With fashion facing a serious reckoning on several fronts (sustainability, accessibility and ethics, to name a few), it’s no surprise that purpose-led fashion brands like ORIGIN Africa are disrupting the scene.
Billed as ‘the UK’s first 100% not-for-profit fashion brand’, ORIGIN Africa’s entire mission is about fashion as a social enterprise and force for good, rather than bowing to fickle fashion trends.
The brand has become known for its 100% organic cotton and recycled fabric sweatshirts and T-shirts – look out for the brand’s signature eye motif across all of the items. ORIGIN Africa has recently launched eco-jewellery made from recycled, refashioned silver, which is handmade to order as part of the brand’s commitment to zero-waste production. Kids’ sizing and gift boxes combining the brand’s items with accessories (a Tabitha Eve vegan lunch bag and a Super Sapiens card game) are also available.
Where possible, the brand also uses artisanal fabrics from Africa, and has made a commitment to preserving handcrafting for this generation and the next. All African fabrics are handmade with ancient looming techniques.
The husband-and-wife team of Tom and Alice Cracknell launched ORIGIN in 2018 with the help of a crowdfunding campaign. The duo spent years living and working in Africa (Tom is an emergency medicine doctor and Alice is a lawyer), and started the brand with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the communities they’d lived in by stimulating local business growth and providing opportunities for locals to support themselves.
All proceeds – yes, the full 100% – from ORIGIN Africa products go straight back into community projects across Mali, Ethiopia and The Gambia, where the brand’s fabrics come from. Projects so far have ranged from healthcare to female empowerment work, including building a specialist HIV clinic in Gambia, launching a seamstress school in Mali to provide training for women, and equipping inhabitants of the Semien Mountains in Ethiopia with remote sanitation.
“We genuinely believe that this is the future for businesses around the world: to use their profits for social impact. We have built a cyclical social business supporting artisans in Africa in the creation of traditional fabrics, producing ethical garments in the UK and using the profits to fund development projects in the communities from which the fabrics originate,” the founders explain.
To ensure sustainability on all fronts, the owners personally source all fabrics, ensuring the 100% organic cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts are made in wind-powered factories, as well as being FairWear and GOTS-certified. Vegan-approved, organic dyes are used for printing.
The brand has garnered the celeb stamp of approval from Fearne Cotton and Gemma Atkinson, and customers love that they know exactly where each detail of a garment was made and by whom – like Debark-based artisan Asmuro, who suffers from a musculoskeletal disability but is able to provide for himself thanks to ORIGIN. Customers also have the satisfaction of purchasing something that’s the antithesis of fast fashion, which is helping to fund a life-changing project for another human being.
“The most common reaction we get to the garments themselves is how comfortable they are. We constantly get people telling us ‘I wear it all the time!’, which is so lovely to hear because it supports our ethos of slow fashion, encouraging people to buy garments for quality and longevity, not for one-time-wear,” say the Cracknells.
ORIGIN isn’t alone in promoting circularity in fashion while propping up the artisans behind the products: Obakki is another sustainable brand selling the crafts of artisans around the globe, from jewellery to homewares. And Elvis & Kresse, a Lawfully Chic favourite, has been a circular fashion accessories brand since 2005, repurposing London’s firehoses (and now Burberry’s leather waste) into bags that last a lifetime, while donating half of the brand’s profits to charitable organisations like the Firefighters’ Charity.
“The key to everything is transparency”, the Cracknells say. “Honest communication about where our clothes come from and how they are made should be the headline of all brand communications, not hidden in the background. Consumers are beginning to drive this change, with the help of campaigns like Fashion Revolution, but we still have a long way to go before this becomes the norm.”