A dip in ethical fashion

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020 00:00 |
Wangui Karanja is changing the dynamics in the fashion world by adopting environmentally friendly products and processes.

Wangui Karanja is changing the dynamics in the fashion world by adopting environmentally friendly products and processes. Take a look...

Sustainable fashion can mean different things to different people. First it could focus on the conscious consumer who invests in a few high quality and timeless items other than just buying items with trends.

Secondly, it would mean that the burden of using eco-friendly materials is left solely on designers. 

For Wangui Karanja, 23, sustainable fashion is using discarded clothes to make over collectibles using a method called upcycling. Over the last four years, she’s made 100 such garments.

Wangui, a full time fashion designer, focuses on ecologically friendly, locally sourced and sustainable materials.

Her clothes have an effortlessly sophisticated look, where a consumer looks fashionable without trying too hard to be trendy. 

“People like to think they really care to make a difference,” she says, “but the reality is the vast majority of consumers follo w the herd mentality, and once the herd decides that fast fashion is not chic any longer, that’s when the tipping point will occur.” 

Too cliche

With vast production, the fashion industry is causing more harm with the ever changing fashion trends.

Most major brands are producing clothes everyday meaning a lot of cotton has to be grown within a very short time, thus harming the environment. 

On the other hand, it also increases ‘dumping’ of clothes in developing countries. 

In 2015, Wangui tried venturing into mainstream fashion, but it was too cliché for her.

Just before college, she handsew a skirt from an old cloth, and she received numerous positive remarks including orders from people who appreciated the design. That’s how her journey started.

“As I got to know more about the fashion industry, I learnt that a quarter of the world’s resources are consumed by the fashion industry. 

To get that 100 per cent T-shirt, it would require the land to produce a lot of cotton and at the same time someone is working in the plantation.

In the end, the T-shirt would be used by a high-end designer only once just to discard it.

Upcycling is the fashion solution to the current environmental crisis. I want to be part of the solution rather than the problem,” she says. 

She notes there is a deviation from the past, where people took care of their clothes and actually made effort to make them last longer. 

“Clothes had value before. It’s not like today where if your blouse gets torn; you just throw it away and buy another one. In the past, people learnt how to sew,” she explains. 

According to the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the fashion world consumes about 20 per cent of the world’s water and is also responsible for about 10 per cent of the world’s emissions. 

It also reports that an average user buys 60 per cent more pieces of clothing than they did 15 years ago.

 Big break

Wangui’s journey has had its ups and downs, and she was unsure whether the whole upcycling idea would gel with what everybody considers trendy.

“I was still a student at Machakos University when a friend informed me of an ongoing workshop in school. For the sake of it, I went and I can say I didn’t walk out the same way I went in.

I started making garments for my friends and word got out and with the social media marketing people have been able to see my work,” she says.

Upcycling is a process of using disposed off or used clothes and accessories, restructuring them to make new clothes, usually better than the original. 

Mid last year, Wangui launched her clothing line Jasiri Collection. She explains the name, Kiswahili for bold,  was inspired by her journey with all it’s challenges and the skeptical people who didn’t think it was a good idea. 

“Though my parents have been supportive in this journey, people’s words can be very damaging,” she says.

She currently operates an online business for her design purchases. She insists that fashion schools in Kenya should teach young, upcoming designers the upcycling technique.

“The schools should teach how to disassemble and reassemble and transform an garment into something new.

They should be taught how to source for second hand clothes and know which ones are actually usable and how to make it a marketable collection” she advises. 

Wangui concludes by saying that upcycling is the alternative move in the industry. 

With resources and fabrics being expensive globally summed with environmental concerns, upcycling fashion is one of the untapped areas in the industry.

More on Lifestyle