Sustainable Clothing Ethically Handmade in Tanzania

In the fashion industry, millions of garment workers are dealing with low pay (often below the minimum wage), excessive overtime, discrimination, unsafe working and living conditions, sexual harassment, abuse and violence. Garment workers often struggle to afford basic necessities, are unable to provide for their families and are still regularly getting injured or dying in factory fires and accidents.

The majority of fashion retailers and brands (including middle priced and luxury) do not own their own manufacturing facilities so they do not have full control of their supply chains. Fashion buyers (and their suppliers) working in western countries force overseas producers to reduce their prices, which causes unethical practices to occur.

 

60% garment workers in India and Bangladesh have experienced harassment, verbal abuse or physical abuse Fashion Revolution

 

(Credit: Fashion Revolution)

This also encourages sub-contracting which makes it difficult for brands and retailers to know exactly where their products are being made. They have very little control over their supply chains and are unaware of what’s really happening behind the scenes even when using external auditors. The materials used to make an item of clothing can be sourced and assembled in several different counties before it arrives in the shops.

The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry, and is having a devastating impact on the environment and climate crisis. Forests, water, soil and air are being depleted or polluted and animals are being mistreated. Cheap ‘fast fashion’ is majorly contributing to disused and unwanted clothing piling up in landfills. 

 

Discarded unwanted clothing ends up in landfill polluting the environment sustainable fashion

 

Here at Kitenge, we support the ‘slow fashion’ movement and believe that loved clothes last. Our brightly coloured, high-quality clothing is handcrafted with love, made using the finest, long-lasting authentic African wax print fabrics.

Kitenge is a social enterprise and ethical clothing brand, which aims to empower talented Tanzanian tailors to improve their livelihoods. Since working with Kitenge, our tailors have been able to start their own businesses, move to larger premises, purchase new sewing machines, and hire/train apprentices.

Continue reading to learn about our raw materials, how we minimise waste and support our fantastic team of tailors.

How Is Kitenge’s African Clothing Ethical & Sustainable?

We Source Local Materials

We endeavour to reduce transport emissions and our carbon footprint; therefore, we source the majority of our raw materials including the fabrics, buttons, zippers and threads locally from Tanzania. Even our swing tickets and labels are designed and produced in Tanzania, which also helps to benefit small businesses, communities and the local economy.

 

Kitenge swing tickets designed and printed by a small business in Tanzania sustainable fashion

 

Onesmo is a small business owner in Tanzania who designs and prints our swing tickets

Learn more about our raw material suppliers and their small businesses in Tanzania.

We source only the highest-quality authentic African wax print fabrics that are produced on the African continent and handpicked from local markets (female-owned enterprises) in Tanzania. This helps to support African cotton farmers and the African textile industry, which struggles to compete with cheaper imitation ankara fabrics imported from China.

 

Kitenge Store founder Sian with African wax print fabric supplier

 

Kitenge Founder, Sian, visiting one of our fabric suppliers in Tanzania

Learn how to tell the difference between authentic and counterfeit African print fabrics.

It’s not always easy to source sustainable materials, such as buttons and packaging, locally in Tanzania. However, we always look to find suitable alternatives to help protect the environment.

Our African Fabric Is Made From 100% Cotton

 

Cotton field before harvest

 

Our kitenge fabrics are made from 100% cotton grown in Africa, a natural fibre that is completely biodegradable. The fabric has excellent colourfastness so our garments still look as good as new many years later.

I love my two Kitenge MTM shirts! I want to emphasize the quality of your fabrics—I think my shirts will last for decades.”

Mary, Japan

We are currently in the process of sourcing GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic rain-fed cotton and more sustainable fabrics like linen to make our new plain coloured shirts, with optional African print fabric contrasts.

Reusing Fabric Offcuts to Ensure Zero Waste

Protecting the environment is extremely important to us. Kitenge’s tailors work very carefully to minimise wastage wherever possible when cutting the raw materials in their workshops.

 

Kitenge Store African menswear tailor cutting fabric to make custom-made shirts in Tanzania East Africa

 

Tairo cutting the fabric to make a men’s custom-made shirt

All fabric offcuts leftover from our clothing production is recycled and reused to make African accessories including men’s bespoke neckties, African print bow ties and stylish pocket squares. Any offcuts that are too small to be used are donated to either female artisans in Tanzania, who make jewellery and rugs, or to schools for art projects.

 

Child sketching African wax print fabric school art class sustainable fashion

 

A pupil at a primary school in the UK using our African print fabric offcuts in an art class

 

Cut to Order Made to Measure Clothing

Our made to measure clothing is cut to order reducing unnecessary waste and surplus stock at the end of a season due to overproduction, which, in the fashion industry, is often discarded, burned or heavily discounted by fast fashion and luxury brands or retailers.

Kitenge’s custom-made clothing fits perfectly so there is no need to return items overseas for an exchange or refund like traditional retailers, which helps to reduce carbon emissions and packaging waste.

Learn more about how to upcycle and reuse your clothes to keep your outfits looking as good as new for longer.

Creating Employment and Training Opportunities for Tanzanian Tailors

Kitenge’s social mission is to empower local Tanzanian tailors to improve their livelihoods one colourful garment at a time. Since we started trading in 2014, the tailors and artisans we partner with have achieved a great deal.

For example, our master tailor, Abdallah, opened his own workshop in 2016 near his home and, using the profits made from our orders, he’s been able to purchase new sewing machines and equipment. The success of his business has enabled him to hire and train apprentices, which helps to reduce local unemployment.

 

Kitenge Store master tailor workshop Tanzania ethical clothing

 

Abdallah, Kitenge’s master tailor

Since we started working with Abdallah in 2015, he has purchased a plot of land and has started to slowly build a family home of his own. He has reduced his transport expenses, spends more quality time with his family, has an increased income and is financially stable.

In the future, we plan to open a solar-powered workshop and sewing academy for disadvantaged Tanzanian women. Upon graduation with recognised vocational certificates, we will support the skilled women to start their own enterprises, find suitable employment or provide them with the opportunity to work with us.

Our Sustainable Production and Ethical Fashion Promises

Kitenge’s founder, Sian, built our supply chain in Tanzania from scratch. She knows every supplier and tailor personally and has built good, supportive working relationships with them over the years.

Read our story to learn more about us and why we exist.

 

Kitenge Store Founder Sian visiting tailors Tanzania ethical fashion

 

From left to right: Mrisho, Sian, Dossa (apprentice) and Abdallah

Our ethical clothing brand follows the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) 10 Principles of Fair Trade:

1. Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Our colourful and unique clothing provides employment and training opportunities for young people (particularly women) in Tanzania, East Africa. We encourage entrepreneurship by supporting our tailors to start up and grow their own businesses improving their livelihoods through job security and financial stability. We strongly believe in the ‘trade not aid’ approach.

2. Transparency and Accountability

We work on the ground in Tanzania alongside our team of talented tailors and regularly share behind the scenes footage from their workshops on our blog and social media pages. This includes video interviews with our tailors sharing how our garments are made in their workshops.

Wherever possible, we send photos and videos to our customers of their made to measure clothing being made. We look for innovative ways to connect our customers with the makers so they can see who made their clothes.

3. Fair Trading Practices

We trade with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of our tailors and have established long term relationships with our supply chain, which is built on trust and mutual respect. Kitenge honours and fulfils all contracts. We pay our tailors 50% upfront and the balance is paid on completion of an order.

4. Fair Payment

The fair payments we make to our tailors have been openly and freely negotiated and mutually agreed by all through ongoing dialogue and participation. We always ask our tailors for the price they are happy to be paid and offer to increase the payment whenever possible. Our female tailors receive equal pay for equal work.

5. Ensuring No Child or Forced Labour

We ensure that no forced labour is used in production and believe the best place for children is in school. Our tailors are in full control of the work they take on and their working hours.

Once a customer order is received, we ask our tailors when they believe they can finish and keep our customers updated with their progress. Our tailors require enough time to make the garments to the best of their ability and to the highest quality.

Power cuts are commonplace in Tanzania, which can slow down production. Occasionally, our master tailor may decide to work from home if there is a power outage at his workshop.

6. Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association 

We do not discriminate in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/Aids status or age.

We promote gender equality and support female empowerment initiatives in Tanzania, which is very much part of our future plans.

7. Ensuring Good Working Conditions 

Kitenge tailors work in safe and healthy working environments, which at a minimum comply with national and local laws. We work with our tailors on an ongoing basis to raise awareness of any health and safety issues, which we help to improve.

8. Providing Capacity Building

The tailors we work with are highly-skilled. We work with them closely when developing new products so they can improve their skills and capabilities even further.

When Kitenge’s new sewing academy opens in the future, we plan to teach our female students about business and financial management at no cost so they will be well equipped to start their own businesses upon graduation if they wish to.

9. Promoting Fair Trade

We raise awareness of the aim of Fair Trade and the need for greater justice and protection for garment workers around the world.

10. Respect for The Environment

At Kitenge, we aim for zero waste and recycle all fabric offcuts after clothing production. Our policy is to source raw materials locally in Tanzania, when possible, to reduce emissions.

 

WFTO 10 principles of fair trade ethical and sustainable fashion

 

10 Principles of Fair Trade (credit: WFTO Europe)

Shop Sustainably with Kitenge

After the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh that killed 1,133, and injured over 2,500 people, we have continued to support the Fashion Revolution movement, playing our part to evoke change in the fashion industry.

Why not join the revolution by shopping ethically with a clothing brand like Kitenge. Alternatively, learn more about sustainable fashion and the importance of sustainability especially in this day and age.

 

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