Friday, August 8, 2014

Social enterprises bank on fashion to change lives

Designer Angela Ola (L), John Tulo (Trainer) and Wesley Owiti (founder of Cherehani Initiative). Photo Courtesy 
By Mwikali Lati
In Summary
Fashion is globally celebrated and everyone goes out of their way to look fashionable or stylish.

Fashion has an air of glamour and vanity. It has a conscious side, too. And this is not about the much publicised ethical or sustainable fashion. It is about social enterprises that use fashion to change people’s lives.


One of the best-known examples of a fashion-based social enterprise is Toms Shoes, a US-based company, which donates a pair of shoes for every pair it sells. Closer to home, Cherehani (Swahili for sewing machine) Africa is all about transferring skills to disadvantaged women groups, providing equipment and finding markets for products.
“Cherehani Africa had the aim of providing sewing machines to less fortunate women in rural and semi-urban areas, and facilitating their training in tailoring for them to start and run fashion businesses to be able to provide for themselves and their communities,” says Wesley Owiti, co-founder of the initiative.
Why choose fashion as a vehicle for social change? Fashion is globally celebrated and everyone goes out of their way to look for trendy or stylish outfits. It is easier to communicate social change or involve people in such noble goals when you approach the initiative using something they love and enjoy like fashion.
Johari, another social enterprise, was established in 2005 to give hope to the local communities as well as meet their education, training and healthcare needs. Three years later, Johari Designs was launched as not-for-profit social enterprise and ethical clothing manufacturer to train young people in tailoring and jewellery.
“We believe in “empowerment through opportunity” and want to see our Johari Designs artisans grow and develop their skill set,” says Laura Noble of Johari. “Along with providing economic opportunities and employment, Johari Designs actively encourages the young women to develop their own designs. The team has regular brainstorming sessions where they are asked to suggest new ideas to add to the existing Johari collections.”
Its 18-month training includes courses in tailoring, material sourcing and jewellery making. The skills help young adults develop the talents they need to find employment. Many of the workers at Johari Designs are graduates of the Johari Apprenticeship Project.
They have made a positive impact on their lives and are helping others with 100 per cent of profit from the sale of Johari products being injected into the Miale Social Development Projects.
Cherehani Africa seeks to change women’s lives through fashion events and event management services under the Bowtie Events. As for Open Gate of Hope, a tragedy spurred the founder to take action and address socio-economic problems residents of Kibera in Nairobi face.
“The incident that made me start this organisation was the painful loss of one of three orphan boys who died due to starvation just because I had not visited them for a week and they had no one to take of them,” says Zipporah Sila. “I felt it was time to take action and change the way I did things and teach them a skill so that they can depend on themselves.”
With her fashion design skills, she began to train HIV-positive women in the slum on family care in 2007. She taught the first group how to make paper beads, but the initiative has since grown to 15 groups, each producing different items, including clothing and other accessories like bags.
“Apart from teaching the different women’s groups how to make products, I look for the markets,” says the founder. “I tend to focus on getting orders from abroad then working with the women to meet the standards and quality required.”
These type of organisations have found a way to help communities solve socio-economic problems as well as empower the beneficiaries with life skills crucial in earning a livelihood.
“The sense of team and community spirit is strong. The young people we work with have a positive outlook on life. It is wonderful to see their confidence grow within such a short time as they build their skills level,” says Noble.
Social enterprises are also dynamic and evolve to suit the needs of the people they are targeting.

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