It’s almost impossible not to feel uplifted after hearing the story behind ethical brand One Colour!
Most of the fabrics used by this ecochic label are 100% rain-fed cotton grown in East Africa, which helps support small-scale farmers. It was such a privilege to interview Di Stitt – Founder of One Colour.
Q. What inspired you to create ethical brand One Colour?
One Colour had its inception back in 2004 when I was reading a biography of Bono, U2 front man (yes, I am a U2 tragic from way back). He mentioned that his wife, Ali Hewson, was founding a clothing label, EDUN, with the aim of supporting sustainable trade with Africa.
At the same time I discovered the extent of extreme poverty in the world – a global catastrophe where 1.4 billion were living on no more than $2 a day and as if I had been waiting for my cue, I decided that I would “do something” about it.
It look a little longer to work out what that “something” might be, but the move from the Hunter Valley to Brisbane in 2006 provided me with an opportunity to start the venture.
One Colour has evolved since then into a sustainable social enterprise dedicated to ethical trade with businesses and individuals in Africa.
We work with Viva Africa in Nakuru, the Kenana Knitters in Njoro and 3 other Nairobi based suppliers, Mikono Knits, Sammy Semat with his own jewellery line and Zawadi, founded by Angela, an Australian friend living in Nairobi. Ensuring that One Colour is authentic in the way we approach people, and relevant in the way we approach design, keeps me energised and focused.
Q. How would you describe One Colour in 10 words or less?
Creating positive change through fashion.
Q. What makes One Colour a great choice for environmentally and socially conscious shoppers?
Our 2 major pillars in this regard are the use of African sourced cotton for 99.9% of the range and partnering with local Kenyan businesses for production.
By producing our range in Kenya from African cotton the value of the raw product (cotton) can be magnified, bringing employment opportunities to more people. The cotton is grown sustainably by small scale farmers using crop rotation methods, seasonal rain and generally around 30% less pesticides.
I personally visit the Kenyan businesses I partner with annually and throughout the year via internet we have the opportunity to share our lives to a certain extent. A part from the business emails, we ask after each others families and discuss every day happenings. Little by little we are building something far more valuable than a fashion brand.
Q. Which ethical designers inspire you?
- Honest by – Bruno Pieters – fully transparent fashion brand
- Rant – a Brisbane label produced within 30kms of Brisbane
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about how One Colour is empowering women in Africa?
The garment industry globally is a huge employer of women and Kenya is no different. The majority of tailors and garment workers who make the One Colour range are strong, amazing Kenyan women.
Our modest contribution towards empowering African women is by ensuring that we work with suppliers who adhere to certain principles; paying the minimum wage plus entitlements, providing a safe, clean workplace, opportunity for advancement and access to healthy living information with regard to HIV/AIDS, which is still a major issue. The flow on effect when one person has ongoing employment is such that the family can afford to pay for food, schooling and generally contribute to the local economy.
We also work with the Kenana Knitters in Njoro, handling the distribution of their beautiful hand knit toys in Australia and New Zealand. Kenana Knitters is a grass roots organization bringing employment to rural Kenyan women. The women are paid per piece, work in a family friendly environment and have access to a monthly health clinic. They hand knit either homespun woollen or organic cotton animals. The wool is dyed with either vegetables or plants and they use non-toxic dyes for the organic cotton yarn. Being able to see with my own eyes the difference that work with the Kenana Knitters has made to the women and their families is such a privilege.
Q. If you could change just one thing about the fashion industry, what would it be?
Anyone who has made their own clothes knows the time it takes to make a quality garment. So I want to encourage people to make the connection between the garment and the maker. I also believe that the work the farmers do to grow crops, the machine operators who spin the yarn, the dyers who are involved in dyeing the thread, the garment workers, the quality checkers and the packers should all be acknowledged in the process.
When we acknowledge that our garment is not just a thing we buy and wear, it is something that can provide a decent wage to people, often living half way across the world, then I think it’s possible to see change occurring. Okay, it’s one big thing I’d change about the fashion industry!
Q. What does the future hold for One Colour?
At the moment, 4 things come to mind:
(1) Keep building the brand with integrity and respect, paying particular attention to our supplier and customer relationships.
(2) Explore better ways to source our fabric from within Africa
(3) Striving to stay alive to, and keep excited and challenged with what’s possible in design so that One Colour remains wearable well into the future.
(4) Remember to laugh and be thankful.