Africa is the birthplace of impressive, community-based, sustainable businesses. You have to respect the entrepreneurs behind these companies, who often pursue the dream of having their own business in the face of civil unrest, export obstacles, natural disasters and regulatory uncertainty. Here are 10 fair trade companies worth patronizing.
Bostex owns popular brand Solerebels, the first footwear manufacturer in Ethiopia. Founded by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu and her family, the brand uses local materials to make durable footwear, and in turn boosts the textile industry in the area. The fair trade-certified brand makes shoes in several styles from sandals to mocs, and you can find them on Amazon.com or Endless.com. The brand has also been featured in big-names stores including Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods.
For the stylish, fashion-forward little ones, Kenza offers clothes with indigenous African prints made by premier Gambian tailors. The prints come in colors reminiscent of African wildlife and landscapes, like sunset-rich reds and dandelion yellows, and are all hand-painted on materials purchased in Gambia. Find them on BidNetwork.
The nonprofit Women in Progress launched this brand to back its efforts in assisting African women to earn economic independence. All beading, batik, dyeing and sewing is completed by women in Ghana. The dresses incorporate the traditional Ghanain art of batik. Each bead is made from 100 percent recycled glass, and all sewing is done inside the cooperative. Find the clothes at GlobalMammas.org.
Ecosandals.com gets its shoes from Akala Designs Ltd., a cooperative-run business in Nairboi, Kenya. Ecosandals.com is a non-profit importer and reseller of sandals and only purchases products made from local materials such as recycled tire-tread rubber collected from the Korogocho neighborhood, locally sourced denim, leather and bead work.
Located in one of the fashion capitals of the world—New York City—this funky little jewelry boutique is outfitted with reclaimed hardwood and fine bijoux. The shop is the physical manifestation of the owner’s 100-mile walk in Africa to raise funds for girls’ literacy. On this trip, Lisa visited the Power Women’s Group, a Kenyan cooperative that provides homes to HIV-positive women. Much of the jewelry found in Lisa’s shop was beaded by those women. Find it online at linhardtdesign.com.
This already popular company, Made is a fair trade jewelry line offering pieces finished by Kenyan artisans. Made recently partnered with designers such as Nicole Farhi (by Pippa Small), Alexa Chung, Natalie Dissel and Brian Crumley. Products are sold at Urban Outfitters and also all over London, including in the trendy TopShop. They can also be found at made.uk.com.
Halfway between Beira and Dondo in the South Central region of Mozambique is a little green oasis, tucked away in the Mezimbite Forest Centre. The oasis exists because of architect/designer/forest ecologist Allan Schwarz, who made great strides in reversing deforestation in the area. Another of Schwarz’ endeavors is A.D. Schwarz, a luxury line of wooden jewelry, furniture and wares made from sustainably-harvested wood. His intention with the brand is to teach locals to live on the land and make great use of the forest, without destroying it. Find the designs at adschwarz.com and allanschwarz.com.
This is jewelry with African design and Parisian flair. The line was created by Paris-based Aude Dorou, who spent her childhood in the Niger deserts with the West African nomadic tribe, the Tuareg. The Tuareg are known for gorgeous silver carvings worn on their heads and bodies—carvings that Claire took as inspiration for her line of fair trade, silver talismans. Find them at ombreclaire.com.
Paper to Pearls aims to raise awareness of the issues facing Ugandan women. An initiative started by Voices for Global Change, the line is comprised of colorful paper bead jewelry, handmade by women in the internal refugee camps of Northern Uganda, who were sent there by the Lord’s Resistance Army as the result of internal conflict. Find the jewelry at papertopearls.org.
Founded in 2010, this company is a fair trade-certified apparel manufacturer that makes tops and bottoms for brands like Prana, FEED Projects, Haggar and several other top U.S. buyers. The company’s employees are 90 percent female, and are paid wages 20 percent above the average of their peers. Employees also get stock in the company: collectively they own 49 percent.