To improve the lives of the locals living in Kasigau area in south-western Kenya by providing them with skills and empowering them to find a creative and environmentally sustainable way to make a living.
The African Shirt Company is the brainchild of Joan Hughes and Lindi Campbell Clause - two friends who both studied Art & Design at University and share a passion for conservation & sustainability. After Joan’s visit to see Lindi in the Mt Kasigau area in South-Western Kenya in the Summer of 2009, she was moved by the daily hardships faced by the people there - and it sparked the idea between the both of them to create a company that would help lift the local community out of poverty by increasing sustainable living and giving people access to international trade whilst keeping the uplifting spirit in the village alive and true.
The pair came up with the idea of teaching the locals how to sew. They decided to set up their first workshop in the village of Kiteghe, about 200 kilometres from Mombasa, near Mt Kasigau. The people of this area have little or no means of income given that the region suffers from year-round extreme drought. Families rely largely on traditional farming practices, which are becoming more and more unrealistic as the climate changes and the ecosystem degrades. Local farmers continue to clear forested areas in order to produce charcoal to sell as firewood or to build their own homes. However, this practise leaves the soil unsuitable for farming, and when the rains do come, the topsoil gets washed away, leaving the earth barren with little chance of recovery. Given that the community lacks environmental education and have little understanding of the importance of trees in soil preservation and water catchment, day-to-day survival is itself a difficult task and investment for the future a pipe-dream.
This is where we come in…
The African Shirt Company teaches local people how to pattern, cut and sew. This gives them new skills and provides them with an alternative way to create an income. Additionally, by providing a different revenue stream, the locals now do not need to cut down the trees in the area as a means for survival, meaning that the fragile ecosystem in the region can be conserved and protected.
To date, we have trained and employed 4 local mothers from Kiteghe to use manual sewing machines to produce the colourful African kanga shirts we sell. As our project grows, we hope to employ more people and expand to surrounding villages, and make a greater positive impact in the region.
The African Shirt Company also supports a reforestation project in conjunction with the Malewa Trust, which works to promote environmental education and sustainable land management around the Kiteghe area. Each shirt that we sell means money will be given back to the community to buy small seedlings from the local children, which are nurtured and eventually planted around the mountain to restore the degraded land.
We believe life is too short to wear boring clothes.
“Our aim is to make fun easy products that have a positive impact.”
The idea is simple. We wanted to create an easy standard shirt using beautiful fabric, which also makes a positive impact to the people of Africa. So the The African Shirt Company was born.
What makes these shirts unique is the fact that every shirt is hand made on a foot pedalled machine by local women in Kiteghe Village. Currently our shirts are made without electricity, without running water and we iron them with a charcoal iron.
And of course, it is the beautiful, colourful designs which make our shirts one-of-a-kind. The kanga is a traditional East African fabric which dates back to the 19th century.
The kangas used by The Africa Shirt Company are usually in short supply, meaning that once the fabric is used up, there will be no more made from the same pattern. This means that each shirt is truly a unique work of art.