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