with OkayAfrica, the design-based conversation explored everything from sustainable practices in manufacturing, to the overall evolution of streetwear globally. The founders of Free the Youth, which was been called Ghana's number one streetwear brand, expanded on how they've been able to build their audience, and shared details about their community-based initiatives.

They event, which took place at the Daily Paper Pop-up Store in Accra last Friday, drew a fashionable and creative-minded crowd ready to partake in a design discussion between West Africa and Europe.

Check out some of the action that took place at the Daily Paper x FYT event below, with photos by Abena Boamah.

Find more upcoming OkayAfrica events here.

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Lupita Nyong'o Graces the February Fashion & Film Cover for British Vogue

This is the Kenyan actor's first British Vogue cover.

Lupita Nyong'o is British Vogue's February cover star for their "Fashion & Film" issue. This is also the Kenyan actor's first time gracing a British Vogue cover.

"2020 is looking bright," she exclaims on Twitter. "My first British Vogue cover thanks to Edward Enninful."


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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

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