SO-EN magazine ‘Time to Act’ vol 8: ‘Africa Bag’

Vivienne Westwood SO-EN
As mentioned last week my wife Tomoka has been writing a monthly article about Vivienne & her political values for the Japanese fashion bible SO-EN magazine. She has kindly offered to translate these articles into English for us & so here is the first one.

Vol 8: Africa Bag:

Nowadays, we often hear words “ethical “ and “sustainable” in our daily life and even in the fashion world. And of course, Vivienne Westwood is ethical and sustainable! Vivienne Westwood and the Ethical Fashion Initiative have been working together since 2010 to improve women’s life in Africa with a slogan “Not Charity, Just Work.”
Vivienne Westwood SO-EN
When Vivienne visited to see their work in Kenya in 2011 she said:
‘I‘’m very careful when I travel. I think it’s gross to rush off just for business, then straight back. I always try to do more than one thing on every trip to discover something about the history of the country. Andreas and I, with members of our team, were away for about 10 days working and travelling from Nairobi to Segera, for a safari in the very centre of Kenya.We’ve been working with the United Nations Ethical Fashion Programme to produce bags and accessories in Kenya. The idea of this programme is to lift communities out of poverty using environmentally sustainable materials and processes. Charity = dependence, Work = control over your own life.
We were given a warm welcome in Nairobi by the people who work on our bags. Simone, who runs the project, had the idea of bringing our designs to the local craftspeople so they can produce attractive fashion items for international markets. Now, after working with them for two seasons, we have 250 local people directly involved in Vivienne Westwood manufacturing. We were really pleased to see what a difference the project has made to the communities they live in.

Everything at the rubbish dump is recycled – and some of it is used for our production. It’s an important source of income for slum dwellers. Waste food and rubbish from airlines is collared by slum hierarchies. We visited a supported slum – by NGO’s, charities,people working in town.
I was surprised to find that the rents for very small concrete houses are not cheap. There’s a whole social structure and economy in the slums – the houses double as shops and workshops. People are healthy, though I’m told the life expectancy is below average. They were happy and friendly to us, especially the children who always greet you with a ‘How are you?’   Second-hand clothes are very important business here – given free by charities but then often sold on.
I believe the UN programme is making a really positive impact on the people’s lives.

There’s a new scheme in Segera that we were very impressed with. The idea is to provide people’s homes (like the ones above) with solar panels. It’s obvious that the bush is really deteriorated and the plan to re-establish it depends on the people not chopping firewood. This saves them a lot of time – and, importantly, the using solar for cooking instead of burning firewood prevents the serious respiratory illnesses which are endemic in the area. The solar panels also provide lighting – this is a real advantage because the children are better able to do their homework in the evenings.

Vivienne Westwood SO-EN
All cloth for the bags is made in Kenya or other African countries. Men’s shirts are used for the linings and water pipes are used for the Westwood iconic orb and studs. All materials in the making of these bags are from recycled sources. All workers specialize in one thing so as to concentrate on their work and therefore improve their own skill. For instance, the Masai tribe which are very good at beading deal with beading works, people in other areas deal with prints, others sewing. If you see their work from the very 1st collection in order, you will see how their skill has been clearly improving.
Vivienne Westwood SO-EN
Kathrin who is a bag designer and has been working with EFI from the beginning told me a very funny story. Some of the men sometimes complain about their wives working with Vivienne Westwood because some of the designs are very sexual and radical. So EFI always show them the designs first and ask if they want to work on it or not. No matter how men are worried about the women, almost all women are very happy working on the bags.
If you see the African bags it will give you the image of blue sky and red earth in Africa but above all else, it will show you the skilled women’s smile!

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