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Fashion Recycling: How Southern Designers are Re-using and Making Money

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

With the rising awareness of the importance of doing fashion in an ethical and sustainable way, more and more fashion designers in the South are getting very creative. Fashion earns big money around the world: The global clothing industry is estimated to be worth US $900 billion a year.

In Paris, the Ethical Fashion Show, now in its fifth year, showcases fashion that respects people and the environment while still being glamorous, luxurious and trendy. It has attracted designers from around the world, including Mongolia, Thailand, China, Peru and Bolivia. The show demands that all participants adhere to International Labour Organization conventions – including banning forced and child labour – respect for the environment, creating local employment and working with craftspeople to ensure skills are retained and the fashion reflects the diversity of the world’s cultures.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Felicite Mai is using pride in her nation’s top export commodity, cocoa (Ivory Coast is the world’s number one exporter of cocoa), to make smart fashion wear at affordable prices. She has turned the beige-coloured jute sacks used to ship cocoa beans around the world into clothes for men and women.

“Ivory Coast’s economy is based on agriculture, especially cocoa and coffee. So I decided to promote these crops by creating these fashion designs,” Mai, whose real name is Maimouna Camara Gomet, told the Reuters news agency.

“For me, it’s a way of drawing the whole world’s attention to cocoa and coffee,” she said

Mai comes from a family of cocoa planters and is a graduate of a sewing school. She works out of a studio-cum-shop in the Treichville suburb of Abidjan.

The clothes are usually beige, but some are dyed dark brown or blue. They include skirts, tops, trousers, shirts, waistcoats, caps, bags and accessories; she gets the sacks – most emblazoned with “Product of Ivory Coast, Cocoa” — from the city’s port warehouses. She cleans the jute cloth first, before creating the fashions.

“I had this idea from when I was still at sewing school in 1987. Then I opened my own workshop in 1996 and I first launched these kind of designs in 2003 during a fashion contest at Divo (in the south of Ivory Coast)” said Mai, who has several assistants at her shop.

She has been able to attract as clients local celebrities, artists and musicians and even a few from abroad.

In Brazil, it is footwear that is getting the recycled-look treatment. The brand Melissa specializes in plastic shoes that are eco-friendly and made from 100 percent recycled materials. They use a plastic called melflex made from recovered plastic. The shoes are made in injection molds and the factory is so efficient, it has next to no waste as a byproduct. It recycles all the waste and water used in the production process. And as a plus, they make a point of paying the workers well, and supporting social and environmental causes in Brazil.

Their secret to putting zing into recycled plastic shoes is to have high-profile, celebrity designers design some of the shoes. So far, they have had UK fashion mistress Vivienne Westwood, the Campana Brothers, and the UK-based, Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid. Hadid is a controversial figure who always stirs up debate, and her rubber shoes have brought attention to the brand.

The Chilean studio Modulab has turned to recycled rubber from the car industry to make bags. The rubber comes in sheets so it is easy to cut and shape into bags, thus reducing the amount of time and energy used to make the bags. The line is called RTA (ready to assemble) and includes three types of bags: an envelope, a handbag and a messenger bag. Each sheet of recycled rubber comes with the specific slots and pins for the consumer to put the bag together at home, without any glue or sewing involved. Energy used in the making of the entire bag is 100 percent human, except in the production of the material itself.

In Ghana, the cheeky Ghanaian businessman-cum-fashion designer Kwabena Osei Bonsu wanted to do something about the ubiquitous plastic bags that pollute the landscape of the capital, Accra.

In Accra, a small city of 2.2 million people, up to 60 tons of plastic packaging is dumped on the streets every day, a figure that has risen by 70 per cent over the past decade.

“I wanted to come up with an idea that would solve problems in my lifetime,” he said to the Independent.

He came up with the brilliantly simple solution of turning these wasted and damaging plastic bags back into usable and fashionable carryalls and handbags. He collects the plastic sacks and stitches them back together. The business, Trashy Bags, employs a dozen tailors and seamstresses. Launched in December last year, it so far has collected 10 million used plastic sachets from the streets, and sold more than 6,000 bags. Handbags go for US $7.79.

Ghana’s huge quantity of discarded plastic water bottles are gathered up for recycling too. A storage room overflows with more than 3 million sachets that have been collected and cleaned ready for recycling.

Bonsu’s business has turned into a source of income for local people, who receive US $3.89 for 1,000 sachets – a good return where the average yearly income is US $495

“I collect sachets because I am jobless and this gives me money,” said Hadiza Ishmael, a 55-year-old grandmother who has delivered 4,000 plastic bags. “It also makes the place look nicer.”

Published: August 2008

Resources

  • The Re: Fashion Awards show is a brand new fashion phenomenon, set to transform social and environmental standards in the fashion industry within a decade. The RE:Fashion Awards will take place in London in November 2008. The glittering event will see major faces from the fashion world come together to recognise the most significant development in the fashion industry of the 21st century. The deadline for budding fashion designers to enter their contest is August 20th.
    Website: http://www.refashionawards.org/
  • A photogallery of the cocoa fashions:
    here: Photogallery 1
    and here: Photogallery 2
    And a video of Mai making the garments here: Video
  • Ethical Fashion Show: Isabelle Quehe, who established the event, said “You almost never see designers from developing countries doing shows in Paris, so this brings together natural products, local fair labour, respect for the environment and finding sales outlets in Paris.” Potential designers and exhibitors can contact the Ethical Fashion Show by sending collection photos and a brief explanation on how the fashions contribute to the ethical fashion movement.
    Send contributions to: 4, rue Trousseau 75011 Paris
    Email: unilove@wanadoo.fr
  • Once inspired to get into the global fashion business, check out this business website for all the latest news, jobs and events.
    Website: http://us.fashionmag.com/news/index.php
  • A creative agency specialising in the promotion of African culture to the world. They organise RUNWAY AFRICA—Africa’s annual Fall Fashion Show featuring five of Africa’s most promising rising design stars on the runway.
    Website: http://inspirationafrica.org/aboutus.html
  • Green fashion must really be making an impact–the BBC, Britain’s venerable public broadcaster, has started an on-line fashion magazine. Called Thread. Fashion Without Victim, it is dedicated to bringing the “latest of eco-fabulous style”. Through a “unique mix of affordable fashion, exclusive videos, photo galleries and thought-provoking features” the site is committed to promoting all aspects of ethical fashion.
    Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/thread/
  • Traidcraft fights poverty through trade, helping people in developing countries to transform their lives. Established in 1979 as a Christian response to poverty, we are the UK’s leading fair trade organisation.
    Website: http://www.traidcraftshop.co.uk/default.aspx

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Brazilian Design For New Urban, Middle-Class World

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Countries across the global South are experiencing rapid urbanization as people move to cities for better economic opportunities — and this massive social change is creating new business opportunities. Those who recognize how fundamentally people’s lifestyles are changing will be those who will benefit from this big shift in populations.

Finding ways to live well in urban areas will be critical to determining whether this move repeats past urban failures — from the favelas of Brazil to the slums of India — or introduces a new way of living that is exciting and colorful. Design and designers will be critical to this change.

One young design company in Brazil, Sao Paulo-based furniture studio NUUN  (nuun.nu), is attempting to resolve a dilemma common across the rapidly urbanizing global South: How to create a design aesthetic that fits with the new way of living and being?

The company consists of designer and founder João Eulálio Kaarah and architects Renato Périgo and Carolina Sverner.

Périgo specializes in furniture and interior design, while Carolina Sverner worked with respected Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban (shigerubanarchitects.com), who is well known for designing buildings and houses made from paper and for creating easy-to-build homes for people after a disaster has struck (http://www.ted.com/talks/shigeru_ban_emergency_shelters_made_from_paper).

A collaboration among upcoming artists, designers and architects, NUUN tries to infuse its designs with a sense of “brazilianness”. Brazilianness is a modern aesthetic, made for modern lifestyles in the new urban landscape, that draws on aspects of Brazil’s culture and environment.

The young studio’s first collection of furniture offers simplicity. Called Eos, it tries to blend urban cosmopolitanism with raw nature. Brazil is known for its jam-packed urban cities as well as its vast expanse of Amazon rainforest. In practice, NUUN’s look is a mix of contrasts redolent of what used to be called brutalism: concrete mixed with glass, steel, wood and semi-precious gems. NUUN takes inspiration from NASA’s Earth Observation System (EOS): the collection vibes off of space satellites, antennae and the dry soil of the backwoods. NUUN says that “despite its Martian features, [the collection] is as Brazilian as it comes”. There is the modular Panorama sofa (http://nuun.nu/products/panorama) in five colors, capable of being re-shaped to fit a variety of living arrangements. A glass-topped coffee table with a concrete base and a side table with a carbon steel metallic structure to complement the sofa.

Elsewhere in the world of Brazilian design, footwear brand Grendene S.A. (http://ri.grendene.com.br/EN/Company/Profile) has become one of the world’s largest producers of footwear and made one of its founders a billionaire. And Grendene has boosted its international success by turning to another Brazilian success: supermodel Gisele Bündchen (giselebündchen.com.br).

Grendene began in 1971 and owns various successful shoe brands, including Melissa (melissa.com.br/en/), Grendha, Ilhabela, Zaxy, Cartago, Ipanema, Pega Forte, Grendene Kids and Grendene Baby.

It has six industrial zones with 13 footwear factories and can produce 240 million pairs of shoes a year. It undertakes all areas of production— from making its own moulds for the shoes to creating PVC (polyvinyl chloride) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_chloride) – and handles its own distribution.

While Grendene is already a well-known shoe brand in Brazil, it wanted to expand its presence overseas to increase profits. Named after the two brothers who founded the company, Alexandre Grendene Bartelle and Pedro Grendene Bartelle, Grendene started working with supermodel Gisele Bündchen in 2002 to help her launch her own line of affordable flip-flops, iPanema (ipanemaflipflops.co.uk). The brightly colored sandals with elaborate patterns became an instant success.

But do celebrity endorsements really work? In the case of Bündchen and Grendene, the answer is yes. According to Forbes, 25 million pairs of the flip-flops and sandals are sold every year, accounting for 60 per cent of Grendene’s annual exports of about US $250 million.

Brazil was able to produce 864 million pairs of shoes in 2012, up 5.5 per cent from 2011.

Of these, 113 million pairs were exported to the United States, Argentina and France.

Brazil, like many other countries, has had to work out how it could compete with cheaper shoe imports from China. The strategy it chose was to target the growing number of middle-class people both in Brazil and elsewhere, as well as the high end of the market.

In 1979, Grendene created the Melissa brand, which has now become a coveted style leader. It collaborates with top design names such as Karl Lagerfeld and architect Zaha Hadid.

Making a partnership with Bündchen is part of the company’s strategy to reach higher-income buyers.

And it is working: Grendene increased its export revenue by 50 per cent in 2013.

Co-founder Alexandre Grendene Bartelle became a billionaire according to Forbes World’s Billionaires list and is worth US $1.4 billion. He owns 41 per cent of Grendene S.A. and close to 40 per cent of the Dell Anno brand.

This is a critical lesson for manufacturers in the global South. Grendene had achieved strong market dominance at home, and was already benefiting from growing wealth among Brazil’s middle classes. But it was the overseas market that had the potential to clinch even more profits for the company.

Bündchen’s high brand profile has enabled the company to compete head-to-head with the well-known Brazilian flip-flop brand, Havaianas (havaianas-store.com).

Another modern design leader owned by Grendene, Dell Anno (lojasdellanno.com.br), is a maker of modernist cabinets and furniture.

Dell Anno only use wood from renewable forest sources, to protect and preserve the Amazon and other native forests. Dell Anno tries to recycle as much as possible: up to 80 per cent of the water used in manufacturing is recycled, and byproducts from the production process such as a sawdust, wood, plastic and cardboard are also reused.

Dell Anno makes a full range of furniture for kitchens, bedrooms, closets, home theatres, home offices, service areas, restrooms and commercial environments. Dell Anno uses research and development to study trends and advise customers on the best options. The brand offers its staff training to help standardize customer service, and also has an excellent blog covering developments in modern design around the world (http://www.lojasdellanno.com.br/blog/).

Published: May 2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Afropolitan: African Fashion Scene Bursting with Energy

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

ISSN 2227-3905

Fashion is a significant global business: some estimates place the world’s clothing industry at US $900 billion a year. Clothing – like food – is something everyone requires, so fashion can be an accessible way for small-scale entrepreneurs and craftspeople to earn income and eventually tap into larger marketplaces. Through clever use of the internet and online shopping, small-scale fashion designers and clothing makers can access global markets and earn income from around the world. Initiatives like ShopAfrica53 (http://www.shopafrica53.com/) are helping people to get online and establish small web shops.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the size of western Europe. A bitter, decade-long civil war that officially ended in the rest of the country in 2003, and that has claimed several million lives through fighting and disease, still burns on in the eastern border provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu. As a result, Congo is now home to the world’s largest UN peacekeeping mission.

In the face of this civil strife, a group of very fashionable gentlemen bring colour and style to the country while also pioneering a way to make money and improve standards of dress in the country. Members of “La sape,” or La Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Société_des_ambianceurs_et_des_personnes_élégantes) — the society of tastemakers and elegant people — wear designer fashions either bought in Europe, or handmade in Congo.

They are inspired by Paris’s society world of parties, social events and fashion as they see it in magazines. It is a hybrid style: French colonialism (the Congo is a former French colony) mixed with individual interpretations of the in ‘look’.

All in the last place in the world you would expect to find such cutting-edge fashion: a place where slums and warfare are the everyday norm.

The gentlement of La Sape are featured in the new book Gentlemen of Bacongo (http://www.trolleybooks.com/bookSingle.php?bookId=118) by photographer Daniele Tamagni. He chronicles in loving detail this bright fashion phenomenon. The cover of the book features a man in an elegantly tailored lipstick pink suit and pink bowler hat – testament to the eye-catching styles on display.

But rather than a local fancy, the look refined by these gentlemen has become the inspiration for designers in Europe, like Britain’s Paul Smith (http://www.paulsmith.co.uk/).

“A Congolese sapeur is a happy man even if he does not eat, because wearing proper clothes feeds the soul and gives pleasure to the body,” Tamagni said.

They also are the living embodiment of a distinctive modern African style.

Their suits are either designer or handmade copies. The sapeurs have strict rules to go with their style: never wear more than three colours together for example.

Tamagni says there is more to the phenomenon than just appearances. Sapeur Salvador Hassan “thinks that a real sapeur needs to be cultivated and speak fluently, but also have a solid moral ethic: that means beyond the appearance and vanity of smart, expensive clothing there is the moral nobility of the individual.”

Says Hassan, “The label is not important, what is important is to be able to dress depending on the taste of the individual.”

For a sapeur, the saints are Pierre Cardin, Roberto Cavalli, Dior, Fendi, Gaultier, Gucci, Issey Miyake, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and Yohji Yamamoto.

Unlike the followers of some other fashion styles, they do not worship violence and gang warfare.

Some find the clothes in shops in Brazzaville and Kinshasa but most try to get them from Paris.

So how do they afford these clothes that sometimes cost in the thousands when most are unemployed? They have turned their passion for fashion into a business too. They rent the clothes out for around US $25 a day to earn income. They also save their money to travel back and forth to Europe selecting the best clothes, which they then carry back to Congo and sell for a good profit.

In another development, African fashion magazines are also playing their role in shifting perceptions.

The African look has attracted a new wave of magazines to capture it and promote it. The new glossy magazine titles – Arise (http://www.arisemagazine.net/) (published in London), HauTe (http://www.fashionafrica.com/), Helm (http://www.facebook.com/pages/HELM-Magazine/41931572531) and True Love – are good examples of this new wave.

“Honestly, upwardly mobile African readers are crying out for this magazine,” Helen Jennings, editor of Arise, told the New York Times. Arise is a Nigerian style monthly started by Nigerian media mogul Nduka Obaigbena, who also publishes Nigeria’s leading newspaper, This Day.

“Because the local magazines aren’t as high-end or progressive, and no other international titles speak directly to an African readership, Arise has really caused a stir,” said Jennings.

Jennings calls the magazine’s mix of content “afropolitan”: blending pan-African and global content.

The magazine’s debut issue features the models Alek Wek, Naomi Campbell and Liya Kebede. Stories run the gamut from electronic music to football academies, and the rise of Nollywood, Nigeria’s home-grown film industry.

It features African designers and is distributed in seven countries to 60,000 readers.

Along with new magazines, more and more African designers are now getting attention on Africa’s – and the world’s – catwalks. They include Lisete Silvandira Bento Pires Pote, who started as a designer in 1998 and has been featured in many fashion shows in Angola and around the world. Her clothes are now worn by singers and actors.

Other Angolan fashion designers include Elisabeth Santos, Vadinho Pina, Tekasala Ma’at Nzinga and Shunnoz Fiel (whose appearance in a World Press Photo is drawing attention to the Angolan fashion scene) (http://www.worldpressphoto.org/index.php?option=com_photogallery&task=view&id=1463&Itemid=224).

From Botswana, Koketso Chiepe has been so successful, she opened a fashion shop in London this past summer. Chrystalix is a Cameroonian fashion designer who uses raw materials found in the Equatorial forests of her country. Another Cameroonian design label is Kreyann and sells from its boutique in Douala clothing made from rich materials like silk.

In Ghana, young pioneer Aisha Obuobi has revitalized the use of African prints in fashion (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M2rEQ0Wehw).

A list of fashion weeks across the global South (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashion_week) offers many opportunities to witness this creative surge across the continent.

Published: December 2009

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2023