Feb 9, 2023

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

It’s all rubbish: Up-cycling waste into fashionable items

As the world grapples with waste management, particularly plastics, international campaigns focus on either banning their use or on recycling and upcycling, making new things out of discarded materials.

In Uganda is the art of upcycling has been adopted by social enterprises as both a solution to waste management and job creation for communities in sustainable projects.

Three fashion creatives – Juliet Namujju, Faith Aweko and Josephine Nakafeero – are among leading sustainable Ugandan fashion designers who transform waste materials into fashionable garments, accessories, coffee tables and other household items.

Although they come from different backgrounds, they were all inspired by a desire to use fashion to create positive change in society. Circumstances brought them to a place where it was easy to choose waste as a working material.

They make upcycled clothing, bags, backpacks, shoes, upcycled tire stools, coffee tables and more chairs. These are then sold in online shops, boutiques and tourist centers in Uganda.

Juliet Namujju

Namujju is the founder and CEO of Kimuli Fashionability, a social enterprise sustainable fashion label. She holds a Certificate in Fashion and Design from the St. Elizabeth Vocational Institute in Kampala and founded the company in 2017 at the age of 20 in Maya, Mpigi district of central Uganda.

The eco fashion brand transforms plastic waste into durable, sustainable and waterproof clothing, bags and accessories.

They employ over 120 young people who work under contract as waste collectors; and disabled tailors, who train them to “upcycle” scrap materials and blend them with African fabrics to create garments and accessories. They specialize in making laptop bags, tote bags, backpacks and raincoats from used cement sacks. The award-winning fashion designer says the raincoat is her customers’ favorite product.

Kimuli Fashionability products can also be purchased from distribution partners – such as artisan shops, sustainable fashion brands, hotels, restaurants and more eco-lodges – and shops and Tourist centers in Kampala, Nakasero, Kololo, Bugolobi and Entebbe.

Namujju says they source the waste – sugar sacks, cement sacks, plastic bottles and sacks from garbage dumps in the community. “Homeless or poor rural youth can earn an income by collecting the waste materials and selling them to us. After collection, the waste is washed, dried and cut depending on the design of the product to be made,” she told The EastAfrican.

Namujju says he’s growing up as an orphan among the die Caring for her single grandmother in a rural village shaped her life.

“The stigma of disability has caused my family grief. My grandmother was a seamstress and inspired me to make my own dolls from leftovers and plastic waste when I was a child because she couldn’t afford to buy me toys. I used what others threw away and that changed my attitude towards waste and I started to see the value of recycling, which also protects the environment,” she says.

Namujju says that her life experience drives her to fight for equal treatment of all people despite differences because society’s discrimination against her disabled father led to abandonment, lack of parental love and impact on her early life.

She says , she was lucky to have been accepted into the Social Innovation Academy that changed her life and now she wants to offer the same opportunity to disadvantaged youth. She argues that creating something beautiful out of waste is fulfilling.

Since its inception, Kimuli Fashionability has recycled 40,000 kilos of plastic waste into 15,000 items of clothing and sold products in 15 stores in Uganda and abroad, with partners such as natural cosmetics Berlin and Rich Everyday, among others, and saves the environment over 93,000 kilos of carbon emissions.

In this year alone, she trained 94 people with disabilities to take care of themselves and their families. Her vision is to empower more than 2,000 people with disabilities across East Africa by the end of 2025.

In 2017, Namujju presented her upcycled fashion at the Germany Image Correction Fair Fashion Conference; won the 2018 Ugandan Ye-Community Award and was a Tony Emelu Foundation grantee for the production of eco-friendly face masks for the disabled and was awarded the 2019 Global Greenpreneur Award by Ban-Ki-Moon. In January 2020, Namujju was featured on CNN African Voices “Changemakers”. She won the Innovation for Sustainable Development Award 2021 organized by the Commonwealth.

Faith Aweko

Aweko co-founded the social enterprise Reform Africa in September 2018 with Naluyima Shamim and Mema Rachel.

They make sustainable, waterproof and durable fashion bags. Production begins with the collection of polyethylene plastic bags from dumps, factories and streets of Kampala by a team of 10 single mothers, whom the company pays better than intermediaries for waste collection. They supply 300 kilograms of plastic every month.

The plastic is then cleaned, processed and fused into the final material that tailors cut into patterns and designs for backpacks, tote bags, shoulder bags or toiletry bags. Their bags are popular for their durability.

Aweko says the Mema backpack is a hot item because it’s suitable for work, travel, and leisure. They also have a Chimobi tote bag, the Feza belt bag that can be worn as a hip or crossbody bag for the fashion forward, and the Ashuza school backpack.

Reform Africa products are available at Jumia and select stores in available throughout Kampala.

Aweko, who describes herself as a “waste-preneur”, says: “Every purchase means the environment saves 15 plastic bags.”

Aweko’s drive, with Working with plastics comes from her background growing up in Kampala slums where poor waste management led to clogged sewers, waterways and narrow alleys. This hampered their education, because every time it rained, the slums were flooded and classes were cancelled. As she grew up, her mission was to fight the garbage menace in any way she could.

“I remember days when it rained so hard that my family and I had to spend the whole night in it to drain the water from our house . These harsh conditions were one of the consequences of the region’s poor garbage and plastic waste disposal systems,” she says.

Reform Africa won the Social Impact Award in 2019.

, says Aweko, “ Knowing that the livelihoods of the women I work with depend entirely on the success of my business drives me to work harder every day to support these mostly single mothers and young girls who are providing for their families.”< /p>

She also believes that creativity “can provide solutions to social problems and that’s how I got into fashion.”

Josephine Nakafeero

Nakafeero is the founder and CEO of Jose House of Creations.

They recycle old tires into poufs, seats, coffee tables and chairs; They also make coasters from recycled DVDs and CDs.

Their jean bags are made from used denim pants, shirts, dresses and skirts. Her upcycled causal shoes decorated with Ankara fabric have proved very popular.

“Our favorite scrap materials are old car tires and denim,” says Nakafeero, adding, “What I like most is the fact that people adopt a sustainable lifestyle when they buy our products and support our projects.”

They source their waste material from friends and the community via social media to donate their old and used items.

< p>Jose House of Creations products can be purchased at his store at 44 Bukoto Street Plot in Kampala and in the Jinja district at Local Flavors on Main Street and through Jumia.

“I create Energy from my passion to contribute to the protection of the environment.” She chose fashion because she says: “Fashion and creativity attract people’s attention and have a positive impact.”