Vivienne Westwood x Made in Kenya
Michael Meir-Wright looks at the new Kenyan collaboration from the British designer
Vivienne Westwood is fashion’s quintessential anarchist. From establishing herself as the matriarch of Britain’s nascent punk scene on London’s Kings Road in the 80’s to her vociferous calls for urgent action to address the climate crisis, her work often challenges us to guard against societal complacency. The iconic British designer’s collaboration with East African social enterprise Artisan Fashion is no exception. The Made in Kenya line calls attention to the growing dilemma posed by textile waste via a socially conscious accessories collection rooted in East African traditions, and sourced from unwanted garments and discarded metals.
Artisan Fashion specialise in luxe accessories crafted by skilled communities, and for Vivienne Westwood AW22 they scoured the Mitumba markets of Nairobi for garments destined to become deadstock. Much of the 200,000 tonnes of second-hand clothes imported into Kenya pass through these vibrant and bustling bazaars. However, too much of it ends up in landfill sites, washed out to sea or burnt. The resulting toll on the local people and the environment is not inconsequential, and by salvaging and re-contextualising these unwanted garments, the often catastrophic effects can be, thankfully, minimised.
A key example within the range is the Worker Shopper bag. Denim is deconstructed from jeans, repurposed into a vivid patchwork and emblazoned with screen printed Logomania artwork. They’re then hand-finished with metal detailing sourced from scrap found in rubbish dumps around Nairobi. With each piece designed to be unique, the bags come with rich and varied histories – dichotomies of past and present; old and new. Elsewhere, the Reel Bag features traditional handwoven macrame in cotton cord and the ubiquitous Vivienne Westwood orb motif in repurposed aluminium – a testament to the talented artisans of East Africa.
Made in Kenya is not just about furthering the ideas of ‘circular’ design, however. By partnering with indigenous communities, it offers opportunities for employment and reskilling for the disenfranchised. Fishermen from the north of the country have retrained in the art of metalwork. In a Maasai community on the outskirts of Nairobi, the Oldanyati Women Group have beaded collections for the collaboration since 2012. In an area of the world often gripped by instability and uncertainty, it has already become a lifeline for many.
Ever the disrupter, Westwood uses Made in Kenya as a clarion call to upend fashion’s status quo when it comes to textile waste. The line highlights the prodigious but oft-neglected talents of African craftsmanship. It’s a collection focused on our fragile planet that charts a bold way new way forward for the industry.
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