Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world

Nelson Mandela

Welcome to the Shika Africa fashion blog

by michelle

June 5, 2013


Our Shika Africa fashion blog is a working case study of setting up a fashion label in Tanzania.  We want to share with you some of the challenges and the rewards of setting up a social enterprise fashion business in Africa.  We will post regular blogs featuring some of the issues we encounter as we develop.   Hopefully you could learn from us, if this is something you are thinking of doing, or possibly offer help or solutions with our own problems.  Alternatively feel free to check in to hear the story behind our beautiful clothing!

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Aly modelling Shika Fashion

The Story of Shika Fashion.  It’s a big moment for us!!! We have recently decided that the time is right for us to go for it and develop Shika as a profitable social enterprise fashion label.  We have been designing and selling our beautiful African dresses over the last few years in the Fair Shop Boutique in Brighton as well as at some other festivals and events.   But we have only ever done it part time as a source of income generation to support our Shika educational programmes in Tanzania.  We have received much positive feedback from the general public and customers alike since we launched Shika in 2007. We always wanted to scale up but have lacked the finance, the fashion business knowledge and resources – we felt.  However, we have always had bags of passion, commitment and drive.  Three very important ingredients!   So when I hooked up with designer, Aly Dalrymple last year, she was just as enthusiastic about Shika and wanted to travel out to Tanzania to work with us for 3 months, we felt the time could be right.  She would provide one of our key needs – on the ground resource.  We already had lots of on the ground contacts and knowledge.  We had a little income in the bank which we had raised from earlier sales.   After getting the go-ahead from the Shika board of trustees, we decided to go for it.  It had always been our idea that Shika could not only provide vital jobs to women from disadvantaged communities but, also showcase the talent and ability and possibility of doing successful business in Africa.   Trade not Aid is the way it should be.   We always felt we could do this profitably.

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3 Shika seamstresses with their garments

In February, Aly started work in Tanzania. I spent some time with her out there in March to source some beautiful African inspired fabrics with which to make our clothing.  Since then, we’ve been sampling, staffing, setting up our new workshop.   I use the term ‘workshop’ loosely…our team of 4 seamstresses work in the heart of the local community at Mama Sonia, our head tailor’s, house!  It’s homely but is cost effective and enables us to channel money into paying the ladies wages and all the other numerous costs of setting up a business.

We have set up workshop up according to fair trade principles.  We would love to be Fair Trade certified but this costs money we don’t currently have.  So we visited the World Fair Trade website and used their ‘ 10 Principles of Fair Trade’  as a guide to help us develop good working practice http://www.wfto.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2&Itemid=14

We held regular meetings with the ladies to discuss what they wanted from Shika.  Their feedback was encouraged to ensure they received what they need from the enterprise.  We negotiated fair working hours, pay, and benefits as well as a realistic production capacity.   All this discussion informed our production agreement.  We held training workshops with our tailors on pattern cutting, quality control, production processes and communication.  Aly has spent much time over the past few months fine tuning quality control.  This is the area which has given us some of the biggest challenges in the past.  We have had to teach the ladies why things that are totally acceptable to them will reduce the value of a garment to us.  These things seem really trivial to the ladies, an uneven top stitch, a wonky label, an imperfection in the fabric.  It can sometimes be hard to explain that the garment they have spent time producing by hand has had to be rejected because the zip isn’t quite straight.  However, I feel that we are getting there.

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Seamstresses working in the Shika workshop

We have generated process flow charts so that everyone understands their role in the production.   We got used to holding regular production meetings and all that was left was for the ladies to start work on the first order.

Aly was away travelling around Africa while the ladies worked on the order.  So the ladies have had their first month unsupervised with only Neema our production co-ordinator providing onsite support.  While I would love to be based in Tanzania myself running the workshop, in order for the workshop to succeed, the motivation and hard work has to come from the women themselves, with only support from me.  I feel that many Africans are willing and able to do this, they just need the opportunity to be able to.  The ladies cleared the first hurdle.  They fulfilled this month’s target quota and shipped the order on time.  I just look forward to receiving these clothes ahead of a promotional event at Fair tomorrow evening.  I am sure they will be fantastic!

Next hurdle setting up a fashion shoot and getting together a look book to generate more sales… any help or advice gratefully received…?