Upcycling in Africa: Eco-Friendly Haute Couture
London, Paris and Milan. Fashion capitals of the world. But Nairobi isn’t far behind. Nairobi Fashion Week has long been lauded as one of the most exciting weeks in the fashion calendar, with original, eco-friendly designs from some of Kenya’s best up and coming designers.
In Africa, upcycling isn’t something new or trendy. It’s a part of daily life, and this carries right through to the African fashion scene.
Nike Gilager Kondakis’s new collection, Second Life, uses old clothes from Europe to create contemporary designs. Old clothes that have been thrown away are imported literally by the ton, before being cut into thin strips and spun into thread. That thread can then be used to create new fabrics and some rather stunning pieces, including cosy woolen jumpers and sleek skinny trousers.
Glass waste is also widely used across Africa to create new works of art, new products and pretty pieces of homeware. In Kitengela, just south of Nairobi, an African workshop was established by Nani Crozi, a German artist. 40 artists live and work at the workshop and a huge amount of glass waste is either crushed down and melted in furnaces, or broken down into smaller pieces and used as it is for crafting and for creating mosaic pieces. The workshop is particularly famous across Africa for its completely unique glass beads – sought after by designers across the region.
Coke Can Jewellery
Kibe Patrick, an artist living and working at the Kitengela workshop, has been working with sheet metals for a long time. Since arriving in Kitengela, he’s incorporated glass waste into his designs and now creates original eco-friendly jewellery using everything from coke cans to old bits of plastic.
Another jewellery designer, Marie Rose Iberli, is also a big fan of Kitengela’s glass beads. She’s been using everything from bone to aluminium, animal horn to paper in her designs for years and more recently has started to include glass beads in her designs. She finds using these kinds of materials much more interesting, not to mention challenging, than using plastic which can easily be manipulated into any shape. The material itself tends to be Iberli’s inspiration and she can turn an old engine part into an industrial-style piece of jewellery with ease.
The idea of using old bits and pieces – bone, glass, plastic, paper, and upcycling them so that they can be re-purposed and reused has long resonated with Iberli. Like Croze, Iberli comes from Germany and the depression that occurred afterwards left a long-lasting impression on her. Now, she’s passionate about using those old, forgotten materials and turning them into something new and beautiful – which is exactly what we love about her designs.
Modern and contemporary, traditional and vintage-inspired, fresh and funky. Whatever your style, Kitengela’s workshop – and Africa’s up and coming designers – can cater to it, without taking anything away from the Earth. Each and every one of their pieces gives something back and that’s precisely why we love them.