One of the best parts of working in Africa is learning about all the amazing community sustainable development-design projects cropping up over the continent. Often fueled by the passion of one or two unrelenting entrepreneurs in the face of many challenges (i.e. civil unrest, scalability, export hurdles, disease, natural disasters, training/education, etc.), these standout programs have begun to permeate our cultural swerve.
From beading and silverwork to textile design, Africa as a whole has a rich, often untapped talent pool of skilled artisans, many of which are captured here. Clearly there are many more to mention, so I’ll be sure to do a follow-up post, but holler out if you have a program that you want the community to hear about.
BOSTEX (“By Ourselves Textiles”)
Solerebels is the premiere brand under Bostex PLC and the first footwear manufacturer in Ethiopia founded by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu and her family. The key is to bring a viable footwear and textile industry to Ethiopia and utilize materials from the local area. The IFAT fair trade-certified brand ranges in style from sandals, shoes and mocs – and are available on Amazon.com, Endless.com, and have been featured in Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods.
Your children can totally rock out these boldly-designed, indigenous African print clothes created by expert tailors in Gambia. Deep cerulean blues juxtaposed with dandelion-yellows and rich reds as deep as an African sunset are hand-painted on African batik materials purchased in Gambia. www.kippcompany.com.
This is the woman-powered brand behind Women in Progress, and international non-profit organization that assists women in African in attaining economic independence. All the beading, batik, dyeing, and sewing is done with girl-power in the West African nation of Ghana. The cooperative takes it back old-school style to the ancient art of of batik, which originated in Java and was passed down to artisans in Ghana. Beads are made from 100% recycled glass; and all dyeing and sewing takes place in the cooperative. globalmamas.org
Akala Designs Limited is a cooperative-run business based in Nairobi, Kenya that produces products for Ecosandals.com, a non-profit importer and reseller of sandals. Products are produced from used materials- like recycled tire tread rubber collected from the Korogocho neighborhood and surrounding areas. Other materials include locally-sourced denim, leather and beadwork. Ecosandals.com
A cool little jewelry boutique bedecked with reclaimed hardwood and fine bijoux sits comfortably on 1st Avenue in New York City between 9th and 10th Streets. Founded by Lisa Linhardt, this shop houses a personal history to a 100-mile walk she took in Africa to raise funds for girls’ literacy. It was on her travels where she met Maasai and Kikuyu beaders. Lisa’s most poignant experience, she says, was during her volunteer trip captured here to the Kibera slum where she met the Power Women’s Group. The cooperative housed HIV-positive women who came together to support one another, share stories and bead. Many of the Kenyan women create beadwork sold in Lisa’s shop or are occasionally re-designed for the urban marketplace. linhardtdesign.com
Be bejeweled with the highly coveted baubles and bling from Made, a fair trade jewelry line expertly finished by artisans in Kenya. Made has partnered with designers such as Nicole Farhi (by Pippa Small), Alexa Chung, Natalie Dissel, and in their newest collaboration with Brian Crumley for Urban Outfitters. Their products can be seen all over London, including TopShop. made.uk.com
Deep in the heart of the Miombo Biome lies the Mezimbite Forest Centre, an oasis of green halfway between Beira and Dondo in the South Central part of Mozambique. This “oasis” is the result of one man by the name of Allan Schwarz: Architect, designer, forest ecologist, and steward of the land–who singlehandedly set out to reverse the course of deforestation in his beloved forests that he grew up with as a boy. One of his programs, a.d. schwarz, is a luxury label of wooden jewelry, furniture, and wares that utilizes sustainably-harvested wood with the purpose of conserving forest resources, replanting forests and training artisans to live on the land with the forests as opposed to destroying them. The exquisite workmanship of the African Zen designs–made from African blackwood to machata, for example, stand on their own, but house a deeply penetrating story of the forest from which they came. adschwarz.com and allanschwarz.com
This is African design with a definitive Parisian flair. Parisian-based Aude Durou grew up as a young girl in the deserts of Niger, traveling on the heels of her landscape-photographer father. There she grew up with the Tuareg, a West African pastoralist nomadic tribe from Niger who have a strong history of carving beautiful silver accessories which they adorn on their heads and bodies. The Tuaregs, who refer to themselves as Kel Tamasheq (“Speakers of Tamasheq”) have preserved their culture through the years and their spiritual designs and symbols are carried through the Ombre Claire line. Through her love for the Tuareg peoples, their high quality craftmanship, and her commercial savvy, she has created an exquisitely remarkable line of fair trade, silver talismans steeped in the rich history of the Tuareg peoples. ombreclaire.com
Paper to Pearls, an initiative of Voices for Global Change, is a beading initiative that brings the voices of Uganadan women’s struggles and hopes to the forefront of fashion. The colorful paper bead jewelry is handmade by women in the internal refugee camps of Northern Uganda who have been displaced by years of internal conflict by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Each bead is carefully rolled by hand and cut from strips of calendar paper and secured with glue, varnished and assembled into necklaces. The women’s dexterous workmanship is transformed into bold colors that can be worn singly or layered on. papertopearls.org.
For more information on inspiring sustainable design and development stories, pick up the newly-released book “Style, Naturally: The Savvy Shopping Guide to Sustainable Fashion and Beauty” at Amazon.com, BarnesandNobles.com, Borders.com, and BetterWorldBooks.com.