What does ethical clothing production mean to you?
To us it means paying your staff well, treating them well, making sure that the conditions they work in are good, being transparent and honest to your customers about how the clothing is made, and by whom. Ethical production needs to be carefully managed to become sustainable, future generations need to be able to come through and thrive too, so the future must be planned for as well.
After all, we are not a charity, our tailors work very hard for their income and it is our responsibility to make sure we have enough customers for them to keep producing. It is our responsibility to ensure that we invest in projects that can continue long after we are gone, that the tailors, their children, and grandchildren all have the skills, confidence and employment opportunities to be able to enjoy a happy, bright, and financially independent future.
Now we're going to take you on the journey of our clothing, through Gambian villages, massive vibrant fabric markets, and artisan tailoring shops to tell you the story of our clothing.
The journey begins in the UK, with our son and mother designer team, Lucas and Annmarie. They carefully design the cuts of the clothing, aiming to make the comfiest and funkiest designs they can. All their designs are simply made so the beautiful African fabric does the talking. In our professional opinion, African clothing has to be simple, who needs extravagant designs when you have big, bold, wild, and colourful Ankara, Dashiki, Samakaka, Mud Cloth and Patchwork!
The next step is SHOPPING! And its the best shopping ever! As you all know, unlike in society, there is not a diversity problem with African fabrics, the choices are endless. You have the bright colours and bold patterns of Samakaka, the countless beautiful designs of Ankara, the earthy tones of Mud Cloth, the iconic patterns and tones Dashiki has to offer, and much, much more. We absolutely love shopping for prints. We individually select different prints for different designs based upon how we think it will look, so every single one of our products is tailor, made for you!
For the first few years of Continent Clothing, Lucas did most of the fabrics shopping, and took Adama, our Gambian manager with him. This was the beginnings of Adama's training, and the transferring of managerial skills. Lucas would show and teach Adama, exactly the styles of fabrics that would go well with the collection. 8 years later and Adama does all the shopping, and chooses fantastic fabrics. Of course there were some questionable prints chosen along the way, but all prints are beautiful in their own way, and this was all part of the learning process.
Sukuta, is our Gambian base, and has been since Continent Clothing started in 2012. This is where the magic started, and continues to happen, with 4 of our tailoring team based there (Omar, Ousman, Sergio, and Hamed). This is where the next step happens, and its all about sampling! Adama brings our designs to the tailors for the production of the samples, just to make sure our fabric choices were spot on.
Once Adama and us are happy, its time to get on with the production. The head tailors of each shop, who can be met here, carefully cut out each of the items from the fabrics, this is only done by the head tailors and the highest apprentices as any mistakes here and the item is virtually ruined. Gambian tailors are not used to making 50-100 of one thing, so to get this process right to several years of training.
The apprentices from the shops now get their time to shine and learn. With the exception of our most complicated designs, the apprentices sew our entire collection. This is essential, as producing a lot of one thing transferable skill that they can then use later in their careers, when they will hopefully have their own tailoring shops; 4 apprentices have already left and started their own shops, and we now work closely with all of them.
There are opportunities to create jobs at every stage of the production chain.
When it is time for the finishing touches, our tailors will often need buttons, zips, or ribbing. All of our buttons are produced from coconut husk, made by the women in Senegambia craft market. Our ribbing is sourced from the fabric market of Serekunda, we need a lot of ribbing, and getting it from here ensures that we can spread our investment as far as we can. Zips are the one thing that is difficult to find in Gambia, we source our zips as much as we can here, but quite often we have to get larger shipments in from abroad. We are actively looking for options to source all our zips in Gambia, as this will add yet another job to our roster.
We even manage to squeeze in a job for an ironer, this helps with the accuracy of sewing and cutting, currently we have 8 ironers who go round the tailors shops to help them when they are cutting the products.
If you want to be really ethical, and extremely colourful, then you should definitely check out our patchwork products. All our patchwork is produced by Mamadou and his team in Brikama. Adama collects the offcuts from the cutting of our normal collection and takes them to Mamadou. Who then sews it back together to make the patchwork. This minimises our wastage and adds 4 extra full time jobs to our production chain. Now that's something to smile about!
Now that everything has been produced, it is time for Adama to collect and do the quality check. If he is happy, which nowadays he almost always is, its time to send it to the UK and show it off to you guys!
Our African clothing collections can now be seen in all corners of the globe and we couldn't be prouder of of Team in Africa for making it happen! They work so hard and all have improved so much over time. Visit Our Impact page for much more information about our project and how it has affected their livelihoods!
Thanks so much for reading. The next one ethical African clothing story will be all about our workforce development programs!
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