ASOS and Jo Maiden have been collaborating to make sustainable fashion collections from Africa for the past seven years.
With sustainability the hottest buzzword of the moment, ensuring people are paid fair wages, communities are treated well and our environment is protected is now coming to the forefront of consumers’ minds.
And that’s why Maiden wants to change the fashion industry for the better.
Launching her latest collection with ASOS, the second ‘Made In Kenya’ line is crafted by seamstresses in Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary as part of the SOKO production unit set up by Maiden.
From bold prints, statement patterns and designs based on school children’s drawings, the range is incredible.
Maiden, who is an advocate for sustainable fashion, discussed with HuffPost UK, the positive effects fashion can have on the world, ethical manufacturing processes and how fashion’s future is changing.
Why did you start your fashion production company in Kenya?
“I set up SOKO in 2009 because I believed that fashion has the power and potential to make a positive contribution to society.
“My vision for SOKO was to provide the fashion industry with a factory that has social and environmental responsibilities at its core. That means fair wages, employment creation and making a meaningful difference to the local community.”
What attracted you to Kenya specifically?
“I first visited Kenya with my husband in 2007, I fell in love with the country and saw a real opportunity for a sustainable and creative long-term solution to poverty within a local community by promoting community-driven, ethical and environmentally-aware trade in fashion.
“I felt I could utilise my own experience within the UK fashion industry and saw that working with local people in Kenya could really make a difference.”
How do you split your time between London and Kenya?
“For the first five years of SOKO my husband and I spent the majority of our time in Kenya – with short trips to London.
“Now SOKO is more established and we have two children, we tend to split our time equally between the two countries. We feel very lucky to be able to enjoy time in both places – the bush of Kenya and the inner city London.”
Are you able to trace your entire garment process from start to finish?
“SOKO manages the CMT (cut, make, trim) part of the production process and so this stage of the process is 100% traceable.
“In terms of fabric sourcing, ASOS has got an extensive programme in the sourcing department, fully mapping it’s supply base to include mills and textile production.
“Part of ASOS’s commitment to sustainable fabrics includes sourcing 100% sustainable cotton from organisations such us the Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA). An increasing amount of CMiA is being used in the ASOS ‘Made in Kenya’ collection.”
Why are you so passionate about sustainable fashion?
“The creativity of fashion and the desire to ‘make a difference’ and create a positive impact were things I was always very passionate about. For years I struggled to see how the two could work together until I started to read about ethical fashion and the positive impact fashion can have on people’s lives.
“With SOKO my goal has always been to prove that it is possible to run a self-sustaining manufacturing business which has social and environmental principles at its core – paying fair wages, providing needed social services, a pleasant place of work and a commitment to limit its environmental impact.
“We offer people an alternative means of making a living. Through training and employment we have enabled women to take control of their own lives and it allows them to lift themselves out of poverty.”
What were you doing before you started SOKO Kenya?
“After I graduated with a BA (Hons) Fashion and Textiles degree from Winchester School of Art I worked as a freelance designer for a short while. Then as a freelance consultant in the fashion industry in London for a few companies including the Ethical Fashion Forum, on projects such as Africa Inspires: A project for The International Trade Centre (an agency of the UN) linking fair-trade producers in Africa with fashion businesses in the UK. This inspired my initial trip to Kenya in 2007 and began my journey into the garment industry in Africa.”
Can you tell us a bit about any future projects you’re working on?
“This is just the start for SOKO. We have recently expanded into a second factory and want to continue to grow and increase our impact in the local community through secure jobs and skills training.
“In 2013 through our Community Trust and supported by the ASOS Foundation, we set up the Stitching Academy, a sewing school training 40 women per year in the use of industrial sewing machines and providing skills needed to secure employment.
“To date 80 women have graduated from the course who previously had little education and no knowledge or experience in garment construction. These women are now industry-ready to gain employment or start their own businesses.
“Our academy continues to grow to include adding additional courses and this year we will be providing accommodation bursaries to 10 women enabling us to increase our reach in the community.”
What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t know what to do with their unwanted clothing?
“Consider the ‘waste hierarchy’ of reduce, re-use, recycle (in that order).
“Swapping clothes with friends and family is the easiest way of refreshing your wardrobe without adding to landfill.
“Charity shops are another option – Oxfam, SCOPE, Cancer Research and many other charities will let you drop off bags of clothing at their high street shops. Oxfam have a rigorous process to avoid any products going to landfill.
“Look out for the Textile recycling charity TRAID – they use the proceeds from donated clothing to fund programmes to support international development and creative recycling workshops. TRAID has a collection scheme in London and donation points around the UK.
“Damaged, worn out textiles can often by recycled via door step collections – check your local council.”
Here are a few pieces from SOKO Kenya’s latest collection: