COPENHAGEN—-As the use of African fabrics has become more of a trend in the fashion industry I was surprised to find that most African prints are sourced from India, Switzerland, and China, not Africa, and for a fraction of the cost.
This less expensive form of production also comes with a harmful environmental result, as the majority of the processes are toxic and carcinogenic, however, there are some companies out there doing their best to regenerate the African textiles industry, one of these companies is UK Online Retail giant, ASOS.
I contacted ASOS Sustainability Manager, Kate McCrindle, to talk about the challenges ASOS face putting together their ASOS Africa collection in an ethical and sustainable way and how they nourish the local communities that make their textiles for them.
Where does ASOS source its African textiles from for the ASOS African Collection?
”Unfortunately the Textile industry in Africa has been on the decline for many years and it is difficult for us to source the variety of fabric needed for our collections. Where possible we will use African made fabrics. We have included the local Khanga and Kitenge fabrics in our collections which were woven in Tanzania. We have sourced Kikoy fabrics which were handwoven in Kenya, we have sourced beautiful Nigerian woven lace for our new SS14 collection due to launch in March, and we visit artisan weavers and producers to see what we can incorporate into collections.”
Traditional African printmakers work on a small scale, their materials are completely sustainable. But it’s a catch 22, they cannot compete with larger manufacturers in other parts of the world who can produce textiles much more quickly. So, they are in the unfortunate situation where their economies are collapsing and their traditions are dying out.
How is SOKO, your eco-friendly workshop in Africa helping to improve the financial situation of its artisans and how is it encouraging the local African textile industry to develop?
"The primary focus of SOKO, as a manufacturing unit, is to create employment opportunities where jobs are scarce. As with any other manufacturing unit offering CMT, SOKO will use fabrics requested by their clients but frequently brings local material options to the sourcing table,"
Would ASOS ever consider using the traditional processes utilized to make African printed fabric through leaves found in nearby forests and mud gathered from rivers to create rich fabric dies for a high-end range in its ASOS Africa collection?
"We will look at all available materials that could be sourced across Africa. If these fabrics pass our quality and safety tests and sit within the aesthetic of a collection we would certainly consider it."
Where can readers buy a garment from the ASOS Africa Collection and support the SOKO eco-workshop?
”From ASOS.com Our new Spring Summer collection will be available from Mid-MarchASOS and SOKO work together on a trade and not aid model, by purchasing ASOS Africa products you are helping to support SOKO and the work they are doing.
SOKO is succeeding in its efforts to take a step towards alleviating poverty by providing work to artisans in the community its workshop is located in. What are the next step SOKO plans to take to preserve Africa’s traditional textiles & craftsmanship?
”The main purpose of SOKO is to continue to increase its business and provide more jobs in the local community. One of the next projects with ASOS and SOKO is to develop a stitch academy in the local area, bringing training and employment opportunities to the local communities.”