When Sian Wells, Kitenge’s founder, launched her social enterprise and ethical clothing brand in 2014, she had a clear mission – that one day the expressions ethical fashion and fair trade would become unnecessary, even obsolete.
Working in London and New York’s fashion industry showed Sian the extent that unethical practices were having a negative impact on workers’ lives in the Far East. Dismayed but motivated, Sian set out to turn-around the lives of people she met after volunteering in Tanzania, East Africa.
“The people who make our clothes should be paid fairly, treated with respect and dignity and work in a safe environment. We should all be able to find out who makes our clothes. I believe the care label showing the country of origin is not enough.”
Whilst immersed in Tanzania’s rich culture and values, Sian explored the busy local markets and fell in love with the vivid, African wax print fabrics called ‘Kitenge’ (ki-ten-gi) in Swahili. She soon realised that by investing in local industries and building on their expertise, she could develop a range of stylish prints and designs at the same time as helping businesses, communities and families to support themselves.
“It was a light-bulb moment when I realised I could set up a local supply chain to create modern, authentic African fashion – in a responsible way.”
Kitenge’s first collection was born and the high quality, 100% cotton, African produced fabrics, with their modern interpretation of traditional styles, hit UK festivals and markets, quickly gathering fans – who are equally attracted by the colourful bold prints and motivated by the ethics. By purchasing a Kitenge design, wearers know they are improving the tailors’ lives, supporting families and reducing local unemployment – whilst strengthening the Tanzanian textile industry.
Sian with our tailors Hassan (left) and Abdallah (right) in his workshop in Tanzania
Lovingly handmade, Kitenge designs are created from small runs of each print. Every item is individually hand-cut, so the print placement varies ensuring no two items are ever the same!
Sian’s eye for each detail in the production process ensures little wastage, with every feature from a button to a swing ticket being locally sourced. Indeed, once the garment is made, Kitenge even recycles offcuts to make hair accessories, jewellery and bags.
Support Kitenge on its journey to empower Tanzanian tailors, improve their livelihoods and support their fine craftsmanship. And follow Sian on her ultimate mission to open a tailoring school and business hub for young people in Tanzania.