On Monday afternoon a small team loaded the lorry and had our last chai together in Ukunda before we began the 3 hour journey to Rukinga. The rest of SOKO’s employees will be joining us within the next few weeks.
Over the last year SOKO’s growth has been stifled by our lack of space and facilities and so this move will enable us to grow without hinderance. SOKO’s factory will be completed within the next two months so in the meantime we are in a temporary workspace overlooking the building work of our new factory. The new factory will allow us to double our number of employees. We’ll update you soon on new projects that are in the pipeline once the factory has been finished. These are exciting times for SOKO!
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.
Sorry we have been silent for so long. We have been busy with the exciting next phase of SOKO. (If you would like to keep updated with our day-to-day news please ‘like’ our facebook page)
Our most exciting news is that our new workshop is well underway and we are due to move in July this year. The team made a visit to see the workshop while the foundations were being dug out.
SOKO’s new building is in a manufacturing area alongside Wildlife Works. Wildlife Works is an amazing organisation that we are really excited to work more closely with. Wildlife Works currently have two factories and SOKO is building a replica of the current factories. Here is a picture of what our finished factory will look like.
With our move to our new workshop we will be able to also offer our employees with the following services…. a nursery school, medical facilities, kitchen and dining area.
We have been based in a very basic workshop for the last 3 years and our growth has been limited due to lack of space. This is a very exciting time for SOKO. We will update you more when we are in!
Think Act Vote – The Futures Interview quizzes SOKO’s founder and director Joanna Maiden on her views and hopes for the future.
Suno limited edition trainers launched as part of their resort collection have been selling out fast!
SOKO managed this project and all trainers were manufactured by a factory close to our workshop. The trainers are made from offcuts of Suno’s signature kanga prints and the soles are made from recycled rubber.
Retailing for $65 with a donation from each sale going to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the only difficult choice to make is which print is for you?
Personally I think the cream and red bandana flower pair have my name on them… or maybe the spotty ones… or maybe both…
Shop for them online
More from me soon….
Karibu means welcome in Kiswahili, it’s a word I have heard a lot since I arrived in Kenya last week. My name’s Jennifer and this is my African adventure.
For the last 3 years I have worked for fashion etailer ASOS.com. I began working on kidswear and then moved over to womenswear where I worked across 3 departments; coats, knitwear and ASOS Africa.
I’m an avid blogger, using my blog as my very public online diary for all the things I fall in love with, mainly fashion related (www.lovegettingdressed.com), I also write for other blogs (www.leblow.co.uk) and run my own vintage clothing boutique on ASOS marketplace.
Whilst I was on the ASOS Africa team I had the privilege of working with Jo, founder and director of SOKO as SOKO produced all the collections. When I finally decided to take the plunge and leave my job to start my own brand, Jo was one of the first people I contacted. I wanted the chance to come over to Kenya and see the work done here at SOKO to find out if it would be the right place to produce my own collection and also to see the real impact of ethical fashion rather than just reading about it in the Guardian.
I was meant to come over for a few weeks but its ended up being a little bit longer, ok a lot longer, 2 months, but I’m so glad as there is so much to do, see and learn here. It doesn’t hurt that there are also gorgeous beaches!
Right now I am soaking up all I can and taking inspiration from the artisan skills, culture and traditions of Kenya. I will be blogging for SOKO over the following weeks so I will keep you updated on my African adventure and the road leading to the creation of my very own collection.
SOKO delivered Lalesso’s first Spring/Summer 2012 order last week. This order is for all Lalesso clients based in Australia and South Africa and their Resort orders. We are due to start production on their second order on Wednesday. To celebrate the completion of the first S/S12 order and to thank all of our 30 employees for their hard work we organised a little lunch.
Lalesso have stockists around the world – for the full stockist list visit their website.
John has been with SOKO since we first opened our doors in 2009, he is one of our most reliable employees and a super tailor. We always rely on John for sampling and leading the other tailors on complex tailored styles such as jackets, shirts and trousers.
Not only does John work for SOKO 6 days a week – arriving at 8 am and leaving at 5 pm – he also runs his own small workshop in Ukunda which he goes to everyday before and after coming to SOKO. John started his workshop in 1998, after being employed as a piece tailor in a local shop for a year. John’s workshop makes clothes for tourists and locals, and employs one tailor. All profits are put back into the company for buying materials and paying his tailor.
John hopes that one day his workshop will make him enough profit to be able to build a house that he can move in to with his future wife and children.
All of us at SOKO are delighted to announce that SOKO will be manufacturing Choolips Spring/Summer 2012 collection. The ball is already rolling – it’s not all designing and creating – the logistics of getting a collection to the customer is not an easy task – there are productions schedules, importing of fabrics, finding the correct zips, quality control, stock control management and on and on.
Jo (SOKO’s founder) and Annegret (Choolips’ founder) have known each other for 6 years and they’re both so excited to finally start working together. The ethos and vision of the two companies are very closely aligned…. so watch this space!
Here is a bit about Choolips SS12 collection:
Inspiration Choolips’ Golden Coast collection is inspired by the soul of Ghana’s streets: its music and its people. Fairly traded with fabric made by local batikers in Ghana, the collection is colourful, bright and bold.
Aspiration As well as introducing craftsmanship and high quality back into fashion, Choolips‘ aim is to harmonise the mindset of producers and consumers.
Ethos Choolips’ collections are traded fairly, produced locally and have a small carbon footprint. Their beauty lies in a seamless blend of cultures, traditional crafts and innovative techniques, furthering equitable trade with each print or stitch made.
She sourced all the fabrics locally in Mombasa and spent a week here with us developing the collection.