South Africa’s The Joinery is Turning Fashion Into a Social Movement

The Joinery, South Africa, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, hemp, organic cotton, fair trade, fair-trade fashion, fair-trade clothing, locavore fashion, Cape Town, Natalie Ellis, Kim Ellis

“Do Something. Anything.” South African fashion brand The Joinery stands strong behind the belief that if everyone does something, no matter how small, all of us can make a difference and collectively “strive towards the goal of a sustainable fashion revolution.”

After a stint abroad in London, sisters Kim and Natalie Ellis, returned to their native South Africa to create The Joinery. Centered on a mutual dream to strength their local communities, Natalie and Kim found that fashion activism was the channel producing the most meaningful impact. Through their research, Kim and Natalie were able to uncover a surplus of talented women unemployed and unable to utilize their talents due to the downfall of the South African textile industry. The sisters struck up a relationship with a women’s Fair Trade sewing co-operative in the Cape Townships to create The Joinery clothing and local artisan collectives located in the Khayelitsha Township create accessories for the brand.

Very early on in The Joinery’s conception, Kim and Natalie decided that the only way for The Joinery to grow would be through simultaneous creation of opportunities within their communities, contribution to the economic independence of these local communities, and the continuation of growth and prosperity within these local communities.

“For us ethical and organic go hand in hand prompting us to use hemp and other organic natural fabrics. We wanted to start a local movement and culture where people understand the need for sustainable fashion, but at the same time make people realize that organic and ethical can also be inspired and edgy.”

When asked whether The Joinery has faced any significant challenges, the sisters tell of a time when “we were not able to get to our sewing co-operative due to terrible gang wars in the community where the sewing co-operative is located.” However, they are quick to add that any challenges faced are quickly outweighed by the support given to the women within these communities. Through The Joinery, women in the sewing co-operatives have learned to run their own successful businesses and have become extremely motivated and empowered by the process. “Our goal is to be able to further empower our ladies through getting sponsorship for more high-quality equipment and to also bring on board highly skilled industry professionals to impart their knowledge on the co-operative.”

The overall aesthetic of The Joinery is androgynous, yet feminine, and is achieved through the use of delicate silks in feminine silhouettes, while the hemp pieces are constructed in more basic designs allowing the focus to remain on the natural fibers. The SS15 collection was created by expanding on the idea of sheer lingerie and letting elements infiltrate everyday clothing. “What we ended up with was sheer floral pink and exotic green silk kimonos, delicate nude slips and diaphanous winged blouses.”

The Joinery’s future is focused with two goals: First, “to be part of the change in showing consumers just how important being sustainable and ethically mindful is to the future of South Africa and that organic ethical clothing can be inspired and edgy.” Second, “To set up more Fair Trade sewing co-operatives in our local communities. There are many highly skilled ladies who are unemployed due to the downfall of the South African manufacturing industry.” The sisters dream of one day starting a local co-operative that would act as a hub for other local designers to have their clothing ethically produced while providing skills for the local youth.

Most recently, The Joinery has joined the Fashion Revolution South Africa committee. The Fashion Revolution is a global initiative started by Yasmin Sewell following the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. The principle aim of the initiative is to get consumers to begin asking the question “Who made my clothes?” Fashion Revolution Day will be April 24th, the day 1133 factory workers died when Rana Plaza collapsed, and asks that people wear their clothes inside out, showing all tags, to engage and begin the conversation about sustainable fashion. As a part of a global initiative, Natalie and Kim are hopeful that The Joinery’s involvement will get South Africa on the map as a country that stands behind the sustainable fashion movement.

+ The Joinery

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