Sustainable Fashion Ecosystem in Kenya

By Geraldine Jepkemei.

Kenya’s textile and clothing industry has undergone significant changes from the pre-colonial period before 1963 to the present day. In the past, Kenyans wore clothes made from locally available materials, such as plants and animal skins. The colour of these materials was naturally obtained from plants, making it an eco-friendly option to the current fashion practices in Kenya. However, after colonisation, traditional textiles and their manufacturers disappeared, and Kenya switched to Western clothing. As a result, new and second-hand textiles took over the industry (Wanduara.,2018).

The current revolution of the influx of fashion product imports in the textile industry has made Kenya among the world’s top five importers of used clothes, resulting in negative consequences for local product sourcing, as it undermines fair trade among textile producers and significantly impacts the environment. In 2021, roughly 458 million of the 900 million used clothing imported into Kenya were deemed worthless. This has led to a surge in fashion waste in the country. Unfortunately, Kenya lacks the proper infrastructure to dispose of it properly, which puts the environment and people’s health at risk (Nkatha.,2023).

Generally, Kenya has a weak textile production history, relying majorly on imported fabric from West Africa to uplift the fashion industry within the country. This highlights the urgent need for the government to act and allocate the necessary resources to establish a strong and self-sustaining fashion industry within the country. This can be achieved by investing in local textile production and creating an enabling environment that promotes the growth and sustainability of the fashion industry (Osanjo.,2020).


The fashion industry in Kenya owes its development to several institutions, including the African Heritage House, the National Museums of Kenya, and the Kenya Fashion Council. These institutions have played a critical role in preserving, promoting, and exposing fashion products and, as a result, have significantly contributed to the vibrancy of the fashion industry (Wanduara,2018).

The Kenyan fashion industry has shown its dedication to sustainability by embracing circular economy models to minimise waste. The government has partnered with a US-based company, PurFi, to recycle textile waste into superior-quality products that can be reused in new manufacturing (de Cruz and Mc Guckin.,2021). Additionally, Kenya has various fashion initiatives that have created eco-friendly jobs, increased the production of local fashion items, and invested in circular product design and recycling. These initiatives include Ethical Fashion Initiative, Fashion. Love. Africa, Africa Collect Textile, Reface, Better Cotton Initiative.

i. Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI)

The Ethical Fashion Initiative was established in 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya. The EFI works with over 1,000 artisans in Kenya and has partnered with Artisan Fashion. This independent social enterprise combines a range of artisan skills, such as traditional Maasai beading and horn and bone carving. EFI has partnered with various brands and products by linking them to the international supply chain in fashion, creating employment opportunities, promoting cultural heritage and decent work for community groups and women’s cooperatives (Ethical Fashion Initiative.,2023).

EFI has been the backbone of sustainable fashion in Kenya as it strongly advocates for ethical production, fair trade, and environmentally sustainable practices in the fashion industry. 

Ethical fashion Initiative
Fashion Initiative, 2021

Ethical Fashion Initiative (2021). A local artisan in Kilifi creates an annual collection of natural fibre garments dyed with natural dyes.

Artisan fashion (2023). Shalom’s Pride Women’s group from Kitui County weaving Rafia bags for Stella McCartney’s spring-summer 2023 fashion show.

ii. Africa Collect Textiles (ACT)

ACT is a fashion initiative based in Nairobi, Kenya. Since its inception in 2010, it has been at the forefront of championing environmental conservation by upcycling textile waste. The organisation has supported communities adversely affected by textile waste by creating new job opportunities in collecting, sorting, and upcycling used textiles. ACT has promoted sustainable fashion in Kenya, positively impacting the environment and society (African Collect Textile.,2023).

African Collect Textile,2023

African Collect Textile (2023). Skilled women, in partnership with ACT, weaving the basket.

African Collect Textile (2023). A bag produced from recycled textiles.

iii. Regenerative Fashion Collective Exchange (Reface)

Reface is an NGO that aims to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental impact using a closed-loop system model. It has established a circular, regenerative African fashion ecosystem and uses sustainable practices to achieve climate goals. Reface has also provided workshops and training for farmers and fibre processors on ethical practices and modern technologies like AI and offers climate change courses and certification to women and young people through educational institutions (Reface.,2023).

Reface hosted its inaugural forum in June 2023, providing a platform for top Kenyan international designers to showcase their sustainable collections. Some of the top designers from Kenya who participated included Kiko Romeo, Deepa Dosaja, Miriam Couture, Katungulu Mwendwa, Hamaji, Wildlife Works, Kooro and Lila Bare.


iv. Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

The cotton-to-garment value chain plays a significant role in Kenya’s rural livelihoods and foreign exchange earnings. Unfortunately, since liberalisation, cotton production has been adversely affected in both production and productivity. The demand for domestic cotton seed and lint from the seed-oil and textile-apparel industries far exceeds the current production levels (Feed the Future.,2018). However, Kenya has validated the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which aims to improve the quality of cotton production by establishing connections between national public and private institutions involved in the Kenyan cotton sector. This initiative identifies priorities in the cotton value chain and shares the strategic plan with local stakeholders to promote better cotton production in the country (World Food Programme.,2019).

In addition, the government of Kenya has forged a formidable partnership with Base Titanium, Cotton on Group, the Australian Government, and Business for Development to promote ethical cotton production in the country. This partnership has built on the success of sustainable cotton projects in Kwale County; this initiative has equipped smallholder farmers with the necessary skills and training to produce top-tier cotton for the export market and global supply chains. By doing so, we are securing local livelihoods and cementing the future success of the cotton industry in Kenya. (Business Partnerships Platform.,2018).

v. Fashion. Love, Africa

The initiative was founded in 2010 with the primary goal of converting waste into fashionable products. The waste comes from the Gioto slum in Nakuru, where the people live in extreme poverty and face poor hygiene, inadequate housing, and high unemployment, particularly among women and children. Since its inception, the initiative has strived to significantly impact their livelihoods by training women to design hand-knitted bags and purchasing directly from them. (Shaw,2012).

This has been a consistent source of income for the slum community, helping them to overcome extreme poverty and improve their livelihoods. The bags are sold online for $50 each, and $10 profit from each sale is deposited into a fund that benefits the slum community. The fund provides medical assistance, child sponsorship, savings/loan programs and relocation to a better environment (Shaw,2012).

Fashion. Love, Africa (2012).


Brands and Designers

Numerous individuals have shaped Kenya’s fashion scene over the years. These individuals have brought fresh and innovative apparel using leather, bones, and feathers. Their work has earned them local and international recognition at various stages of their growth. (Osanjo.,2020). The recognition is not only on their style and fabric used but also due to their commitment to sustainability; in 2021, three brands, Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa, Sauve Kenya and Hamaji, were selected for the ethical fashion accelerator, all the three brands have collections that feature reclaimed and organic fabric (Southey.,2021). In 2022, the Rummage brand was added to the list of ethical fashion accelerators (Ethical Fashion Initiative.,2022). Below are some of their collections.


Photo by:  Katush

Katush uses eco-conscious packaging made from locally sourced hyacinth, handmade by artisans. The brand has partnered with Artisan Fashion to collect social and environmental data for each order.


Photo by: Rummage

Rummage obtains all its materials from the Gikomba market, East Africa’s largest second-hand open-air market.



Photo by: Hamaji

The brand produces collections in Kenya crafted by local artisans.

Suave Kenya:

Photo by: Suave

The brand was established in 2013 by Mohammed Awale after he discovered piles of discarded fabric and clothing at a local thrift market in East Africa, which he used as the source material for his collection of bags.

Below are some of Kenyan designers and their brands. (Osanjo,2020).




Design features


Ann McCreath


Mentioned in Top 100 Women Influencing Africa (2009). Uses Maasai

Shuka in her designs.


Anyango Mpinga

Anyango Mpinga boutique

Cultural inspirations are taken from Luo (KE) and Sakina (TZ). Creates whimsical and timeless contemporary apparel


Aulgah Neto

Nato Designs

Effortless, easy style.


Deepa Dosaja

Deepa Dosaja Boutique

Handcrafted, gorgeous designs made from natural fabrics.


Jamil Walji

JW Couture

Bold and vibrant fashion. Makes high-quality garments using delicate and exclusive fabric.


John Kaveke

John Kaveke

A fascinating and unique way of incorporating Maasai culture in suits for men.


Neomi   Nganga

Style by Neomi

Custom-made outfits with quality fabrics for plus-size women.


Ogake Mosomi

Ogake Bridal

Combination of fashion, style and talent to make delectable bridal dresses.


Patricia Mbela

POISA label

Kenyan fashion and jewellery designer.


Ruth Abade


Uses adire indigenous fabric from Nigeria


Sally Karago


Incorporated Maasai Shuka and Kikoi in designs. Loose, free-flowing and trendy. Has dressed a few first ladies of Africa.


Wambui Mukenya


African bridal wear.  Daring, strapless necklines, complemented by delicately boned bodices reminiscent of Victorian corsetry


Yvonne Odhiambo

Yvonne Afro streets

Effortless, easy style.  Specialises in print and fashion. 

Sustainable fashion is gaining momentum in Kenya as it focuses on rebuilding its domestic textile industry. It is also a key priority in Kenya’s Big Four agenda, which seeks to create jobs in the manufacturing sector and improve living standards. To ensure the country continues this path towards sustainable fashion, all key sectors, including the government, organisations, and the public, must come together and propose transformative solutions.

Solutions such as adopting sustainable activities and fair-trade practices in fashion can contribute to sustainable development goals by minimising energy consumption, improving the use of natural resources and water, reducing the load on landfills, and minimising the use of toxic chemicals (Fletcher., 2012).

In addition, to enable all players to be involved in the fashion industry’s sustainability, government legislation and policies should always consider the needs of society and the environment. However, the Kenyan fashion industry must also take responsibility for bringing about change successfully. This includes ensuring sustainable production of raw materials, reusing, recycling, repairing and remaking garments and products, and preserving the environment and the communities that play a part in the industry. Ultimately, fashion consumers must drive sustainable consumerism and sustainable fashion by demanding more action from the government and the fashion industry (Pastran et al., 2021).