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Collage images via Instagram.

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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Image courtesy of Riveriswild

#BuyBlack: The 8 Black-Owned Brands To Shop For On Black Friday

It's that time of year again, here is OkayAfrica's 2019 gift guide for you to #BuyBlack this Friday.

You know we're near the end of 2019 once the holiday season comes back around. Thanksgiving is upon us and the bargain shopping and gift-giving is set to commence thereafter. While this American "holiday" being questionable in of itself, Black Friday is a prime occasion to highlight, support and spend exclusively with black-owned businesses.

Just like we mentioned last year, let's keep the 'for us, by us' energy going. Even beyond the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, tap into the businesses that continue to contribute to wealth-building, development and employment in Black communities around the world.

Here is OkayAfrica's curated shortlist of black-owned brands to take note of this Black Friday, including some standout home decor, fashion, skincare and beauty brands you should know.

Take a look below.

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New Jidenna Merch for the '85 to Africa' Tour Drops Today Only at the Okay Shop

Jidenna tells us why he partnered with OkayAfrica to design his official tour T-shirt and what style does to a person's psychology.

When Jidenna asked OkayAfrica to design official merch for the ongoing "85 to Africa" tour, we had to create clothing suitable for the Classic Man himself. The result is a collection reflecting the ambitious mission of his new album—to forge a universal African identity across the diaspora. We reached out to Jidenna, on the road between gigs, to hear about the tour and to find out more about the different pieces in the collection.

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'54 Silhouettes' at the British Council of Nigeria's Lagos Theatre Festival. Photo: Drive Adebayo.

'54 Silhouettes' Is the One-Man Play Exploring What Happens When Other People Tell Our Stories

The play is the first from Nigeria to show at the international United Solo Theatre Festival in NYC.

Playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director Africa Ukoh's award-winning play 54 Silhouettes has made its way to New York City as part of the United Solo Festival, the annual international festival, highlighting solo theatre performances through a "variety of one-person shows."

The one-man play stars the award-winning Nigerian actor Charles Etubiebi as a struggling actor who thinks he's landed his big break when he gets a major role in an upcoming blockbuster, he becomes conflicted, however, when he learns the film is yet another stereotypical "war in Africa" production—the type of film he vowed to never do. "Caught between career ambitions and ideals of his African identity, he must decide whether to do the film or ditch it," reads an official description of the show.

"The play explores African representation in global media and asks questions about creative responsibility, with tensions of cross cultural relations at the center of it all," Ukoh tells OkayAfrica. "It explores the inherent complexities in culturally unique stories being told by people of different cultures and how this intersects with power dynamics, commerce, and artistic ideals."

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Sarz. Photo: Manny Jefferson. Courtesy of the artist.

Interview: Sarz Has Powered a Generation of Nigerian Music—and He Isn't Stopping Anytime Soon

We talk to the star producer about his role in the rising global popularity of Nigerian music, spanning his production on massive singles from the likes of Wizkid, Skepta, Drake and more.

"I think more than the music, the narrative is more important these days," says Sarz as he sits at the offices of his press agency. "So one great song with an amazing narrative can get you farther than five great songs sometimes."

When Sarz talks about music, his eyes light up. They dart with excitement as he runs through topics like sounds, production, trends, and innovation. These are all words that represent his life's work of impactful music production, which has powered a generation of music in Nigeria, and is currently playing a role in its international future. Sitting at the offices, decked in a white t-shirt, red trousers and Nike kicks, he makes a point that he rarely grants interviews. And when he does, it's in spaces like this, in rooms and studios where his business is conducted, and his work is birthed and refined for public impact.

Born Osabuohien Osaretin, the 30-year-old music producer discovered sounds by accident when his ears would automatically pick apart music and focus on the beat. Interestingly, he discovered that he could remember every beat in detail. It was the entry point to a career that took off in 2010 when he scored his first hit on Jahbless' "Joor Oh" remix—during the formative stages of the current Nigerian pop success—and has provided sounds that have shaped the culture and given it its biggest moments.

With afrobeats' global ambitions taking off, Sarz's production is playing crucial roles in celebrated cross-cultural projects. He's helmed Drake's "One Dance," unlocked the chemistry between Wizkid and Skepta on "Energy (Stay Far Away)," and added composition on Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift album.

"I'm inspired by the thoughts of how far I can take music. Just thinking about where this music can take me to," Sarz says, taking swigs from a water bottle. The producer has also worked with the biggest stars in afrobeats, and a look through his catalogue has hits every year since 2007.

He talks passionately about his work, the source of inspiration, where good music originates from, and how he identifies where to direct his energies. He runs an academy that has been a vehicle for delivering new producers to the culture. Sarz converses with range, a brimming energy, and a humility that is tied to purpose and achievements. He never shies away from topics that examine his revered place in this ecosystem, admitting without bragging that he is no one's mate. Even his 2019 SINYM EP is affirmation that "Sarz Is Not Your Mate." He has seen a lot and has a lot to say.

Sarz. Photo: Manny Jefferson. Courtesy of the artist.

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