For World’s Africa Day, OkayAfrica spoke with a number of ethical brands that are pioneering sustainability in the African fashion industry.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a push for fashion brands to be more sustainable and ethical with its practices. Although ethical fashion brands have continued to emerge across the American and European continents, many would argue that sustainable practices have been a part of the African fashion industry since before it became trendy. Crocheting, recycling and upcycling, sustaining of traditional crafts, hand weaving, and more have been a part of the African fashion industry for years.
Before now, a number of African brands have been doing its due diligence and putting in the work to ensure that their production and manufacturing follows a more ethical and sustainable route. For World’s Africa Day, OkayAfrica spoke with a number of these ethical brands that are pioneering sustainability in the African fashion industry.
Ajabeng Ghana (Ghana)
Ajabeng Ghana is an ethical fashion brand founded in 2018 by Travis Obeng-Caster. The brand's regular ethos follows Afro-minimalism and the creation of clothes that are easy to wear. The brand caters to people who associate wholly with minimalism, African arts, and culture. “Ajabeng is a Ghanaian unisex brand birthed at the crossroads of minimalism and contemporary African art and culture," Travis-Obeng tells OkayAfrica. "We use these two seemingly unrelated themes to create an aesthetic that conveys both the purity of minimalism and the vibrancy of African culture. We experiment with both feminine and masculine design elements to create an aesthetic that is as experimental as it is conservative."
Margaux Wong (Burundi)
Founded by Margaux Rosita, Margaux Wong is a sustainable jewelry brand based in Burundi. Since 2001, the brand has continued to use materials such as cow horns, brass, and other locally sourced sustainable materials to innovative accessory designs. “The Margaux Wong is an experimentation of my lifelong experience on this earth. It showcases the beauty and opulence of something that is beautifully handmade," Rosita said. "I love a timeless piece of jewelry, and it’s what I’m trying to share with the world. We basically showcase artistry, longevity, timelessness, and a new perspective on luxury."
Vanhu Vamwe (Zimbabwe)
“We do refer to ourselves as a brand, but we’re more of a revolutionary community that embodies creatively through the eyes of the most honest parts of ourselves," Zimbabwean founder Vamwe tells OkayAfrica. "We have often identified our works as objects rather than handbags, as we’re interested in the idea of our community having their own interpretation of what their purchases are."
“We are mindful of the harmful impact that running a fashion business has on the planet and on the people."
Nkwo is a Nigerian sustainable brand founded by veteran designer Nkwo Onwuka in 2007. The brand is known for resource recovery and transformation of material waste into reusable products. “We use innovation as a tool to guide us as we work our way towards total zero waste garment production," Onwuka said. "Our methods of waste reduction pay homage to Africa's rich textile craft tradition and so it is a means of promoting our culture and heritage in a way that also respects the environment and is relevant to the world we live in today."
Abiola Olusola (Nigeria)
Eponymous label Abiola Adeniran-Olusola is a Nigerian sustainable brand founded in 2017. Adeniran-Olusola has worked with major fashion houses like Givenchy and Lanvin, since graduating with a BFA in fashion design from Istituto Marangoni Paris in 2015. “We focus on using sustainable materials in making our clothes, so we mainly use just cotton, silks and linens," Adeniran-Olusola said. "We work with craftsmen and women across the country in bringing our ideas to life. Our brand is easy, fresh and makes you feel cool."
Founded and refocused by Nigerian-Australian Akudo Iheakanwa in 2017, Shekudo has become a household name for artisanal crafts and accessories in the continent. It’s become a brand that encapsulates culture, craftsmanship, heritage, sustainability and empowerment. “We try to showcase our local traditions and techniques through our fabrics and local resources like metals, leather, glass and bronze," Iheakanwa said. "We utilize what we can from our local environment into our designs and create products that can be appreciated not just locally, but across the world."
Maliko is shoe brand that uses handcrafted techniques of production. "With Maliko, we’re exploring different artisanal techniques that we can find in the continent,” Ebuka Omaliko, founder of the Nigerian footwear brand, tells OkayAfrica. “Our shoes are made in small batches. They’re ethically made. We focus duly on fair wages and ensure that people get the value of what they do.”
Hamaji Studio (Kenya)
Hamaji Studio is a brand inspired by everyday East African charm, nature, and people. The Kenya-based Hamaji, which means "nomad" in local Swahili, was founded by Louise Sommerlatte in 2017 and has since grown to be one of the continent’s most sought ethical brands. “Hamaji is a brand created around preserving ancient textile traditions and nomadic handcrafts. It’s a narrative of different stories and threads interwoven together to give clothing that tells a story, and supports local crafts people,” Sommerlatte tells OkayAfrica. “We only use natural fibers on our textiles and natural ingredients on our dyes."
Larry Jay Ghana (Ghana)
Ghana-born Larry Jafaru Mohammed first started the Larry Jay brand as an accessories line in 2012, before rebranding into a clothing line in 2016. Larry Jay caters his clothes for the fashionably conscious and individuals who have love for indigenous African fashion. “The brand is generally inspired by Nature, Various African Cultures and Arts," Jay said. "Our designs exude an understated style and emphasizes ‘tradition and comfort’. It is vintage, with details and innovations that echo our West African heritage.”
Viviers Studio (South Africa)
Based in South Africa, and founded by Lezanne Viviers, the Viviers Studio brand — which was founded in 2019 — has gone on to be one of the most sought after ethical brands emerging from South Africa. Their pieces are grounded in quality and integrity, intended to become unique heirloom pieces. “To us, the energy of the hand involved in the making of each item, is the highest form of luxury,” Viviers tells OkayAfrica. “We always attempt to sustain the ability for our team to continue with our work in a beautiful way, by having a positive impact on humanity, as well as on Mother Earth. Sustainability is a day-to-day approach."