How often do we stop to think about what happens to the items that we donate to local charities or sell to micro-vendors? Well, we barely do right? If we were to think of this on a much larger scale, the dark side of the hand-me down trade reveals itself. Emeka Suits is a brand that intends to put a spotlight on the stark reality of the second-hand clothing trade and turn pollution into profit for the people of Africa.
Sydney, the founder of Emeka Suits, a German of Nigerian descent, wanted to create a brand that can be a wonderful amalgamation of his African heritage and European upbringing. For this he leaned on his African roots to identify avenues which could enable him to offer sustainably made African products in European markets. It was during this research when he came across the overwhelming presence of numerous mounds of second hand clothing and textiles in the local markets. He was informed that for years the developed nations have been systematically and consistently dumping their unwanted clothing and textiles in Africa.
Over time this decimated indigenous textile producing industry and made second hand stock the primary source of clothing for the locals. It was also impossible for Sydney to miss how the locals and their environment were being choked by the huge volumes of textiles. Adding complexity to this was the fact that this very trade was a source of income for a substantial number of locals. Thereby making it harder for the policy makers to entirely ban the influx of international imports.
These hard hitting ground realities quickly made it apparent to Sydney that he would need one multi-dimensional solution that can address many pain points. One which could provide employment opportunities and also, enable the utilization of the second hand textiles locally available and prevent them from clogging the rivers and/or ending up in landfills. The solution needed to do all this while also celebrating the rich culture and tradition of Africa.
The solution presented itself when he came across some jacquard and brocade furnishing textiles that were dumped by European markets. He realized that they had immense potential to be transformed into well-tailored garments and further sold to European consumers. He then found a group of tailors located in rural Kenya to bring his designs to life. These tailors were able to skilfully fashion the textiles into sharply tailored suits and trousers. With that Sydney had not just created an enterprise that he had set out to create but also “a vehicle for change, creativity and community”.
On the Emeka Suits website, Sydney shares that “Through EMEKA we can bring dignity back to those who are living off of other peoples “waste"; and create fashion that is not just beautiful in its looks, but meaningful in its impact.”
And so, armed with an impeccable debut collection and a powerful story, Sydney launched Emeka Suits. It was, in fact, recently showcased as part of the Afro Fashion Week Milan as well. Although the brand is just now getting started, it appears to be well-placed to amplify its reach.
(Photo Credits - Emeka Suits)
Emeka Suits is such a great example of how, despite industry limitations, individuals can create transformational and tangible impact through innovative business models. Today, the sale of each of these pieces in Europe facilitates revenue to flow back into the African communities. Thereby making it a sustainable circular business model that changes the stereotypical narrative of Africa being “a place of struggle and dependency”.
It is very evident in Emeka Suits’ marketing campaign that it seeks to go beyond just selling a garment to a consumer. The brand is educating and spreading awareness to its consumer about the importance of consuming responsibly and supporting an African enterprise. Sydney even gives a unique Swahili name to each of his creations, with the hopes that the buyer will care more for their purchases.
One of Emeka’s Instagram posts reads
“We need to talk about where our clothing comes from AND ends up after we wear it. We need to create more awareness for this toxic industry. And we need more circular solutions!”
This serves as a strong reminder that we as consumers need to understand the large scale implications of our purchasing decisions. We can no longer afford to shirk our responsibilities to our fellow human beings and the planet we inhabit. We have truly arrived at a juncture that mandates a revolution that can overhaul the existing frameworks and establishes a status quo where circular solutions are the norm.
Discover Brand Stories of more upcycling brands here.
Image Credit: Emeka Suits
Content Credit: Harshitha Venati