Positive social impact and sustainable/ethical fashion should always go hand in hand. Origin Africa is a brand that has committed to elevating the positive social impact game by giving 100% of their profits to Africa based social initiatives. I talk to co-founder Alice about how and why the brand is creating change and transforming the industry.
1. Can you please introduce Origin Africa and why the brand was created?
Origin is the UK’s first ethical fashion brand to donate 100% of profits to social impact. We essentially created Origin because we felt disenchanted and frustrated by traditional ‘charity’ in Africa and we were inspired by the concept of social business. Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus wrote a fantastic book called A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions. This book inspired us to believe there was a better way to create a business and that organisations could actually a positive impact if they are set up with the right areas of focus.
So, when we came back to the UK (we were living in Mali at the time) we set about creating an ethical fashion business that had social purpose at it’s heart and we decided we would donate the profits generated by Origin to entrepreneurial initiatives in Africa. 2. Origin Africa is all about social impact at its core, what is a recent project you have funded?
Most recently we donated $2,000 to the OR Foundation and their essential work trying to combat the incredibly complex issues wrapped up in the fashion industry and its impact in Ghana. This was a unique donation for us as we usually give directly to entrepreneurs who run social businesses but we were moved by the Kantamanto market fire last year to support the OR Foundations work to help break the cycle of exploitation and dependency that corrupts the secondhand ecosystem and traps people in debt. The other initiatives we support range hugely...from a seamstress school in Bamako for women fleeing the war torn north of Mali to provide them with skills training and employment opportunities, to an eco-pottery project in Gambia creating environmentally friendly stoves for rural cooking providing a cost effective solution and reducing deforestation. I love how unique each project is and that there is no specific ‘type’ of initiative we fund - its all about the incredible entrepreneurs we meet and its a joy seeing their initiatives come to life. 3. Why did you choose to focus on Africa with these projects?
Both founders of Origin had worked in Africa in the humanitarian sector in their previous careers. Tom is a doctor and Alice worked in marketing and fundraising for charities. However the truth is that our experiences in those sectors were actually frustrating and didn’t feel right for many reasons, which is what led us down the path to Origin. Our passion and love for the breadth and depth of culture in the continent and in each individual country, along with the many friends and connections we had made over the years meant, for us, it was always going to be Africa. A big part of Origin over the past few years has been celebrating African artistic talent which I have always been in awe of, which is why we have launched several designs created by Gambian, Senegalese and Ethiopian artists. 4. As a brand, why is consumer support important to you to achieve your goals?
We are a small business, so like any growing brand we are very reliant on our lovely, loyal followers. This doesn’t always mean support in terms of sales (as a slow fashion brand we don’t do deep discounting or promote frivolous purchasing), it more often means support in terms of spreading awareness of what we do, showing us love on our social platforms and talking about us to friends and family. We wanted to be very clear from the start that we aren’t a ‘charity t-shirt’ brand, so we never want to push the concept of “buy a t-shirt so we can fund this project". We hope that consumers support us because they love the clothes, and if they are in need of a tee,
sweatshirt or dress they come to us because we are an independent ethical fashion brand, and it’s great for them to know the profits go to inspiring entrepreneurs who are creating social impact in Africa. If social businesses are going to grow (and I really hope they do!) then we all need to get behind this new way of thinking and promote brands with a purpose who are having a positive impact in multiple ways. Without consumer support small brands really struggle and it’s generally the big corporations (especially in fashion) who win, and personally that’s not the kind of future I’d like to see. 5. How do you see Origin Africa impacting the fashion world positively in the next 5 to 10 years?
We are currently looking ahead to the next 5 years in terms of changes to our supply chain (I can’t say too much but we are essentially looking to ‘flatten’ the supply chain through profit share and joint partnerships with some incredible artisans across Africa). Alongside this we are researching the inspiring innovations happening around circular production and recycled materials as we would love to move to a model where we are further minimising the impact of the garments we create. Of course, all production has an impact and we shouldn’t forget that which is why I hope that we will also see a movement towards more conscious consumption, smaller wardrobes and more purposeful choices.
I hope that in 10 years time we can look back and say we played a small role in changing consumer mindsets but also to helping change the perception of supply chains thorough transparency and collaboration to show that ethical production is possible if we put people and planet over profit.
(Below) I'm wearing the 100% organic cotton cropped classic tee in White. I love the endless styles you can create with the right white tee.