In a world where fast fashion has become the norm, one company has deviated to show just how beautiful and fashion-forward hand crafted, traditional textiles can be. DUKA, an ethical fashion brand and manufacturing company based in coastal Kenya, sources, designs, and manufactures its products using sustainable practices that are beneficial not only to the environment, but to the people creating them.
DUKA, a word meaning “shop” in Swahili, was started by lifelong friends Jules Spehar and Kate Crowley with the idea that fashion and design should be socially and ethically conscious. After moving to Kenya to work in development, Kate fell in love with the culture and saw an opportunity to help the community there. She called upon Jules, who had a design background, and the two married their passions and talents to make an impactful change while also creating something beautiful and useful.
Photo by Pete
Looking at DUKA’s product line, it is easy to be mesmerized by the eclectic – and ever so colorful – collection of hand-sown East African textiles. It is the story of how these pieces come to be that is all the more captivating and makes DUKA so special.
The boutique company works out of a small, sun-lit Kenyan production
facility built out by local experts, or fundis.
It employs a network of trained women to travel deep into remote villages and
purchase unwanted kangas – colorful printed cotton fabrics that are worn
and used traditionally by East African women to carry babies or wrap around the
head for shade, for example.
Depending on the state these kangas are initially in, they are brought back to the facility and hand-patched with remains and cutouts of other collected kangas, creating new and unique pieces alltogether. This not only guarantees that each finished garment is truly one-of-a-kind, but also ensures that local women who live in an area with high levels of poverty and unemployment have a job opportunity and an income to spend in any way they choose. Both buyers and sellers make money off each kanga purchased, providing a new sense of purpose for many of these women outside of their daily responsibilities.
DUKA remains true to its roots and to African heritage in more ways than one. Every DUKA piece tells a story, often quite literally. Besides the hand-sown patches that make each piece unique, and the stories behind the women who previously owned these pieces, nearly every kanga has a traditional Swahili phrase or proverb sprawled somewhere across the fabric. An idiom like “mganga hajigangi” can be found on a repurposed kanga, and in this sense each finished garment has something unique to say.
Today, DUKA continues to work out of it’s facility in Kenya, employing the people of the community and making artisan pieces that reflect the rich African heritage. Its kangas can be worn in a traditional style as head wraps or sarongs, or in a more modern style as scarves. Either way, the pieces provide a pop of color while intrinsically connecting their wearers back to Kenya, back to the stories of where the kangas originated and the women who gave them life.
Photo by Larissa Hanegraaf
Find DUKA on Instagram @dukashopkenya