Elephant Branded: Bags to Give School Children the Chance they Deserve

Elephant Branded, run by uni friends James and Tim, is an accessories brand fronting a beautiful story. Put simply, for every ethically made, recycled bag or similar product they give one school bag and kit to a child in Africa or Asia. James set up Elephant Branded when, after working in these continents, he was shocked by the basic lack of school equipment available to children and wanted to make a positive difference.

Elephant Branded joins a new breed of ethical fashion enterprise who strive not just to neutralise the detrimental effects of the fashion industry, but whose existence actually has a positive effect. They pay a fair, competitive wage to local villagers who make the products from locally sourced, recycled materials and then sell them to the likes of us (at a very reasonable price!).

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Featured by the BBC, Glamour magazine and The Sunday Times, Elephant Branded currently create covetable bags, laptop cases, iPad cases and wallets. Their big break came when John Lewis started selling their wares. I love the large Clipper bag (£45), a roomy holdall style bag perfect for travelling, the gym or the beach. It is hand-crafted from recycled cement bags by villagers in Cambodia and of course, for every one sold Elephant Branded delivers a school kit to a child in Africa or Asia. Whilst the clutch purse, £18, makes a great gift

Take a look at some of their projects in Cambodia, Uganda and Sierra Leone and meet their suppliers. Buy direct online or from John Lewis.

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Vintage at Southbank 2011: Eco Design Fair

Vintage at Southbank 2011 (the follow-on from last year’s Vintage at Goodwood festival) was held in London last weekend. I volunteered to help man the stand for whomadeyourpants? in the outdoors vintage/eco marketplace. We were positioned in the Upcycled Marketplace curated by Louise Kamara of The Eco Design Fair. Whomadeyourpants? is a Southampton based social enterprise founded by Becky John and I have volunteered with them in the past, assisting with marketing and events to the best of my ability. Although their key selling point is the fact that you can trace the production of your pants back to a marginalised woman in Southampton, (who through whomadeyourpants? is gaining improved employability skills and confidence), to fit with the theme of the fair we were emphasising the upcycled nature of the products.

‘Upcycled pants!’ People would say, ‘What does that mean?’ All seemed relieved to hear that they weren’t in fact, reused knickers, but just that the lingerie fabric was upcycled from the lingerie trade. Fabric such as offcuts and end-of-rolls, that would otherwise be thrown away are used to create these beautiful pants. This is a bit of a dirty secret of the industry, all of the fabric which is never used. In the fashion industry, for every line of garments by a big manufacturer, fabric will be kept in reserve as ‘liability stock’ in case something goes wrong with the main production run.

Other brands at the fair took a more literal but still ingenious take on upcycling, using sub standard colouring pencils to create jewellery, or ring pulls to design bags. There were plenty of vintage stalls which needed far more rummaging time than I could give, but still I bought three scarves and a 1960s tiny beaded purse/bag. See the pictures below for the whomadeyourpants? stand and my purchases.


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Vivienne Westwood Ethical Kenyan Bags

Vivienne Westwood is often considered responsible for bringing modern punk into mainstream fashion, maybe now she can do the same for ethical fashion.

Vivienne Westwood has launched a new range of ethical bags for A/W ’11-’12. Previewed at trade show Pitti Uomo in Florence, the range is now available to buy online. Each bag is handmade in Nairobi, Kenya, in collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Programme with the aim of supporting marginalised communities of women.

The result is a collection of travel, clutch, shopping and banana bags which retain Westwood’s signature punk-rock style but with the ethical provenance to shop guilt free. Not only are these bags supporting communities in a social way, but they are using local waste materials. Items such as roadside advertisement banners, safari tents and old clothes have been upcycled to produce these fashionable items.

Among the items is the weekender bag (pictured) made from recycled canvas with artisan golden metal orb and studs. It costs £200 and can be expanded to provide more space for travel essentials. There is also the eagle print shopper, lined with a patchwork of recycled clothing fabrics and with a leather tassel and handles for £155. Clutch bags are priced £140 and large banana are £200.

The Ethical Fashion Programme supports 7000 women who live in extreme poverty but want to improve their lives, both for themselves and their children. The Vivienne Westwood programme works with disadvantaged women who may be single mothers, widows or HIV/AIDs victims. The holistic approach put into practice gives these women access to jobs and an income so that they can afford school fees and medical care, as well as boosting their skills and confidence.

Vivienne Westwood has used her designs to make political and ethical statements in the past and previously expressed anti consumerist views which may seem a contradiction to selling luxury fashion. However she said that people should not buy more than they need and I do indeed think that luxury fashion encourages more thoughtful purchasing rather than the throw away culture that is encouraged on the High Street. She has also spoken about climate change, and supports various environmental actions.

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Whomadeyourpants? Social Enterprise Starts at Home

Whomadeyourpants? is a fabulous social enterprise based in Southampton. They set up in 2009 and started selling pants at the beginning of 2010. Stated simply, whomadeyourpants? is a social enterprise selling ethical underwear made by local women who might otherwise have struggled to find employment due to lack of confidence, qualifications or language barriers. Most of the workers are refugees and through whomadeyourpants? they can learn English, employment skills and gain an NVQ in Manufacturing of Sewn Products. They are a co-operative so all of the members have a vote towards business decisions.

The social enterprise model has grown significantly over the last few years. As I’ve said before, I think it is particularly interesting when applied within the fashion industry because fashion should be full of joy and beauty but often when you get behind the shiny retail image and product, it is far from that. The social enterprises that have sprung up within the fashion industry prove that more sustainable retail models are possible. In many cases, they are based abroad using local artisan skills and exporting products to the West. Whomadeyourpants? is quite unique in that sense, being based here in the UK.

I think when you look into the whomadeyourpants? story though, it is clear how vital enterprises like this could be. Whomadeyourpants? has become a life line to the workers within the co-op, and for us as the consumers we can be comforted to know exactly where are undies have come from. They produce their products with offcuts from the lingerie trade and manufacture from their base in Southampton. If you buy pants you can even log on online and check to see who was working on the day your pants were made, and thus see who made your pants!

Founder and director, Becky John kindly answered my questions.

1. What is the biggest challenge you have faced since starting the enterprise?

There have been a number! Issues re initial lingerie design not working and us not understanding why until a lingerie designer came in. Cashflow and the balance between wanting to pay our own way and not be grant reliant but realising that we need to support the initial stages of production with grants or else there’s too much pressure on the women and then they panic and we do the opposite of what we wanted to and upset them. Language barriers also meant things got lost in translation.

2. How has wmyp made a difference to the lives of the female employees?

Increasing financial independence, eg. new bank accounts in their own names. They are given hope for the future – a number are planning what jobs they want with us or elsewhere. When we ask what life is like with no wmyp, they say it’s boring! Children see their mums in work which is great.

3. Do you believe the wmyp social enterprise model could be replicated in other areas of the UK?

YES! And we plan to :)

4. Do you think more needs to be done to educate consumers to shop with ethics in mind?

Tough one – I personally think so but it’s a hard balance. I don’t think anyone would actually want to buy something made by kids or in bad circumstances, I think more of people than that – but how do you get the message out? You don’t want to be preachy. We encourage people to ask their own questions. We want to be open and honest so people wonder why other people aren’t.

5. What are your plans for the future?

More whomadeyourpants? in the UK and beyond. Make this a nice replicable model so it’s easy to set up. And I personally want to get every restaurant to know that parmesan and pesto are not vegetarian.

Visit them at www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk

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Quazi Design interview


Quazi Design is a social enterprise based in Swaziland. They produce jewellery and homewares from recycled paper, utilising rolled paper beads, folding and layering, and paper mache which is then varnished. The products are all handmade by local rural women. The results are fantastic, unique and attractive products which are environmentally friendly and provide employment to local women. Founder and designer, Doron, answered my questions.

Emma: What was your background before starting Quazi Design?

Doron: I studied Theatre Design at Nottingham Trent, graduating in 2002. I was interested in how space, design, words, costume, history, architecture, and many other elements come together to express a story and a feeling.

I was drawn to product development as the process is creative and unique but it’s also about skill, materials, pricing and marketing. I have always wanted to work in Africa with a social business and have also worked as a youth worker and with people with learning disabilities in the past.

E: How did Quazi Design start? Where did the idea for the enterprise come from?

D: I was approached by the people that distribute the magazines in Swaziland, they had the idea to create something from the waste paper and they asked me to design some products. In the beginning I worked as a freelance designer and when my contract was over with another local craft business I started with them full time. Back then we only had two designs and one woman producer. I believed in the project and saw the opportunity to create work for the local women and also put Swaziland on the map. The magazine distributors are partners in the business and they believed in me and let me have the freedom to run with it. Our vision is to create sustainable, full time, secure work for the women producers and that is exactly what we are doing. We are growing organically, not rushing, but taking small steps and learning huge amounts along the way. I am the designer and the manager, and because it’s such a small business I did everything in the beginning. I have learnt a lot about running a business just by hands on experience.

E: How many workers do you have? How has the enterprise made a difference to the lives of the workers?

D: We currently employ 10 women full time at our workshop in Mbabane, Swaziland. These women have had no previous employment and no previous skills, with an average of 7 dependents each. The women have gained socially and financially. It has meant that the women are independent, can send their children to school as here they have to pay school fees, can pay hospital fees, can care for their families and can put food on the table. All women are assisted in opening a bank account, which sounds simple, but here in Swaziland it’s very rare, and to start saving. They have also gained confidence in themselves and are proud of their work, proud that people all around the world are wearing something they have made with love with their own hands. They appreciate this opportunity and give their best in their work day. They are happy to come into a safe, secure and stable work environment.

E: How are the products and the enterprise as a whole marketed to consumers?

D: For the last two years we have slowly gained a reputation locally and in South Africa, by having a retail shop, and attending trade shows in Johannesburg. Through this we find customers in Southern Africa. We have also approached buyers abroad and work with fair Trade buyers, ethical buyers and independent retailers in the USA, Europe and Australia. Our strategy is to find our feet locally and now that we have that we are looking abroad and making connections. We create a new catalogue every year with new products and updated designs to keep innovative and trend led.

E: What does the future hold for Quazi Design? Do you have expansion plans?

D: I have great belief in Quazi and believe that it can grow into a successful and sustainable business with a name for eco, ethical and design led products. In the next year we hope to find a suitable distributor in the UK and America and also work with more designers, collaborating and pushing design further. There are many paper beads in the market place and we hope that are different, high end and unique to the others. We want consumers to appreciate the handmade product but not compromise on style and materials. We want to balance social and environmental awareness with fashion.
By growing sales and our customer base we can afford to employ more women and provide full time secure work for local women and uplift the Swazi communities. We are currently building a large workshop so we have space for expansion!

Find out more at http://www.quazidesign.com

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SOKO Kenya Interview

SOKO is a production unit based in Kenya, founded by Jo Maiden originally from London. They produce high quality garments for the international fashion industry and run as a social enterprise, improving the quality of life for the local workers through employment, training and improved social services. I’ve been following their progress since the end of 2009 and was lucky enough to speak to Jo this week. SOKO supplies the ASOS Africa collection and Jessica Ogden for ASOS collection which you can find in the Green Room.


Emma: You worked for ethical fashion forum before starting SOKO, what did you do before that, how did you get into the ethical fashion arena?
Jo: I did a fashion degree, and through that started to think about where clothes came from. Fairtrade coffee and things like that were starting to come on to the scene but people weren’t really thinking about it from a clothing perspective. So I started to look into it, I wrote my dissertation on fashion and ethics and what was available for the customer. After finishing my degree I moved back to London. Ethical Fashion Forum was just forming then, so I started to go to things that they were a part of, and just teach myself what was going on. At the time I was working for a small couture designer as her assistant and just trying to find my feet. I got more involved in the Ethical Fashion Forum as they grew and I freelanced for them for three years part time as well as doing other projects part time.

E: So what lead you to start up the enterprise in Kenya?
Jo: My husband and I wanted to move somewhere out of London and we ended up in Nairobi, I was running some workshops with Tamsin, who’s the founder of Ethical Fashion Forum. While I was there I met a lady who invited me down to Diani which is where SOKO is based and she had four tailors that she employed to make her clothes. She runs Lalesso, her own fashion brand and was also managing production. She said she didn’t want to do the production anymore, but there wasn’t anything around and she didn’t want to go to a massive factory. So she was looking for someone that she could outsource to, so that’s when the idea of starting SOKO came up. We moved here in Feb 2009 and she gave me her four tailors and I set up SOKO. She was my first customer and I still produce for her and then because of my connections with the fashion industry in the UK, the collaboration with ASOS began.

E: The ASOS Africa collection, is that designed by the ASOS team and manufactured by you?
Jo: Yes exactly, I’m involved in helping with some of the sourcing of fabrics, I try to source as much as possible locally, but yes it’s all designed in house by them.

E: Where do you get most of the fabrics from? Do you try to use environmentally friendly fabrics?
Jo: It’s for the client’s specification, and most clients deliver fabric to me. Every time I work with ASOS we try to source locally if we can. We haven’t to date been able to use any environmentally friendly fabrics. We would love to of course, but it’s about doing one step at a time and it has to be commercial in terms of price, so we haven’t yet been in a position to do that. But for the last ASOS Africa collection we used hand woven fabric using Kenyan cotton which wasn’t organic but it’s a really good step.

E: How many workers do you have at the unit there, and where do you find the workers from?
Jo: There are 28 of us altogether and they are all local. People just show up really, or when a small workshop closed down locally we’ve employed their workers.


E: Did a lot of them already have the skills that were required?
Jo: All of my tailors could sew, but their standards weren’t as we required, so that’s what I’ve worked with them on. Nobody that has worked for me has ever worked in a big factory before, because there are big clothing manufacturers here but they are run in a very different way and no one here has worked there before, which actually may have helped. We just train as we’ve gone along.

E: What’s your connection to the Ukunda Youth Polytechnic?
Jo: We are partnered with the polytechnic and our workshops are based inside the polytechnic grounds. We sponsor all the orphan students that study here. We help them pay their school fees, we also take on tailoring graduates from the polytechnic and train them up and then employ them. We also try to promote what the polytechnic does.

E: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since starting SOKO?
Jo: As with any business it’s starting out. I didn’t have any experience of doing this before. One thing was finding the right people, people have come and gone, and it feels as if now I’ve got a really strong team and a good set of managers. So that’s one thing and the other thing is getting the systems in place. So if you imagine that no one who works here has ever been into a clothes shop where there is a rack of say, one style of dress, in three different colours, size 6 to 16 and they are all exactly the same, other than the size – the labels are in the same place, the care labels are the same, they’re perfect. So having never seen that before and not being able to imagine what walking into Topshop for example looks like, then to try and help them understand why the quality and consistency is so important has been difficult. With ASOS, I got an 80 page manual with all their different requirements.

E: What are your expansion plans and plans for the future?
Jo: We’re in a very small space at the moment which isn’t big enough so we’re looking for a new workshop, whether we renovate an old space or buy some land and build, or rent somewhere, we’re looking into that. At the moment we’ve got a small crèche which is under a tent, so we need a proper space for the babies and all of those sorts of things.

E: Have you had donations and extra funding that hasn’t come through sales?
Jo: Yes, when I first started I got a donation from Joffe Charitable Trust which is a small charity run by Lord Joffe and I got a donation for £10 000 which was to kick start us and from then I’ve had donations from individuals who support and believe in our work. Initially I was trying to raise a lot of money to properly start up with which I didn’t get but I’m actually grateful for that because its meant that we’ve grown organically.

See a video of SOKO Kenya here

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