“SOKO Kenya is a clothing production workshop for the export market that aims to create sustainable, fair employment and offer training and skills to some of Kenya’s poorest people.” SOKO website.
Beginning only in December 2009, SOKO has grown from strength to strength. Despite it being the height of summer in Britain the fashion world has already started thinking about Autumn/Winter collections. So SOKO have started production of their fourth collection for the ever popular ASOS Africa – and it looks fantastic! (ASOS Africa available in the Green Room at ASOS.com), A/W11 is a gorgeous new range based around a locally sourced print bought in Mombasa and includes quilting, bright jersey and heavy twills.
Check out the sneak preview pictures they’ve released...it goes live on the website in September so not long now until you can own some of these gorgeous, fairly produced pieces. But if you can’t wait to own some of the ASOS Africa collection then take a look at the Spring/Summer collection on sale now.
ASOS’ Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Christian James Smith spoke to the team at See Africa Differently – a new campaign organisation for charity Comic Relief – during Africa Fashion Week London saying
“Thriving fashion businesses are springing up all over Africa and we’re only just starting to see them get the recognition they deserve over here. ASOS is proud of our ASOS Africa range and we fully support the See Africa Differently campaign.”
He really does put his money where his mouth is as he says “ASOS will match fund each purchase with an additional £5.” this will go towards them raising “£20,000 for SOKO’s new building. £10,000 will be raised through sales from the ASOS Africa and Jessica Ogden Spring Summer ‘11 collections, matched by £10,000 from the ASOS Foundation.”
Another high for the SOKO workshop this year has to be the choice by Michelle Obama to wear ASOS Africa not only once but twice during her recent visit to Africa. The First Lady looked lovely in the beaded jacket and printed sleeveless shirt.
SOKO was established in December 2009 by Joanna Maiden who saw a need and great potential for an ethical clothing production unit in Africa. In early 2009 she met Olivia Kennaway, co-founder of the ethical fashion company LaLesso, who produced their collection in a small in-house workshop on the south Kenyan coast. Olivia was looking for someone to take over production management of LaLesso and was enthusiastic about the benefits a larger workshop would have on the local community. Later that year Jo formed SOKO with LaLesso’s tailors and a handful of other talented tailors. Today the workshop employs around 25 men and women from the local area which has an unemployment rate of 50%. SOKO guarantees its employees a reliable income, above the Kenyan living wage, as well as a secure contract, child care, sick leave and other workers rights often not given, particularly in the garment industry. SOKO also allows its employees the right to organise and join or create a union, this is a very important step in the interests of being ‘ethical’ as it gives workers a platform to voice their opinions and concerns. In much of the garment industry in Kenya as well as the rest of the world, worker’s unions are either not allowed and disbanded by the company owners or they are ignored.
The success of the ASOS Africa collection featured in the Green Room has made a huge impact on SOKO. In 2010 I worked with the SOKO team, helping to prepare the first order. There were a few teething issues as you might expect in a brand new workshop working on its first major order, and the tropical heat did not make things any easier! Nevertheless all the orders were completed and some pieces of the collection sold out in a matter of days. Since then SOKO has gone from strength to strength, they have produced two further collections for ASOS and are currently working on a third, A/W 2011.
The LaLesso collection is also still produced by SOKO and they have recently received the samples, patterns and fabrics for the S/S 2012 collection, an exciting collection featuring 100% silk and silk/chiffon mixes.
“The collection this season has been inspired by contemporary Africa, it combines the old and the new and the raw clashing of cultures. The collection mirrors the way that the designers, Alice and Olivia, view Africa – a continent full of passion, romance, power and movement. Despite this the collection still remains true to Lalesso’s simple and flattering lines” SOKO blog.
SOKO have also been producing S/S collections for Modahnik and FAIR+true (available at FashionConscience.com) and are in talks with more people for A/W collections such as for designer Beshlie McKelvie. It seems despite a tough economic climate there is still plenty of demand for ethically produced clothing. SOKO is hoping to continue to expand, increase its number of employees and therefore its benefits to the local community. However, in order to do this they need to expand their premises and are hoping to build a new eco-workshop close to their present location in the Ukunda polytechnic college. They are currently raising funds for this and if you feel you can help please do so here http://www.soko-kenya.com/support-us/ .
The last biggie for SOKO is their production of garments for US big contender SUNO NY. The are simply “over the moon to be working with New York based fashion brand SUNO on their Autumn Winter 2011 collection”.
We will delve even more into SUNO but as a quick synopsis it was formed in 2008 by Max Osterweis after more than a decade of collecting textiles in visits to Kenya. Their goal is to create quality and luxury in a socially responsible way. Building a successful and visible company that employs local Kenyan talent and treats workers fairly, and so showcases some of Kenya’s artistry, hoping to positively affect lasting social and economic change.
The design and development for SUNO takes place in New York City, and the majority (70%)of the collection is produced in Kenya. For SUNO’s Autumn Winter 2011 collection SOKO-Kenya are manufacturing 5 styles. They will be delivering the SUNO collection at the end of July and it will be on sale in early September.
So, though a very challenging time for SOKO in regards to the financial climate they are doing fantastic work and making a great and growing impact. AfricaFashionGuide loves their vision initiative and drive and it is through these organisations like SOKO that will one by one make a change in Africa’s fashion and textiles industry.
Follow their developments on their blog here – http://www.soko-kenya.com/our-blog/
Author: Imogen Butler