Sunday, 12 June 2011


Last month, famed international designer Dame Vivienne Westwood was in the country to announced that she is expanding her business in Kenya. This is her first trip to the continent and that she found her Kenyan trip extremely worthwhile. She spent four days in Nairobi before traveling north to Laikipia; a journey she says has changed the way she thinks about fashion.
The London-based designer, once famous as the queen of punk is now respected around the globe. What most impressed her in Kenya was the opportunity to harness fashion as a vehicle out of poverty, without compromising on either quality or the exceptional creativity that has won her brand loyal fans worldwide.

Dame Vivienne traveled to Kenya on the invitation of the UN agency, the ITC (International Trade Centre) to see where some of her designs are being made thanks to Ethical Fashion Africa Ltd (EFAL). Ethical Fashion Africa is a social enterprise, based in Nairobi, coordinating the work of community screen-printers, bead makers, tailors, metal-workers and weavers.

Dame Vivienne visited the Ethical Fashion Hub at the Godown Arts Centre in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. She was so impressed with the production facilities; she increased her order for the next season. On the spot, Dame Vivienne and world famous photographer, Juergen Teller, decided to use the Godown Arts Centre as one of the locations for the next Vivienne Westwood international advertising campaign, starring Kenyan supermodel, Ajuma, alongside local discoveries, Elsie and Sonnietta.

The Autumn/Winter 2011 campaign is styled by African Woman Magazine’s Fashion Director, Olive Gachara. “It was a once in a lifetime experience,” says Gachara, who accompanied Dame Vivienne to other locations including Ngong Hills, Kibera and Korogocho, which the international designer found diverse and extraordinary.
Ethical Fashion Africa works with hundreds of marginalised communities, mostly groups of disadvantaged female artisans; to produce fashion using environmentally sustainable materials. These include cotton canvas, woven plastic bags, recycled brass and more.

These communities are not only urban. Dame Vivienne and her team headed north to rural Laikipia as guests of the Zeitz Foundation, an initiative following the ‘Four C’ mantra of Conservation, Commerce, Community and Culture. One of the Zeitz Foundation’s goals, conservation, is achieved by involving far-flung local communities including the exceptional Samburu and Turkana beaders. Dame Vivienne devoted her time to capacity building workshops where she not only shared her skills but learnt from her encounter.