Sunday, 20 January 2019

Interview with Lousie Sommerlatte of Ethical Brand Hamaji The Nomad

Hamaji, meaning Nomad in Swahili, is an ethical and sustainable brand, sourcing locally and therefore supporting local artisans who produce the brand's richly coloured and ornately embroidered clothes and accessories. Buying from Hamaji would not only be a purchase of an heirloom but a piece of Kenyan heritage infused with traditional textiles techniques. Louise Sommerlatte created Hamaji, in part, to keep these practices alive. I spoke to Louise to find out more about what inspires her and  how her clothes are made.

 1. Who makes the clothes for Hamaji?

I work with various artisans throughout Kenya.  My main tailor is a man from the farm who I've trained up. He used to be a shoe maker in the local town and now he oversees all the dress, coat and jacket production. The Kaftans I get made up by two ladies I work with from Nyeri. The rest is made by another small group of artisans in Nanyuki town.  

2. What inspired you to launch Hamaji? 

Hamaji was actually my graduate project at fashion design college in Cape Town. After I graduated I thought why not pursue it and make it into a brand. I come from a family full of entrepreneurs. The Hamaji ethos: working with local artisans in Africa and supporting ancient textiles traditions and nomadic craft, which has always been a big passion of mine.

3. Where does your inspiration for your designs come from? 

I am totally inspired by textiles, the different weaves, textiles manipulation, colour ways and traditional craft like embroidery and hand beading, so I suppose a lot of my inspiration comes from the textile itself and then afterwards I think about what design would fit well with that particular fabric. Nomadic tribes throughout Africa, and the world also inspire- especially their ways of adornment and traditional craft. I am also inspired by the harsh dry desert country in northern Kenya, the flora and the hues of landscapes.

  4. The detail of embroidery on the clothes at Hamaji is stunning! Roughly how long does it take to embroider one piece of clothing?

The embroidery on one dress can take between 1-2 days. Prior to that I sketch out the designs on the garments to then be sent down to Nairobi where the artisans commence with the embroidery. The embroidery is actually done on an old machine that is driven by the hand, so its a mixture between machine and hand made embroidery; thats why it doesn’t take too long. The whole process from sending off the garment to receiving it back again takes about a week. 

5. Why is it important to preserve textiles traditions and support artisans and what ancient textiles traditions do the artisans at Hamaji use?

Textile traditions and craftmanship is part of our heritage and history as humans; I believe its important to try and preserve these ways of creating otherwise everything will be taken over by machine and new age technology which isn’t quite the same. I appreciate something that is hand made, and hand crafted and something that takes time to create, something that has a story. There is far to much fast fashion in this world already, I don't want to add to that. It is important to support local artisans for social and economic reasons. Keep things local, and support the people in your community instead of sending off garments for production in far away countries only to be run by big corporations and in poor working environments that you have no control over. My Hamaji artisans use embroidery, hand beading and patchwork techniques in my designs. 

6. What is a typical working day like for you?

It depends, but on a regular basis I spend a lot of time in my studio on the foot hills of Mt. Kenya. I go through various designs, depending on the time of year I may be designing a new collection which means pattern drafting and making of samples. I oversee garment production and then also focus some time on social media and marketing. It is a one lady + my tailors show at the moment so there is always a lot of work to be done. 

7. Do you have a particular piece of clothing that you treasure and why? 

I have many - haha! I'm a real sucker for treasures as I like to call it. All my favourite garments are vintage pieces collected in Afghanistan or India, or parts of Africa that are at least 50 years old, the threads are a bit tattered but the beauty is like nothing else. 

8. What is your hope/aspiration for your brand and for the textiles industry?

I hope that the textile industry develops into a more sustainable and ethical one, supporting small scale farmers and local artisans. I hope that more people start appreciating organic, ethical sourced and hand made products. I also hope that the fast fashion industry subsides as it is one of the biggest world pollutants at the moment. My aspirations for Hamaji is to keep doing my best, stay true to my brand and admirers, my team and my ethics - no matter the growth or demand. 

Thank you to Louise for answering my questions! You can find Hamaji's beautifully handcrafted clothes and accessories here.

                                                                          Beccy x

Saturday, 12 January 2019

5 Things I Learnt From My Year Of 'Nothing New'

It's been over a year since I made my 2018 resolution to avoid buying any of my clothes brand new. Instead I swapped, borrowed, made clothes and bought second hand. Here is what I learnt...

My Illustration Inspired by Stella Jean
1. The less you buy, the less you want

It has been strangely freeing not buying any clothes brand new, when I'd expected to find it restricting. It was harder at the start of the year when I was still bombarded by adverts but towards the end of the year, I found that I was less tempted by new collections. Because I knew I couldn't buy anything new, I was less and less inclined to make that first click.
Now I'm out of the habit of buying things on a regular basis, I don't feel like they are as necessary. This mindset has also affected how I shop in general, not just for clothes.

2. Think twice before purchasing

Even though I only shopped second hand, I made next to no impulse buys (it is hard not to when you go to Camden market for the first time).  When considering a purchase I apply the 'Buyerarchy of needs' created by illustrator Sarah Lazarovic - something you might have seen all over the sustainable side of Pinterest and Facebook...
Could I use what I have already, borrow, swap, or make it? If not, could I get it second hand?  Before making a purchase, I made sure it was something I truly loved.  Hopefully, as a result, I will ultimately end up with a wardrobe full of items that I love to wear and wear a lot and none of the impulse purchases which barely see the light of day and take up valuable wardrobe space.

3. It is (generally) more cost effective 

It sounds a bit obvious (of course if you buy less, you save more!) but second hand is generally much cheaper that brand new. Of course, this does depend on where you shop. Ebay and charity shops are the cheapest sources of second hand, but I understand that quite a lot of Vintage clothing is sometimes more expensive. You just have to shop around.

4. I have reconsidered what I own

I have learnt to work with what I already own and rethink about how I wear things. Being restricted to what you have makes you value each item more. I have worn neglected items which were hiding in the back of my wardrobe for years and have been surprised at how much I like them. This is positive, as the more you wear a piece of clothing, the lower its carbon footprint.
I have also been able to work out which clothes I'm not going to wear again and pass them on so they can get more use from someone else.

5. Ethical and sustainable brands are on the rise

Something which made things harder for me is the increase in brilliant, ethical/sustainable brands and the growth of existing ones. It was the ethical brands that I found myself wanting to shop from. Affordable ethical brands such as Lucy and Yak, Know The Origin and Mayamiko have brought out more and more lines which I love.
This is in part due to an increase in brand owners guided by ethical decision making and the growth in demand for ethical/sustainable products.  I find this extremely encouraging!

Plans for 2019?

So where do I go from here? I want to keep up the habit of choosing second hand instead of brand new.  I also intend to buy fewer,  more versatile and higher quality products, rather than lots of cheaper ones.
However, I will also add smaller, independent and ethical shops to the mix. I have discovered an abundance of brilliant brands this year - choosing to support these small, ethical brands will help influence high street retailers to adopt similarly ethical practices themselves, and will ultimately help to influence fashion's future.

Best wishes for the new year,

Beccy x
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