Fashion Africa by Jacqueline Shaw: How the African fashion industry is lifting communities out of poverty

Posted by Amelia Glynn Online Fashion Content Assistant

25th Feb 2014

This week guest blogger Rachel Kennedy gives us an insight into Jacqueline Shaw's new book 'Fashion Africa' featuring beautiful ethical fashion...

The ancient Chinese proverb goes "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." But who knew this age old saying could apply to maxi dresses, loafers, three piece suits and haute couture?

African fashion designers, that's who! It is this uplifting ethos that African fashion blogger and ethical designer Jacqueline Shaw wanted to explore further on her well respected African Fashion Guide blog and her new book Fashion Africa.  

In this unique guide to contemporary African fashion, Jacqueline profiles the most African designers who are making long-lasting changes to the communities around them. All the featured designers are either born in Africa or produce and source in Africa with their designs and enthuses displayed with gorgeous photographs and artwork as well as revealing interviews.

One thing Fashion Africa shows is that it is Kenya that is leading the way in humanitarian trade development: Luxury accessories designer Adèle Dejak, who appears on the cover of Fashion Africa, works closely with refugee camps in northern Kenya and commissions cow horn pieces from independent artisans in Kampala.  Team Dejak has flourished recently, growing from a few part-time staff to over 25 full-time beaders, tailors and bone artists.

This unique collaboration between tribes and designers is a logically popular choice for African designers.  Jewels of the Kalahari make handmade jewellery pieces produced collaboratively between designer Sabine Roemer and the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, who apply their traditional skills to fuse natural resources such as the ostrich eggshells into modern and classical pieces. This collaboration creates a sustainable business for the tribe, generates a consistent income and also raises awareness of their circumstances with an international audience.

Another designer featured in Fashion Africa is Kondakis, a socially and environmentally responsible brand from Nairobi. The designer Nike Kondakis creates high fashion and ready to wear dresses from recycled parachutes and accessories from dead wood native to her home town. Kondakis invests 3% of their turnover into educating Maasai girls from around the designer's home in the Kenyan bush: the designer says "education is one of the strongest tools one can have in order to create their own future …" 

One of the most impacting brands featured is the Johari label that runs an apprenticeship programme aiming to provide students with skills in fashion and jewellery making. The programme produces young and fresh ready to wear garments and accessories and aims for 90% of its participants to be self-reliant by the time they have completed the course b. A participant of the programme Mary Mwihaki Kinyanjui, 23 years old has been working for Johari for the past 5 years. She is responsible for making one of Johari's Frilled Skirt and does a lot of designing of jewelry, particularly the Tabaka Necklace.  "Johari has done so much for me, because of Johari I can take care of my family. I am who I am because of Johari." - http://vimeo.com/16275184#at=0

One of the most far-reaching designers featured in Fashion Africa has to be Lalesso, a ready to wear summer brand that employs eye-catching traditional patterns and modern silhouettes. The designers felt that Kenya was a country overflowing with raw talent, incredible design aesthetics and beautiful people, yet over 50% of the population live below the poverty line. The pair were inspired to form a brand that would help create employment with fair wages and educational opportunities. In 2009 Lalesso moved their in-house workshop to an ethical factory of their own devising, SOKO. SOKO is now a charity based, ethical clothing production unit that supports local talent and provides employment to Kenyans. Many other international designers such as ASOS, Choolips, SUNO and Doreen Mashika now use SOKO for all their garment production, www.soko-kenya.com.

Fashion Africa truly shines a light on the pioneers working to better their communities through trade and creative endeavours. In order to bring further attention to their work, Jacqueline has set up an international yearly conference under the same title as her book, Fashion Africa that will bring together those in the African fashion industry in order to develop solutions, connect likeminded people and make a difference through fashion. She says it is important to discuss African fashion on an international level, to look at the full supply chain and to encourage discussion on how the Diaspora can engage, develop and implement change for the future.

Fashion Africa by Jacqueline Shaw is available for pre-order at http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1909762008/ and to find out the book please visit http://www.jacarandabooksartmusic.co.uk/book/fashion-africa/

Blog post written by Amelia Glynn

Online Fashion Content Assistant

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Amelia Glynn