These ethical African fashion brands are disrupting our notions of what it means to be ‘Made In Africa’!
Have no doubt: ethical African fashion brands are on the rise. If ‘ethnic chic’ in all the high streets or celebs like Beyonce going mad about Stella Jean’s creative use of colour isn’t enough to convince you, just consider the success of “Constellation Africa,” the runway show at Pitti Uomo 88 promoted by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, which created more of a buzz than anything else at the high profile event.
We love ethical African fashion brands for many reasons. One: they’re disrupting the notion that Made in Africa means low wages and exploitation. Secondly, in many cases, they’re preserving local artisanal techniques, fabrics and patterns. And thirdly, they also tend to use traditional (and less toxic) fibres and dyes.
Here, we’ve picked a few ethical African fashion brands and designers from all over the continent whose work – and ethos – we truly admire.
Our Favourite Ethical African Fashion Brands
Xhosa culture is the inspiration behind MaXhosa by Laduma, and the South African brand founded in 2010 by Laduma Ngxokolo. This is one of those ethical African fashion brands that is very proud of its heritage!
It shows this by reinterpreting traditional Xhosa beadwork, patterns, symbolism and colours in both men’s and womenswear. Such work represents a further engagement in the dialogue that keeps pushing this very traditional South African culture and its style towards the future.
Origins: South Africa
Products: Ethical knitwear, fashion and menswear
Ethiopian model-turned-designer Liya Kebede founded this ethical African fashion brand as a way to preserve the centuries-old weaving techniques of her native country, whilst creating jobs for local artisans at the same time. The label handcrafts its resortwear from locally sourced, non-GMO cotton that’s detailed with vibrant embroidery.
Great ethics and natural materials? No wonder this is one of the most loved ethical African fashion brands by celebrities. Both Leandra Medine and Eva Chen are both fans of these breezy gauze dresses and kaftans.
Products: Gorgeous cotton dresses, tops, bikinis and more
3. Sophie Zinga
Sophie Nzinga Sy, who attended the prestigious Parsons design school, has created a brand where she can fully express her Senegalese roots and her international travels.
One of the few ethical African fashion brands that has become a regular at Fashion Week Middle East, Zinga’s designs possess timeless minimalist elegance, with a mix of contemporary sophistication. She uses only the finest natural textiles such as silk and cotton, often embellished with semi precious stones.
Products: High fashion designs for women
I couldn’t make a list of ethical African fashion brands without including accessories!
O’Eclat Designs is a Nigerian fashion and home accessories label birthed in 2010 by Gbemmy Johnson. It locally produces unique socially-conscious fashion and home accessories. Rich African prints and indigenous hand-woven fabrics mixed with a contemporary edge comprise every item. These include notepads, wallets, purses, belts, cardholders, handbags, clutches, and slippers.
Like many sustainable African fashion brands, O’Eclat employs young, skilled artisans and local weavers within the country who are unemployed and unable to set up their own workshops. The brand ensures they are financially stable, and also attracts other artisans to the industry.
Products: Ethical fashion accessories
Ethical African fashion brands should include jewellery, too!
Kipato Unbranded was founded in 2015. It was so-named ‘unbranded’ because of their resolve to create jewellery by everyday people, for everyday people.
This is a social enterprise that works alongside local jewellery makers and gives them the tools to target a much larger market. Additionally, the brand gives their artisans a 50% share in any profits made, whether locally or internationally.
All designs are kept as simple as possible and focus on the use of natural materials. These could include brass, recycled bone and beads. They all combine to create simple and accessible products that scream ’empowerment’.
Products: Socially conscious jewellery
Specialising in the art of the West African fabric, Ankara, Lisa Folawiyo of the label Jewel by Lisa is proud. Specifically, of the fact that she’s made the traditional textiles of her native Nigeria a must-have luxury item . Each of her garments boasts handcrafted construction, intricate beading and fine tailoring. All of this handiwork is done by fairly paid female artisans in Nigeria.
Despite her lack of formal training in fashion design, Folawiyo’s styles have captured the attention of several large publications. Hers is one of the few ethical African fashion brands to be featured in The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and of course, Eluxe! The brand has also been well received and worn by stars such as Lucy Liu, Thandie Newton and Solange Knowles.
Products: Flowing, feminine dresses, gorgeous tops, beautiful skirts
7. SAKINA M’SA
Born in Comoros, Sakina M’Sa’s innate interest in fashion took her to France. There, she studied fashion in Marseilles at the Institut Superieur de Mode. Soon after, she launched the brand that takes her name. And she’s been receiving accolades ever since! These include winning Kering Foundation’s prestigious Social Entrepreneur Award in 2010.
Today, she is based in Paris and has dedicated her atelier to training and employing women in need of work skills and economic advancement. She does this, she says, to encourage “the ecosystem of fashion”. And speaking of ‘eco’, today this designer creates her line from mainly deadstock fabric. But this isn’t just any deadstock – it’s from the very finest of Kering’s brands, including the likes of Saint Laurent and Gucci.
Products: Eco friendly smart casual wear
8. Margaux Wong
Margaux Wong is an ethical jewellery brand that diverts East Africa’s precious materials from ending up as waste. Instead, the designer transforms it into statement, wearable art pieces.
Partnering with artisans in Burundi, the brand focuses on locally sourced, sustainable materials. These include cow horn, brass and shells. They reduce waste while preserving traditional crafts in the process. The result? Ethical jewellery that honours nature with the care and respect she deserves.
Products: Ethical jewellery made mainly from waste products
Janet Oddoye, the creative director of Ghana based label Adubea Jensen, makes timeless handbags that inject joy into the lives of all who carry them.
Characterised by earthy colours, monochromatic mixes and distinct check patterns, these delicately beaded bags are complemented by wooden handles and detachable gold or silver chains. Each handbag can take up to 50 hours to make. A signature, metal name badge and a dog tag are all added for authentication.
This is another one of the most socially responsible ethical African fashion brands. By employing local women, they aim to preserve Ghanaian beading craftsmanship to create intricate, detailed handbags to suit every demographic.
Products: Socially conscious handbags and accessories
Kaleidoscope Beauty is one of the most stunning ethical African fashion brands! Their first earring collection features gorgeous brass pieces are sure to catch any onlookers attention in the best possible way. Reflective of the modern day woman, these pieces are bold, elegant and impactful in more ways than one.
“Kaleidoscope Beauty’s mission is to empower the disenfranchised, with particular focus on the youth. Our Sub-Saharan African artisans are talented young men and women. But they face the burden of multi-generational poverty, lack of sanitation and the harsh realities of life in the slums. Given the right tools, and an opportunity for a career, the artisans are trained in beadwork and brass-work. This in turn creates job opportunities for them and a sustainable source of income,” says Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge, Founder of Kaleidoscope Beauty.
Products: Socially conscious jewellery
11. SEKBI Bogolan
With their splashy colours and bold patterns, African prints can be hard for many to wear. They feel they may stand out too much or worse, may feel they’re wearing a ‘costume.’
Luckily, SEKBI Bogolan offers chic and stylish ways of incorporating African prints into your closet. And this is also one of the most sustainable and ethical African fashion brands, too!
They start out by creating only small batches of their collections by taking pre-orders, ensuring there’s less waste. They also ensure their brand is sustainable by offering certifications to validate their fully transparent production methods.
And finally, we love how they’ve reinterpreted the ancient Bogolan method of printmaking, which involves using clay to draw graphic patterns on cotton cloth. By updating the way these prints are used, they also preserve a longstanding West African textile tradition.
Products: Sustainable fashion featuring meaningful prints
12. Hamaji Studio
This African slow fashion brand preserve ancient textile traditions and nomadic craftsmanship, all while empowering small-scale artisans in Africa.
The luxury ethical bohemian label focuses on conscious consumerism, made in the foothills of Mount Kenya Hamaji, with their collections composed of natural fibers, botanical dyes, embroidery and up-cycled vintage textiles. The brand supports local artisan families throughout Africa, focusing on female empowerment in rural Kenya.
The style of Hamaji embodies the very essence of nomadic femininity. The garments are made with neutral hues, free-flowing silhouettes and ooze effortless elegance.
The inspiration behind Suave Kenya is Gikomba, the largest open air flea market in East Africa. This incredible market features clothing looking for a new life. Otherwise, it ends up in landfill. And one thing this brand hates is landfill!
Suave turns those garments that would otherwise pollute our planet, transforming them into trendy, upcycled bags. Sure, denim is always their first choice, but they experiment with a whole array of fabrics. From silk shirts to leather jackets, if it’s interesting and has a story, Suave will find a use for it.
Products: Unique garments made from upcycled items.
Jiamini is an ethical accessories brand that turns tragedy into triumph. To give back to the Kenyan women who kept her afloat after the death of her husband, mother of four Jennifer Mulli launched this brand to give those supportive women a hand.
The history of beading runs deep in Kenya, with every community in East Africa passing down beadwork from generation to generation. These styles vary by region, defined by patterns, colours and materials.
Jiamini’s jewellery and accessories help to conserve these ancient traditions, using them as a means of uplifting women from disadvantaged communities. And the result? Wearable pieces of art that are bold, sculptural, and sophisticated.
Products: Socially conscious jewellery and accessories