Global Wardrobe: Ethical African Fashion Brands

Sidai Designs made ethically in Tanzania employing Maasai women

The globalisation of fashion means you don’t need to visit a country to buy into its brands, which is great news for those of us who haven’t yet managed to make it to Ghana or Tanzania. With online shopping now easier than ever before, you can inject fresh African prints or jewellery into your wardrobe in no time at all. I’ve selected some of the best ethical labels to inspire you…

Affordable beaded bracelets and earrings from Tanzanian project
Sidai Designs’ gorgeous beaded handmade jewellery made in Tanzania, available from Collective Boutique.

Sidai Designs

This non-profit jewellery label is based in Arusha, Tanzania, and is inspired by warriors. A recent collaboration with the Collective Boutique has seen the label reach a wider audience, with a percentage of profits through the website going straight back to the Sidai Centre, which is a vital part of the community.

Maasai warrior Emanuel Melubo Leizer introduced the Sidai team to Maasai women who have been able to use their traditional beading techniques when making each piece of jewellery.

Sidai Designs mostly uses recycled materials, such as yoghurt pots, upcycled metal and thread from grain bags, and it always ensures its workers get a fair wage so they can provide for their families. Covetable pieces available from the Collective Boutique include the Warrior black triangle wrist cuff, and the Naibor porcupine triple wrap bracelet with 24 carat gold beads.

Ghanaian fashion label with colourful patterns
Wax prints make Yevu’s designs really stand out.

Yevu

Ghana plays a big part in the growth of the African fashion industry, and Yevu is a brilliant example of great modern Ghanaian design. It was founded by Anna Robertson, who fell in love with the country’s eye-catching wax prints during a year spent there. Each garment is made in Ghana from fabric sourced in Accra’s Makola Market, and the company puts faces and names to its tailors and seamstresses.

Womenswear includes jumpsuits, shirt dresses and cropped jumpers, whilst menswear includes basketball shorts, bomber jackets and popular wax print jumpers. When you click on an item you’ll find out who made it (perhaps the whimsically named Mr. Pencil).

Pieces are available in more than one print, so you can pick the one that works for you; I love ‘Blue Birdcage’, ‘Blue Obra’ and ‘Green Blue Kente’. Worldwide shipping is available from Robertson’s Australian base, or you can buy in person at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Arts shop in Washington DC.

Luxury designer label made in Africa since 2005
Edun’s current mainline range and its Diesel collaboration.

Edun

Edun is the brainchild of Bono (yep, that Bono) and his wife Ali. Whilst the fashion brand is based in New York, it’s inspired by the couple’s trips to Africa and everything is manufactured there. The current collection features crepe trousers and tops, silk dresses and abstract print sweatshirts.

Luxury fashion company LVMH invested in Edun back in 2009, and now the head designer is Sharon Wauchob, who previously worked at Louis Vuitton. Manolo Blahnik has even created an Edun footwear range since 2014. As you can imagine, all these designer influences mean the products don’t come cheap at all, but it’s great to see ethical fashion on the catwalk.

Special projects have involved Kenyan designer Penny Winter and the Tanzanian brand URU Diamonds, whilst a two season collaboration with denim brand Diesel has been inspired by African street wear and uses Ugandan cotton. To promote Diesel+Edun, Nigerian-African photographer Brad Ogbonna travelled with the team to Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi – check out the photo gallery here (I reckon the Nairobi set is the best).

Accessories made in Kibera slum, Nairobi, for British designer, using recycled materials
Westwood’s bags are made in a Kenyan slum and have transformed the lives of many locals.

Vivienne Westwood’s Made in Africa Bags

Each recycled canvas bag from the Made in Africa project has been handmade in Nairobi’s Kibera slum. Five years and 10 seasons into the project, which was a collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade Centre, and the facts speak for themselves. 70% of the Kenyan artisans working on the bags have received much higher salaries than they would have otherwise – up to ten times as much – and over 950 children could go to school as a result (see the World’s End Shop blog post for more stats).

The ITC’s aim is for workers from marginalised communities to learn transferable skills and be able to invest some of their wages in their family. This kind of project which, like other ITC initiatives, mainly involves women, is designed to be sustainable long-term and involves transferable skills like screen printing, crochet and applique.

The ethical credentials of Made in Africa continue with other recycled materials like roadside banners, leather offcuts, car parts, taps and padlocks being used. To celebrate the five year milestone, two new online exclusives have been added to the range: the Squiggle Shopper and the Squiggle Leopard Runner Holdall. They feature the classic Westwood squiggle print, which was originally inspired by an African print scarf owned by Malcolm McLaren.

Fashion from Kenya, Dar Es Salaam, Ethiopia and Zanzibar using sustainable practices
ASOS Africa, Bantu, Lemlem and Moranic are other brands to watch.

Other Names to Know…

  • ASOS Africa has delivered ten successful collections so far for retail giant ASOS; the current range consists of culottes, wide cut shirts and pencil skirts in a range of pastel coloured prints. Everything is made by ethical company SOKO Kenya, based in Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary. I’ve got my eye on the duster coat and the make-up bags – perfect for popping in a suitcase.
  • Bantu Wax is an emerging African swimwear brand that targets ‘surfers, urban nomads and afro-punks’. All designs are sourced and made in Africa, using local fabrics intricately printed with motifs featuring waves, birds and bananas. The handmade multi-coloured beaded collars make a big statement. Get surf inspiration from the web feed, featuring beach photos from Essaouria, Dar Es Salaam and Ngor Island.
  • Lemlem was founded in 2007 by Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede. It offers womenswear, children’s clothing, accessories and homeware, all made in Ethiopia by traditional weavers. Each natural cotton product is hand woven, and the most versatile pieces include kaftans, tunics and sarongs.
  • Moranic makes loose fitting unisex trousers (or ‘pants’, as they’re known – confusing for Brits) inspired by the Moran warriors of the Masai. There are three different styles to choose from: kanga, kikoy or kitenge pants, all of which have a relaxed fit, and come in a variety of gaudy prints. Many products are made in Zanzibar or on the East African Coast, using lightweight cotton.

Are you tempted by any of these designs? Tweet me – @misspallen – and share your favourite.

2 thoughts on “Global Wardrobe: Ethical African Fashion Brands”

    1. Glad you enjoyed the round-up! There are some great African brands online these days. Yevu is one of my favourites too – the prints are so cool.

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