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Three Kenya designers join the Ethical Fashion Initiative

By Danielle Wightman-Stone



The Ethical Fashion Initiative, a joint venture from the UN and World Trade Organisation’s International Trade Centre, has selected three Kenyan brands - Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa, Suave, and Hamaji to participate in its second accelerator programme.

Each of the designers was chosen for their “commitment to sustainability” as they use reclaimed and organic fabrics to create their collections, as well as noting their country and upbringing in Kenya as heavily inspiring their work.

The launch of the Ethical Fashion Initiative Kenya Fashion Accelerator aims to highlight the distinct design talent within Kenya and follows the organisation’s successful launch of their nationwide accelerator search in 2019.

There will be a focus on the specific needs of African fashion brands, with this accelerator programme, with a business development approach that prepares its beneficiaries to become investment ready, to accelerate their business in the global marketplace.

Simone Cipriani, head and founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative at the UN’s International Trade Centre, said in a statement: “The continued development of our designer accelerator programmes in Africa, provide a new generation of African design talent the opportunity to engage with the international market. Through education and mentoring we seek to equalise the playing field, giving exposure to the incredible talent that exists on the continent.

“Each region in Africa has its own unique creative voice. Being able to launch a programme dedicated to Kenya - the country where Ethical Fashion Initiative began its journey and where it has some of the most beautiful collaborations - is a wonderful opportunity to spotlight the creative visionaries that set this country apart.”

Ethical Fashion Initiative Kenya Fashion Accelerator to assist Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa, Suave, and Hamaji

The programme will help the selected brand expand their supply chain and scale up their production, source new products and develop their production team. Each designer will be assigned a production mentor, with whom one-to-one support meetings will take place, as well as additional mentoring and brand development from the Ethical Fashion Initiative team and industry experts.

The accelerator will also support the management and production of key designs for the first collection to be manufactured through experienced companies selected within the Ethical Fashion Initiative network.

In addition, the initiative will fast track the emerging African designer labels, through “identifying and strategising areas for growth” and funding towards developing a new product process or service. A diagnostic review of the business will also take place every season to assess progress and tailor the programme to best suit and benefit each business.

The programme will also help build brand value by helping each business understand investment, develop strategies for maximising brand equity, build a funding proposition and market themselves as an attractive investment proposition to angel investors or VC funds. Each designer will finish off the accelerator with an opportunity to pitch themselves to investors at a networking event.

Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa, founded and based in Nairobi, Kenya, is a leisure lifestyle brand offering seasonless, timeless, transcendent casual and semi-formal wear heavily influenced by her upbringing and surroundings. The brand experiments with modern techniques, innovative fabrics and traditional methods, as well as working with materials that are organic and or as sustainable as possible, such as Tencel and Cupro. They are keen on working with cooperatives and businesses that have a greater impact on the lives of those within a given society.

Suave Kenya was founded in 2013 by Mohammed Awale from an idea sparked by numerous trips to a local thrift market, Gikomba Market, the largest open-air market in East Africa. While rummaging among heaps of oversized and discarded denim outfits, Awale discovered the source material for its bags, as it looks to end the cycle of unwanted garments ending up in landfills. The bags made by Suave Kenya are made with practicality in mind.

The final recipient is Hamaji, founded in 2017 by designer Louise Sommerlatte, it is a brand created around preserving ancient textile traditions and nomadic craftsmanship whilst empowering local small scale artisans in Africa. The brand creates a narrative of sustainability and conscious consumerism through its collections using natural fibres, botanical dyes, handcraft, embroidery and up-cycled vintage textiles. Hamaji is inspired by East African charm and embodies a spirit of nomadic femininity in pastel hues, free-flowing silhouettes and a delightful sense of elegance.

Commenting on joining the accelerator, Hamaji, said: “I feel hugely honoured and extremely excited to be a part of the Ethical Fashion Initiative accelerator programme, to have this opportunity to expand my knowledge and be mentored in the development of my brand in a sustainable approach with international and local expertise in Kenya.”

Images: courtesy of Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa, Suave, and Hamaji;

Ethical Fashion Initiative
Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa