The Go Down Arts Centre was one of the first places I fell in love with in Nairobi. It’s an awesome arts hub down the long, dusty road leading from my part of town to the city centre. I walk past every day and it stands out among the industrial garages and the London Gin Distillery (?!). There are rows of studios rented out at low cost to upcoming artists, a free, monthly mini-festival for upcoming bands and … most surprisingly… a workshop that makes handbags for designers ranging from Stella McCartney to Vivienne Westwood!
The first day I found Ethical Fashion Africa a friendly office assistant gave us a tour showing us the genuinely pleasant sewing workshop and, best of all, the stockroom; a room lined with shelves displaying the name of the designer and samples of all the glorious beaded, screen printed, tasselled, sequinned and patch-worked bags. Semi-jokingly I asked if I could have a go making one…
Cut to 8am this Saturday and Anna and I turn up bright and early to help the screen printing team deal with a Vivienne Westwood order. Rather amazingly, we were told that coming to “have a go” at the busiest time of the year would be absolutely perfect. I can’t quite imagine a UK business saying that to a random visitor!
Our lovely tutors were Moses and Elizabeth, who patiently let us sloop the paint round the screens, trying to make sure it was as even as possible. Our work received grades from “oh dear” to “it’s wow!” so I wouldn’t say we were naturals but we certainly managed to pass the quality control inspection procedure.
Moses and Elizabeth have worked with Ethical Fashion Africa for two and four years respectively and both love it. As did I. The place is an amazing example of a social enterprise generating good employment for over 100 people; although that many “colleagues” made grabbing a mandazi at 10am tea break difficult in the rush!
Unfortunately, no chance for us to buy any of our handiwork as the bags produced can only be bought overseas at, I imagine, unspeakable prices. But it gives a vague thrill to think someone might be carrying around something I smeared some paint on in a unique little corner of Nairobi.
The Ethical Fashion Africa website is down but here is the Vivienne Westwood link: http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/w/news/this-is-not-charity-this-is-work
And apparently you can pick up “our” work on Asos these days too: http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG10586947/Vivienne-Westwoods-Ethical-Africa-bags-launch-at-Asos.html)