In the Green City in the Sun, Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, there is an ethical fashion company located within the Nairobi Arts Centre, Lavington neighbourhood. I fell in love with the vibrant and colourful fashion from Njema Helena and I ordered a dress. Afterwards, I became curious: who made my dress and what was the real cost of the dress?
Njema Helena was founded in 2012 in memory of Helena, deceased daughter and sister, who loved Kenya and was passionate about investing in Africa. In Swahili Njema means good and the company is dedicated to empowering women who make and wear their clothes.
I got in touch with one of the founders, Cecilia. She designs several garments, makes the patterns, brings them to Kenya, trains the staff, keeps the patterns there and when orders come in the patterns are used accordingly. Most of Njema Helena’s business is ‘RTW’, ready-to-wear; they cut and sew large quantities at once.
The fabrics that Njema Helena uses, are mostly sourced locally at markets in Nairobi. They also buy fabrics sourced by Justine, who is from Uganda but lives and works in Nairobi. Every few months she goes back to Uganda and sources fabrics there. Cecilia: “Whenever she has something new she sends me whatsapps with images of the fabrics. Whenever we need new fabrics I message her and we agree on quantities and pick up dates. We sometimes go to where she sells on River Road, but sometimes she meets with out shop manager, Edith, when she is buying zippers and threads downtown. We usually pay her by MPesa. It has taken a few years, but now this is a very smooth process.”
Cecilia: “Anne and Edith generally cut and organise together. Each garment is cut and marked, then rolled into bundles and put in a pile ready for pick up by one of our dressmakers, Wilimina and Dorothy, who work from home and usually come to the workshop once a week. They do the machine stitching part of the dress. All the hand finishes (such as hems, tacking, labels, ironing) is done by Edith and sometimes Violet. Your dress was given to Wilimina because she lives closer and Edith frequently passes by her home to or from work and picks up or drops off garments.”
Who made my dress?
The dress I ordered was made by Wilimina. I paid 82 euro’s/ 9000 KES for the dress. Wilimina sewed it in 1,5-2,5 hours. The dressmakers of Njema Helena make about 40% more money per month than the minimum monthly wage for trained tailors in Kenya. They are also paid when they are sick, miss work and have holiday.
Besides providing work and a fair living wage, Cecilia states regarding Njema Helena’s impact: “Education is hugely important to our ladies and they all spend the majority of their earnings to school their children. We have for the past two years arranged sponsorships to pay the majority of their school fees.”
On 24 April 2017, Fashion Revolution organizes the Fashion Revolution Week to demand more transparency in the fashion industry. Everyone can take part by asking brands who made their clothes.
“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.” Vivienne Westwood
Together as consumers we can, by creating more awareness and spending our money differently, make a great difference and foster a more ethical fashion industry.
Map the future of sustainable shopping! Find and share good stores at http://www.goodmapp.io.
Read more about Njema Helena’s women behind the seams and behind the brand here.