The Kenyan garment sector remains relatively small, with just 40,000 workers. But if the African Development Bank gets its way, this is set to change. In 2015, it launched an online business platform designed to boost small businesses in the fashion and textile industry. The bank believes the sector could generate 4,00,000 jobs in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
In Kenya, like many other African countries, the domestic textile industry has suffered because of the race to the bottom by global brands seeking out low-cost labor. Most artisans are trapped in domestic markets without links to international trade. Now some companies are trying to challenge this norm by sourcing artisans from marginalised communities to produce their fashion lines. There are initiatives that connect Kenyan artisans to luxury brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney in a bid to pull high fashion houses away from mass production factories.
Community groups, recruited from existing networks like self-help and women’s groups, produce 1,00,000 units a year, mostly bags and accessories. A portion of the profits will be reinvested into further training, as well as providing support to families, for instance, through improved childcare facilities.
There is another initiative which enlists established western designers with an existing client base to come up with designs for traditional artisans in Kenya to produce. The hope is this will ensure a sustainable market.