I feel like I have already spoiled the rest of my summer by so much time in early spring spent on beaches. It makes me a little bit sad that I don’t have definite plans to visit the beach again until August when we go to the Outer Banks for a week. However, I am hopeful that I will see another beach before then, since my sister did just move to Virginia Beach after all.
When I think about my favorite time spent on beaches, I inevitably think back to my best beach summer, which in spite of growing up by a beautiful beach in Florida, would be the summer of 1998 in East Africa. That summer I enjoyed so many perfect beaches, from lakeside beaches framing Lake Nyasa to Zanzibar. Ever since then, when I think of going to beaches, I immediately head to my drawer full of East African kangas, colorful wraps with Swahili phrases written on them. The wraps are my favorite beach cover-ups and substitutes for towels. Unfortunately, since it is now 15 years since I have been in East Africa, many of those kangas have disappeared with moves over the years or have simply been worn out. And with the loss of each kanga, I have ached a little bit more and more to go back to East Africa.
Since a trip to East Africa isn’t on the horizon, the best that I can do is be grateful for the increasing number of ethical clothing companies that are using the East African kanga in Western fashions. This makes me completely happy. In my everyday life, I am pretty much a brown, black, and navy blue dresser. This time of year, I start longing for more color, and there are no colors that I remember more fondly than the brightness of the clothing of the women of the Swahili Coast. These companies also makes me happy because I have increasingly sought to purchase clothes that is ethically sourced, which is not easy to do. Not easy at all.
So I was thrilled to discover SOKO-Kenya, “a clothing production workshop for the export market that aims to create sustainable, fair employment and offer training and skills to some of Kenya’s poorest people.” Watch this quick video about SOKO from You Tube, and tell me those kangas drying in the wind at 1:06-1:07 isn’t the most beautiful sight:
On their list of clients you can see some of SOKO’s partners including ASOS, the largest UK online fashion retailer (they produce the ASOS Africa collection). Of the brands that have their garments made by SOKO, I found a few that I really love, like Lalesso, which was actually the brand that actually helped to start SOKO. Lalesso was created by two South Africans, and is now based in London. I love how they use the design of a classic kanga to create beautiful beachy outfits for summer:
I have endless love for the Nigerian-born fashion designer Doro Oluwu, but realistically most of his beautiful clothes are beyond my current price point. Tanzanian-born and now London-based Christine Mhando’s fashion label ChiChia not only uses color in the beautiful way that Oluwu does, but it also has a much lower price point.
Here is a beautiful dress from the Fall/Winter 2013 collection:
And here is an adorable dress that can be purchased now on the ChiChia website.
Finally, there actually is a U.S. based clothing brand that uses SOKO too. It is called SUNO, and basically, I want to wear most everything on their website even though most things don’t come in a size larger than size 6. There is this dress for starters.
They also sell fantastic sneakers (both slip on and tie up) that are made in Kenya. They are reasonably priced at $65, and 15% of the proceeds of the sale of the shoes go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which protects endangered rhinos and elephants in Kenya. The shoes come in a cute little kanga drawstring bag, so I can still get my kanga fix:
Since I have an embarrassing shopping addiction that I cannot seem to shake, it at least feels good to buy things made ethically in a place that I love that remind me of a place that I love, and that also go to support causes that I care about out. It is definitely enough to get me out of the navy blue.