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By Chantal Brocca
Who Made Your Clothes? It’s a question asked by a certain revolutionary movement. A movement that’s loud. That’s global. That’s like none ever before it (read: this one comes with thigh high faux leather boots and a destructed checkered shirt dress. Fab.).
After launching only three years ago, Fashion Revolution has projected its voice throughout the edges of the globe, spreading awareness of the destructive ethics with which the fashion industry conducts its business. When the Rana Plaza collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh killing 1,134 and injuring over 2,500, the jig was up – the callousness of corporate fashion moguls could no longer be excused with pretty speeches and outlandish promises. One non profit organization came together to stand up and raise awareness of the astounding human and environmental cost fast fashion is ready to pay for the sake of a cheaply earned profit.
A new global outlook on sustainable fashion has reinforced the value of producers like Panah, a fashion manufacturing house based in Nairobi that puts ethics at the forefront of its mission, advocating openness, visibility and a long term vision for humanity. How? Besides applying your most basic of human rights (which tend to go ignored in the industry), Panah sustainable fashion has built a network of partners in Africa in support of its people, putting a large emphasis on honing skills and training their employees in the larger aspects of the business, giving them a chance to get ahead.
It’s a luxurious, eco produced women’s apparel company that handles the gorgeous silks, linens and organic cottons chosen by renowned brands like Edun, Lemlem and Elsa and Me. It offers services from consulting to pattern making to international clients who want to know who and what they are supporting.
To celebrate this coming Fashion Revolution week, Eluxe interviewed Panah’s Evgeniya Khromina, who is paving the way by example.
What inspired you to start this initiative?
My husband spent over 20 years in the fashion industry in New York City. After graduating from the Parsons School of Design, he freelanced for large corporations. Later in 2000 he launched his eponymous brand as an avant garde designer and received accolades for his designs and fashion shows. Morteza then joined the Vince Camuto Group, where he spent 10 years building a career as an Executive Creative Director. The desire to start this endeavor evolved through these years, as he was involved in production and spent substantial time visiting factories around the world in countries like Italy, Spain, Brazil and China and often witnessed the lack of positive impact of production on lives of workers.
On the other hand, my own experience comes from teaching ESL (English as a Second Language), which I greatly enjoyed but stopped to pursue my degree in business administration. When Morteza proposed this idea, I felt that the business of ethical fashion could be an amazing experience and great learning opportunity for both of us. This passion for making things and our interest in how the fashion industry can empower people behind its production led us to founding Panah.
Why did you choose Kenya as a base?
After our initial research, Kenya caught our attention. Projects from the region had already received recognition among international designers and fashion community with their work in Kenya.
Our observations indicated that Kenya is a robust growing economy with more ease of doing business compared to its neighbours and it also has a large pool of skilled workers. We decided on Kenya as being the right environment for starting the company.
Which ethical African brands do you think will expand into the European/American markets in the next few years?
Which labels do you most love to work on and why?
Lemlem by Liya Kebede. We just came back from trip to New York, where we had several meetings with Liya and her team. She is an amazing woman and a leader who truly loves Africa and works hard to grow business out of the continent.
Another brand to mention is Elsa and Me. It is a women’s made to measure brand based in New York and founded by Sweden born Maja Svenson. Maja was our very first client who trusted us with the pattern making and production of her bespoke dresses.
We also like to work with new designers and brands that have interest in working with Africa and making ethically produced fashion a significant part of their brand. This demands commitment and patience from both sides and we are selective about who we work with.
Tell us about your typical working day
First thing in the morning I either do yoga or work out in the gym. I really believe that the first thing people should learn is to care for their body, mind and soul. The second step towards a successful day is a good breakfast with tea. No coffee for women. This is a different subject. But take it from me, just remember – NO COFFEE FOR WOMEN.
I get to work by 8.30. At work, my responsibilities include tasks form import/export to QC and marketing. The extensive list of responsibility is not unusual for an entrepreneur. My husband and I are very hands-on people. I believe this quality made our endeavor successful in Africa. Our factory is located in the park, so when I get the chance, I take brisk walks during the day. It is never a boring walk as we have vervet monkeys, baboons and a polo club with beautiful horses around. After work, I prefer to head home to make a wholesome dinner and relax with a book.
Get to bed by 10 pm. Repeat.
How do you ensure that your processes remain sustainable?
We strive to align our processes with our mission. I would name 2 strategies that we use: research and training. We work closely with our clients to minimize fabric consumption at the sampling stage; we adhere to principles of lean manufacturing to ensure quality and reduce waste; we work with women’s groups in Nairobi and Gilgil to upcycle fabric offcuts. We work out all these aspects with our team from, pattern making, department and cutting, to the production floor and finishing.
In which specific ways does your group empower women and youths?
At Panah, all employees earn a living wage. Most are women and single mothers who strive to educate their children with the income earned at our factory. We provide a safe and comfortable environment to work in and our employees enjoy a healthy meal provided and prepared by Panah every day.
Our training program in producing luxury quality apparel is unprecedented and has been successful in East Africa, and has earned a reputation internationally.
Do you believe Africa can become a leader in spreading awareness about ethical fashion?
As a manufacturing company, we consider Africa to be the new and fertile ground for the fashion industry to create sustainable and ethical approach to fashion. International brands like Lemlem who originated in Africa are already pioneering the movement. Their leadership sets an example for other international brands to look into sustainable sourcing from the continent. This requires commitment and investment into the industry as a whole such as textile and manufacturing.
We are all witnessing a major shift in consumer behavior and its impact on retail that as the millennials demand more transparency and accountability from fashion brands it is to the interest of these brands to participate in sourcing more from Africa.
Chantal is the girl behind Underneath My Silk, a thought catalogue on fashion, culture and style. Follow her on Instagram here. Main image + image 3: Via Fashion Revolution. Image 1: Panah Image 2: Lemlem Images 4-5: Elsa & Me Image 7-8: Lemlem Image 9: Edun Image 10: studio 189