The annual Ugandan sustainable fashion event, Kwetu Kwanza, acts as a platform to motivate, educate, and empower designers to embrace sustainable fashion and offer the rest of us a glimpse into the fashion industry, both good and bad.
This year, the event held at Motiv in the industrial area in Kampala during Fashion Revolution Week in April, brought together dancers, sustainable fashion designers, visual artists, and filmmakers together to talk about the environment, the limits of consumption, and share hopeful messages toward a more caring fashion future.
The event is organised by the Kampala-based brand, IGC Fashion. Founded in 2017 by two Ugandan fashion designers, Kasoma Ibrahim and Katende Godfrey, IGC Fashion (Ibrahim and Godfrey’s Community Fashion) draws inspiration from African tradition, heritage, and culture. Katende is also the Country Coordinator of Fashion Revolution Uganda.
IGC Fashion promotes fashion as a tool for positive social change. From this philosophy, the Kasoma and Katenda founded the annual sustainable fashion event, Kwetu Kwanza. The name “Kwetu Kwanza” derives from Swahili, translating to “Ours First.” In the context of IGC Fashion’s philosophy, it encapsulates the ethos of safeguarding our home, and our planet, as our foremost responsibility.
“We create spaces for meaningful interactions, skill-sharing, and dialogue. IGC Fashion empowers emerging designers, artisans, and individuals from marginalised backgrounds to showcase their talents and contribute to a more inclusive and conscious fashion industry through our event, Kwetu Kwanza. This is an event that aims to spread awareness about the impacts of unsustainable consumption of fashion and waste”, says Katende.
He adds: “Through the integration of various learning modalities, such as dancers and music, we have not only successfully engaged individuals from different backgrounds but also fostered an atmosphere that is welcoming to all, ensuring that our core message is received by every single one of them. It’s important to recognise that the call for awareness and action extends beyond the boundaries of the fashion industry.”
Kwetu Kwanza 2023 included an exhibition featuring Ugandan fashion designers working with waste. Here are eight of the exhibited designers:
IGC Fashion exhibited two garments called Gugumuka designed by Katende Godfrey. The two-piece costume project made out of traditional and natural materials such as bark cloth, cowrie shells, raffia, and matembe, all hand-stitched using traditional techniques. The word “gugumuka” means “wake up”.
“These two costumes are meant to awaken all the lost folk tales, remind us about what we lost, but to reclaim, rebuild, and dismantle the colonial mindset and celebrate African values, science, and knowledge,” says Katende.
They used distorted shapes, layered different backcloth patterns, and experimented with different techniques to get several textures from the barkcloth materials. This construction was chosen to reflect the strength of African kingdoms.
“Most of the indigenous materials and tools like barkcloth, cowrie shells, and matembe seeds are seen as devilish by the wide percentage of Ugandan citizens. This has been like this because there was a need for a market for Western materials like cotton silk and so on, colonialists demolished all the indigenous materials to their advantage. At the moment citizens don’t know why they have negative thoughts about these materials, neither do they know the effort which was put in place for them to be having this perspective,” says Katende.
The exhibited pieces were all hand-stitched by a team of five seamstresses. It took over two months to complete. All the materials used were collected from the biggest second-hand market in Uganda – Owino Market.
Learn more about IGC Fashion here.
Nakimuli Crochet Everywhere
Orginally from Japan, Minori Nakimuli Itabashi found her artistic home in Uganda. She is the founder of Nakimuli Crochet Everywhere and showcased two wearable artworks, from her What We Deserve, collection. The collection speaks to the delicate balance between humanity and nature, and aims to raise awareness about the fragility of this coexistence. Through her art, Minori exposes the irony of human actions, illustrating how our disregard for the environment ultimately rebounds upon us. In this collection, she used yarn to represent humanity, and natural materials to symbolise nature.
The cowrie shells, signifying the beauty of nature, are covered by burned plastic collected in her community, through which pulled the upcycled yarn to create a disorganised look. “This piece serves as a visual representation of my observed frustration, exposing our tendency to overlook the harm we inflict on nature until it directly impacts us. It challenges our superficial appreciation for the environment and urges us to confront our role in its deterioration,” says Minori.
The flowers crafted from off-cut waste kitenge fabric symbolise polluted nature, while the loose ends of yarn and kitenge invite viewers to feel the breeze. Behind each flower, strategically placed holes represent the challenges inherent in the coexistence of humans and nature. The skirt is made from burned barkcloth, from Uganda’s Owino market, stitched together with yarn. These stitches are meant to symbolise hope, and people who have noticed their responsibility.
Learn more about Nakimuli Crochet Everywhere here.
Founded by Muyizi Edward and Tamale Eria, Seamline Atelier showcased two garments made from upcycled school uniforms at Kwetu Kwanza 2023. The two pieces were called General Paper and Enoni and formed part of their Ssuubi collection.
“The Ssuubi Collection was inspired by Suubi Solomon’s story. Suubi Solomon is among the many Ugandans who have been trying so hard to gain from the hard work they invested in for more than 20 years in school,” say Muyizi and Tamale.
The collection aims to start a conversation about the Ugandan education system and the need to reduce the youth unemployment rate. It also speaks about the value of education in a world of joblessness. The collection is not just about the future of education, but about the new generation of young Africans who are braving the world of economic and social uncertainty.
Learn more about Seamline Atelier here.
SANVRA, founded by Sanvra Brian, showcased two pieces from their Olugoye Lwo collection – a Luganda word meaning “your cloth”. The garments are made from pre-consumer textile waste offcuts from a local manufacturing company.
“Every time a garment is made, waste offcuts are produced. The consumer has no idea how many offcuts are created when their garments are being made, so I created a collection to show this,” says Sanvra.
Learn more about SANVRA here.
Records Fashion School
Records Fashion School exhibited two outfits called The Grieving Mother. The outfits were created by six students as a homage to one of their class mate, Deborah Uwera, who passed away.
They emulated the colours and styles of clothing that Deborah loved while adding design elements that reflected mourning and grief.
Learn more about Records Fashion School here.
Quill Clothing Uganda
Quill Clothing, founded by Musinguzi Ali, created a garment called Chokora the Warrior. It was inspired by city waste pickers who collect waste to sell to recycling companies.
“These people have to endure harsh weather and social discrimination, even though they are providing acts of care for the place we all call home. They need to be recognised as warriors, fighters, and heroes of earth,” says Musinguzi. The piece is made from found objects and second-hand clothing from Owino Market.
Learn more about Quill Clothing Uganda here.
Msema Culture was started by Musema Robert. For the exhibit, Musema created an eclectic upcycled jacket from recycled denim and African fabrics. “By repurposing denim pants that would otherwise end up in landfills, we’re reducing waste and promoting sustainability in the fashion industry. And by incorporating African fabric, we’re celebrating the beauty and diversity of different cultures,” says Musema.
Learn more about Msema Culture here.
My Fashion Biography
My Fashion Biography, founded by Fiona Naigwe, created a ready-to-wear artistic ensemble, crafted from Ugandan materials, and intricately woven together to form a captivating textured pattern.
Learn more about My Fashion Biography here.
- Images: Photographs by Chris Lutanga