The tenth in a twelve-part series intended to change the way we buy and wear fashion. This month we feature Asos Africa.
Over the course of the i-Sustain project we’ve talked a lot about individual and collective responsibility and we’ve explored some of the ways in which the clothes we wear, from the functional to the purely aesthetic, can be designed, made and used with more respect for the world around us. The journey has, we hope, given plenty of food for thought and at the same time allowed us to promote and celebrate some of the designers and brands who create and do differently.
Embedding a new attitude and approach to anything is usually a gradual process; something strikes a chord and subliminally we make the space for a small but significant shift in behaviour. On the whole we celebrate these subtle changes but it’s also important to celebrate the bold, the bright and the brave, the people who see a problem in the world and move mountains to tackle it. Through much of the i-Sustain series we have steered clear of over emphasising global problems; shocking statistics and figures often feel overwhelming and unmanageable and so the gap between awareness and behaviour becomes a chasm. However once in a while we have to open our eyes and remind ourselves of the luxurious position from which we operate; not a position shared by the majority of the world’s population! Take for example sub Saharan Africa where close to half the population live on less than 1 US dollar a day; sustainability for many in this most poverty stricken region means accessing clean water and avoiding starvation.
So how do we bridge this daunting gap between our awareness of issues such as global poverty and our ability to take action that makes a positive change? Of course that monthly direct debit to a charity of choice is one route but in the end we all know that it’s trade not aid that has the potential to lift a crippled economy or re-invigorate a community. Here’s where the possibilities of fashion become apparent; in an industry that is still largely reliant on hand based skills making clothes can be a route to individual and community empowerment; economic development can happen at a local level, offering livelihoods whilst preserving culture and regional identity. There are many challenges when working in deprived communities but commitment and dedication can make an amazing difference.
Joanna Maiden founder and owner of Kenyan garment manufacturer SOKO knows about commitment. In 2009 Jo left the UK with limited funds and a lot of guts, to set up a clothing production unit down the coast from Mombassa in southern Kenya; her aim was to find skilled people with limited earning potential in the domestic market and give them the training and infrastructure to trade at an international level. There was very little precedent for the project and Jo had limited experience of the challenges of working in Africa but her belief that she could make a difference prevailed and SOKO was born. Three years in she employs over 40 tailors, has raised the money to build a new workshop and production space and makes for everyone from high street brands such as ASOS Africa to high-end luxury labels such as Suno New York. Jo is a behind the scenes testament to bravery and dedication and an example we can all but hope to emulate; we salute her and on the days when we congratulate ourselves for making a small difference in the world, we should always remember those who inspired us to try.