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We speak to EFI founder Simone Cipriani about strengthening Africa’s supply chain, sustainability as a human rights issue, and the program’s Designer Accelerator.

By Lindsay Samson

Jan 19, 2023

Over the past decade, the conversation around sustainability in fashion has become increasingly pertinent. In many ways, it’s become less of a buzzword and more of a moral and economic imperative. Today, more brands have set climate targets than ever, alternative materials are on the rise, and resale has gone mainstream. But for anything to be truly sustainable, it must, of course, be ethical.

It was from this vantage point that Simone Cipirani, chairperson of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, founded the Ethical Fashion Initiative in 2009. After gaining experience working internationally in the leather and footwear industry, Cipriani relocated to Ethiopia with a UN agency to develop the local leather industry there. It was during his time in the region that Cipriani began to see the need for a program that addressed issues of poverty reduction and women’s empowerment in the fashion industry, as well as promoting emerging African designers and driving forward the conversation around sustainability.

A public-private partnership of a UN program, EFI’s work spans numerous social enterprises, with one of their most important missions being to support the work of thousands of artisan micro-producers from marginalized African communities. Globally, fashion employs approximately 60 million people, including enormous numbers of low-income workers in developing countries. This means that if mismanaged, it negatively impacts human rights—a tenet of the UN's mandate—at a global scale. EFI, through its management of a large supply chain and advocacy of labor standards, aims to demonstrate that decent work and living wage conditions in fashion supply chains are possible and essential to the mission of making the fashion industry more sustainable.



Photo: via Simone Cipriani.

WHAT IS ETHICAL FASHION?

“Ethical Fashion is, simply put, responsible fashion,” says Cipriani. While it certainly falls under the umbrella of sustainability, EFI, he explains, emphasizes ethics due to the organization's strong social agenda. One of their primary aims is to enable the industry’s transition towards a form of stakeholder ownership as opposed to shareholder ownership.

“This industry is traditionally based on the latter, so we wanted to introduce the logic of stakeholder ownership. Not only do we believe this could offer the maximization of profits for shareholders but also maximization of value for all stakeholders—which includes the workers, the communities, the planet, society—all of these are all stakeholders of this industry.”

According to Cipriani, ethical fashion is synonymous with sustainable fashion. Human beings are the stakeholders of the planet, meaning that any threat to our inhabited environment is a direct threat to our own human rights and survival. For this reason, sustainability goals must include work toward offering people a decent life of dignified work, and EFI has chosen to do so by creating a more sustainable fashion industry with a more sustainable value chain.

SUPPLY CHAIN FIRST

“The first reason why I created EFI is because of major supply chain issues in the African industry,” Cipriani tells Industrie Africa. “EFI offers a supply chain that enables designers and people from marginalized conditions—the majority of whom are women—especially from the continent to become permanent suppliers of the fashion industry.”

The Ethical Fashion Initiative manages a supply chain that supplies global businesses, providing them with tools and systems to be more sustainable. Cipriani has seen a lot of design businesses that, as soon as they become a bit more established, start looking for suppliers outside Africa. And while he says he understands this, he’s also adamant that investing in local supply chains is a way to achieve real impact on the continent.
Through EFI’s work to strengthen African infrastructure, the aim is to encourage more local designers to employ local workers and utilize local materials, a goal whose achievement will result in stronger local economies, long-term employment opportunities for African workers, and the preservation of artisanal crafts and techniques. “I’ve seen first-hand that a fairly managed supply chain can produce astonishing results, even in the most marginalized communities,” Cipriani says. 

EFI’S ACCELERATOR PROGRAMME

Another element of EFI is its Designer Accelerator initiative which has just entered its third season. A two-year program that sees six African designers receive business development guidance from major international industry players, its goal is to provide them with access to quality production, financial support, and exposure to the international market, thus placing them in a position to accelerate the growth of the African industry.

"Our accelerator program is providing the mentoring that is needed, mentoring that enables young designers to understand what it means to be a fashion designer in the international and local market,” Cipriani tells us. “It’s helping them understand what it means in terms of idea development, collection development, management of the company, and management of production processes, while also imparting lessons on governance of the brand, how you can create brand value, and what all this means for a young designer. By placing them on a global stage and increasing the potential of investment, we’re enabling them to mobilize the continent’s fashion community and to ultimately create new jobs which pay a living wage.”

In 2021, six exceptionally talented West African creatives were chosen to participate in the accelerator, including several of Industrie Africa’s very own: Kenya’s Hamaji, Côte d’Ivoire’s Ohiri, and Kente Gentlemen. We caught up with them, as well as past participant Katush, to discover the lessons they gained from the experience and how it’s impacted their businesses. 

Hamaji 

kenya

What is your brand ethos? 

At Hamaji we focus on co-creation in rural Kenya. Working with local artisans, our collections embody a fusion of contemporary and traditional design. With people and the planet at the forefront, we seek to maintain artisanal craft whilst designing with local materials and up-cycling vintage textiles to create a circular flow of design ingenuity. 

How does that translate into your designs and business model? 

We try to practice what we preach in every step of the design journey. Our collections are made from natural fibers or otherwise upcycled vintage textiles. We work closely with small communities in Kenya who knit, hand weave, bead or embroider our creations. We also source raw materials from India and embellish them through traditional methods of woodblock printing and natural dyeing. Our garments are made at Wildlife Works, the first carbon-neutral factory in the world supporting communities in rural Kenya, conservation, and forestry. We are a small trans-seasonal brand highlighting the diversity and longevity of our collections and therefore sustainability. 

What has being part of EFI’s Accelerator Program meant for you? 

It’s been an incredible honor and milestone in our brand's journey to have been selected as part of the EFI program. The knowledge, support, and mentorship from top industry professionals who support the program has been the most rewarding and empowering experience.

What main lessons would you say you’ve taken away from it?

I’ve taken away so much it's hard to put it down in words; from the whole experience, the due diligence, spending two months in Florence at Polimoda, Paris Fashion Week, the countless masterclasses, everyday support from the EFI, constructive criticism, business plans, excel sheet master, you name it! Under all the stress and pressure, I think one of the biggest lessons I learned is to stay true to my brand and my design style, and ideals but to never stop pushing boundaries and exploring new techniques of design and to continue to be an example for sustainable fashion.  

How has/is your brand evolving through the program? 

The brand has grown from the roots up through the support of the EFI in terms of business growth, brand transparency, incredible new contacts, and connections. 

What is your vision for your brand for the years to come
?

For the brand to grow slowly and steadily, to not lose sight of our founding principles. To stock well-known boutiques worldwide and to eventually have our own retail outlet in Nairobi. 


The Bee Eater Trench Coat available to shop here. Photo: via @hamaji_studio.

shop Hamaji

Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top
Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top

Hamaji

Pink Tie-Dye Sleeveless Peplum Top

$116
Carmine Wide-Leg Pants
Carmine Wide-Leg Pants
Carmine Wide-Leg Pants
Carmine Wide-Leg Pants
Carmine Wide-Leg Pants
Carmine Wide-Leg Pants
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Carmine Wide-Leg Pants
Carmine Wide-Leg Pants

Hamaji

Carmine Wide-Leg Pants

$129
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants
Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants

Hamaji

Bee Eater Pleated Palazzo Pants

$146
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt
Sailor Shirt

Hamaji

Sailor Shirt

$220



The Black Stool Bag available to shop here. Photo: via @ohiristudio.

Ohiri

Côte d’Ivoire

What is your brand ethos? 

We believe in the beauty of African jewelry, art diversity, and the uniqueness of African craftsmanship and ancient arts & crafts.

How does that translate into your designs and business model? 

We seek a whole and comprehensive understanding of the aesthetics and symbolism of body ornamentation made by ancient African cultures. We reinterpret these codes for today, using jewelry as a platform not only for adornment but for object art. Our latest collections focus on the Akan jewelry art and are handcrafted in Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya by local artisans.

What has being part of EFI’s Accelerator Program meant for you? 

EFI supports the efforts of businesses like ours to economically empower small communities by giving artisanal craftsmanship the global trade platform and value that it deserves. Being part of the Programme meant for us that we have been noticed in the African fashion world as a brand promoting local craftsmanship. 

What main lessons would you say you’ve taken away from it?

Do not be afraid to share your vision.

How has/is your brand evolving through the program? 

EFI helped us to connect with beautiful human beings and creativity, and allowed our brand to be seen and noticed by renowned people in the fashion industry. EFI also helped us to structure our activity in terms of communication and marketing.

What is your vision for your brand for the years to come
?

Our goal is to participate in the expansion of the jewelry ecosystem in Africa by creating a jewelry atelier in Cote d’Ivoire and a unique jewelry and fine jewelry line that values African heritage and local craftsmanship.

If you could pass on the most important lesson you learned in the Accelerator, what would that be?

Even if it is sometimes very difficult to do, you have to find the right balance between listening to the advice of others and trusting yourself. You need to stay humble and open to criticism, but you also need to stay focused and confident in your vision.

shop ohiri

Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01
Outlines Nail Ring 01

Ohiri

Outlines Nail Ring 01

$175
Outlines Ear Cuff
Outlines Ear Cuff
Outlines Ear Cuff
Outlines Ear Cuff
Outlines Ear Cuff
Outlines Ear Cuff
Outlines Ear Cuff
Outlines Ear Cuff

Ohiri

Outlines Ear Cuff

$240
Outlines Cuff
Outlines Cuff
Outlines Cuff
Outlines Cuff
Outlines Cuff
Outlines Cuff
Outlines Cuff
Outlines Cuff

Ohiri

Outlines Cuff

$290
Outlines Left Ear Cuff 03
Outlines Left Ear Cuff 03
Outlines Left Ear Cuff 03
Outlines Left Ear Cuff 03
Outlines Left Ear Cuff 03
Outlines Left Ear Cuff 03

Ohiri

Outlines Left Ear Cuff 03

$215

Katush

kenya

What is your brand ethos? 

Katush is for the everyday superhero. A made-in-Africa sustainable leisure lifestyle brand that celebrates culture and community by producing original design essentials that have greater meaning and purpose in people's lives.

How does that translate into your designs and business model? 

It all starts with the need to investigate. Investigating the core of how people see each other and themselves within history and culture, and how these perceptions look in the modern day. Every product starts with that curiosity and then comes the process, which is just as important as the clothing items in their final form. By working with a skilled community of markers, each item breathes new life into traditional craftsmanship by humanizing the voices behind the craft. 

What has being part of EFI’s Accelerator Program meant for you? 

Being a part of the EFI program has allowed me to see my business in a different light. I’ve learned new skills that I feel will allow me to grow. The experiences and networks gained through it all will also continue to benefit the brand as well.

What main lessons would you say you’ve taken away from it?

The importance of building strong processes and having a strong and capable team.

How has/is your brand evolving through the program? 

We have definitely grown and we’re extremely excited to show people what we have in store.

What is your vision for your brand for the years to come
?

Follow us and find out. Some exciting plans.

If you could pass on the most important lesson you learned in the Accelerator, what would that be?

It takes a village. Ask for help.



An editorial for Katush. Photo: via @katushnairobi.

shop katush

Black Yakisukumwa Dress
Black Yakisukumwa Dress
Black Yakisukumwa Dress
Black Yakisukumwa Dress
Black Yakisukumwa Dress
Black Yakisukumwa Dress
Black Yakisukumwa Dress
Black Yakisukumwa Dress

Katush

Black Yakisukumwa Dress

$730
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress
Beige Yakisukumwa Dress

Katush

Beige Yakisukumwa Dress

$730
Kupanda Dress
Kupanda Dress
Kupanda Dress
Kupanda Dress
Kupanda Dress
Kupanda Dress
Kupanda Dress
Kupanda Dress

Katush

Kupanda Dress

$540
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress
Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress

Katush

Yellow Yakisukumwa Dress

$675



Kente Gentlemen founder Aristide Loua in the Baba II Suit available to shop here. Photo: via @kentegentlemen.

Kente Gentlemen

Côte d’Ivoire

What is your brand ethos? 

To foster ethical means and consumption of fashion. 

How does that translate into your designs and business model? 

We have a focus on adding value through traditional techniques of print and textile design. We typically use woven fabrics from the continent, mainly West Africa. In our latest collection, the Birth of Cool, for instance, we collaborated with artisans from two different regions of Côte d’Ivoire on the fabric. We also worked with an initiative led by women artisans based in Burkina Faso. We also work with Ghanaian artisans. Our pieces are also made-to-order to avoid overconsumption.

What has being part of EFI’s Accelerator Program meant for you? 

It was great. It came at a time when COVID-19 was at its height and sales for us were down. So to be selected as such a young brand meant that we were seen by the international community as a leading brand on the continent. We've come a long way and getting selected has really helped us in producing a new collection and acquiring financing and getting the opportunity to present at Paris Fashion Week last year.

What main lessons would you say you’ve taken away from it?

I think I learned a lot about how to produce a collection effectively. I never went to college for fashion design, I studied mathematics so there were times I struggled to find the right connections. So having this mentorship to guide me through the processes of pricing, strategies, marketing, writing a business plan, and getting access to international markets, were the main takeaways. 

How has/is your brand evolving through the program? 

It’s evolving naturally. I’m very open to opportunities and other accelerators. We’ve put together a beautiful collection due to the support of EFI and look forward to growing from here. 

What is your vision for your brand for the years to come
?

Hopefully, in the next few years, we’ll have a flagship store where we can show our brand in person.

shop Kente Gentlemen

Aya Dress
Aya Dress
Aya Dress
Aya Dress
Aya Dress
Aya Dress

Kente Gentlemen

Aya Dress

$395
Ernesto III Shirt
Ernesto III Shirt
Ernesto III Shirt
Ernesto III Shirt

Kente Gentlemen

Ernesto III Shirt

$175
Djedje III Pants
Djedje III Pants
Djedje III Pants
Djedje III Pants

Kente Gentlemen

Djedje III Pants

$175
Djedje I Pants
Djedje I Pants
Djedje I Pants
Djedje I Pants
Djedje I Pants
Djedje I Pants

Kente Gentlemen

Djedje I Pants

$175