By Joyce Hu, Creative Director, Wildlife Works
Last month, Wildlife Works was honored to be part of Supply Change’s first annual Fashion Designers Without Borders’ sourcing safari that introduced participants to artisan groups and social enterprises located all over Kenya from Mombasa to the Rift Valley.
A group of 6 U.S.-based fashion industry professionals traveled halfway around the world to meet some of Kenya’s most passionate social entrepreneurs that represent what change could mean in the global supply chain.
The Wildlife Works team members who joined the group included our Design and Production Manager Yugala, our Kenya Office Manager Cara, our Kenya Production Supervisor Liesl and myself, the Creative Director.
Joyce, Yugala, Cara, Liesl
Here are some of our highlights:
FlipFlop Recycling Company (FFRC) collects flip flops from the Kenyan coast and makes them into all kinds of wonderful, whimsical accessories. Founder Julie Church is a marine biologist and one of the world’s experts on coral fish.
It’s a beautiful thing when science and social entrepreneurship collide! Julie employs a team of full-time Kenyans to clean, sort, sculpt and bead the flip flops into products that are sold in their store, Marula, located in the Karen district in Nairobi. FFRC also pays any flip flop collector by the kilo, which can help supplement the income of local coastal Kenyans.
Each year, FFRC recycles up to 70,000 flip flips that are washed up onto Kenyan shores from areas as far away as Indonesia. Their products get more and more innovative each year as they expand into more categories from jewelry to housewares.
* * *
Wildlife Works achieved so much in 2012, including solidifying partnership with PUMA, which allowed us to double our factory capacity, relaunching our own fashion collection, and opening our on-site children’s day care center. We were proud to share these successes with like-minded individuals who are dedicated to spreading Consumer Powered Conservation.
* * *
Our production partner Soko Kenya, who just moved their factory onto our project site, also presented to the group. We’re so proud of the work we do together, especially because some of the styles we’ve produced for ASOS have been worn by Michelle Obama!
* * *
Representatives from the Kasigau women’s basket-weaving groups came to Wildlife Works to show us how they make their baskets. There are many weaving groups in the area that provide a supplemental income to its members. Currently, their baskets are only sold in small quantities to visitors who come through the area. Wildlife Works is actively engaged with them for product development. Look for some basket products come Holiday 2013!
* * *
CTC International (Comfort the Children) was founded ten years ago on the mission of creating a holistic solution to poverty, starting with creating an environment where all children can thrive. For CTC, this means developing programs for education, environment, economy (commerce), health and community. We were inspired to see an organization taking on the same holistic approach as Wildlife Works and succeeding at it.
What touched me the most was their dedication to special-needs children, who are seen as cursed by some Kenyan tribe cultures so many are ostracized by their communities. Caring for a special-needs child is a full-time job and most rural women in Kenya, who are many times the sole breadwinners in the family, can’t afford to do both. You can imagine the fate of many of these children.
CTC established the first special needs school in the area and staffed it with an education and occupational therapist in addition to daytime care takers, all this in a remote, poverty and disease-stricken area in Kenya – amazing.
You may have seen their Life Line coffee cup jackets and change purses at Whole Foods. Now you know where they come from and who they supporting!
* * *
Bombolulu, which means “treasure” in Swahili, is located in the coastal city of Mombasa and employs local disabled adults, who are a severely marginalized group in Kenya. Esther Manyama, the program manager traveled to Wildlife Works to present the range of products and quality of work they produce in their factory.
They’ve come a long way to become a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and to be able to produce over 250,000 pieces per year, made by the hands of physically disabled craftsmen and women. Maybe there will be some job opportunities here for the children of CTC in the future!
* * *
Kila Siku, which means “every day” in Swahili, employs over 40 female embroiderers in the DRC and over 30 embroiderers in Rwanda. The quality of their hand-embroidery is incredible and good enough to land one of Belgian’s oldest luxury linen companies, Libeco, as a client.
Last February, our production partner Soko teamed up with Kila Siku for embroidery training. A few women from Kila Siku DRC, who have never traveled outside their area, flew to Kenya to train Soko’s women in embroidery. The women were sad to part after having spent nearly a month together. It was such a sweet intercontinental connection!
* * *
Banana Box has been working with Kenyan artists and craftsmen and women for almost twenty years. Their products are made from sustainable and recycled materials (like banana leaves that are made into boxes) and employ local artisans who they train to create some really unique products. I walked away with a hippo sculpted from soapstone that I use as a doorstop. I absolutely love it!
They also invite any freelance artisan from anywhere in Kenya to submit products for purchase. Hats off to the founder, Sarah, who has been at it for two decades.
* * *
Uhunzi, which means metal work in Swahili, was created six years ago by the son of Banana Box’s founder. Uhunzi melts down scrap metal to create all kinds of custom household and jewelry items from frames, trophies, metal beads, wine openers to decorative sculptures. Every step of the process is done using recycled materials. It was impressive to see the craftsmen handling liquid metal wearing just plastic slippers – their precision is not to be overlooked!
The Wildlife Works team walked away from this trip inspired, connected and activated to further the voice and reach of the organizations and artisans we met on this trip. We experienced a lifetime’s worth of bonding with the rest of the U.S.-based group who are just as excited and inspired to apply what they learned into their work.
For more information on the next trip for Fashion Designers Without Borders, contact the founder of Supply Change, Chrissie Lam. I promise you, the journey and people you meet will make an everlasting impression.