Human Rights In Fashion

Ethical African Fashion: An Overview of African Designers and Practices

Championing ethical fashion extends beyond exposing human rights violations, and into promoting socially, environmentally and culturally sustainable practices.

In the age of fast fashion, cheap synthetic materials and mass-production have pushed traditional clothing practices to the peripheries. It is both culturally and socially important that we celebrate local craftsmanship. Traditional manufacturing practices contribute to local ecosystems, support communities and uphold values and heritage.

We are spotlighting three brands who are taking responsibility for their staff, the environment and African crafts by working with local artisans to preserve traditional practices and help sustain local communities.


Credit and license: “File:BogolanMali1.JPG” by BluesyPete is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Award-winning sustainable fashion brand and social enterprise, Studio 189 works with local artisans to empower communities all over Africa. The Accra-based store commissions craftsmen from Mali and Burkina Faso as well as Ghana to produce materials, like the intricate Batik cloth, for their ethical and stylish clothing.

Working closely with artisanal communities, not only are Studio 189 completely in control of and able to regulate their supply chains, but they uphold ancient and traditional methods and are able to create jobs, support education and provide skills-training opportunities for locals.


Credit and license: “teinture des tissus ‘Bogolan’ a Segou,Mali” by Jean-Louis POTIER is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Bogolanfini is a traditional Malian mud-dyed cotton fabric. It is distinctive for its rich brown and russet hues, and striking geometric patterns. The fabric is first crafted from hand-woven cotton and dyed yellow, before being painted with a mud paint, which has been left to ferment for up to a year before application. The mud and yellow dye are washed off, leaving behind its stark brown and white patterns.

The fabric is a symbol of Malian cultural identity and is gaining popularity across the world. But it is vital that traditional practices are preserved and respected, that people who want to use these fabrics work locally with artisans and do not appropriate what is a cultural legacy.


Ethical jewellery brand Yala is an ode to Kenyan craftsmanship. Working directly with over 150 local artisans, Yala pledges to “challenge the common misconceptions about Africa and its people through beautiful design, entrepreneurship and creative talent”. Showcasing the best of Kenya’s local craft from glass beading to slick and smooth brass – Yala encourages consumers to connect with and appreciate the people who make their jewellery.

Paying three times the amount of the average daily wage in Kenya, Yala takes full responsibility for its employees. Determined to champion Kenyan creativity at every stage of the process, Yala also works with local photographers and stylists. It is also a champion of sustainability, using mostly reclaimed and recycled materials including deadstock leather and plastic fibre.

Bolga Baskets

Named after the North African town Bolgatanga from where the craft originates, Bolga baskets are traditionally handwoven using Veta Vera grass. An age-old tradition, the skill has been passed down through the community as a crafting activity, and not a trade. However, increasingly, local weavers are being employed by retailers and fashion brands, bringing an extra source of income to local women.


Credit and license: “MALI :Tissus dans un village Dogon ;” by Jean-Louis POTIER is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

AAKS bold, electrifying, hand-woven bags are a symbol of dedication to traditional artisanal skill. Each bag takes about a week to complete, intricately woven using unique traditions which have been passed down through generations of Ghanaians. The bags are made with responsibly sourced raffia – palm leaves – which is used to its maximum, any scraps kept for smaller pieces. Each AAKS bag is unique in its colour and craftmanship.

AAKS also started the “Weaving for Change” initiative which “aims at creating fair and dignified work” for refugees in Burkina Faso. The initiative helps to preserve traditional basketry skills of displaced communities from Northern Mali.

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