The diversity and vibrancy of the African culture is not something unknown. But a brand that cares about the artisans, crafts and ethical fashion is rare in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Heather the founder of the Xoomba is the woman behind the brand that makes sustainable, ecofriendly and an organic fashion brand, she wants to enable and inspire everyone to do ethical business.
Here is what we discussed –
Tell us about your brand? What do you guys do?
Xoomba is a feisty young design company with a goal of making fashion harmless. We produce hand made, organic clothing and textiles in Burkina Faso, West Africa. We abide by the highest environmental and ethical standards to create sustainable livelihoods in Sub Saharan Africa and deliver our products at accessible prices.
By selling directly to our customers and making all products to order. Like that we cut out the cost of retail overhead and excess production. It takes some patience but we believe it is worth the wait for zero waste, ethically made goods
What inspired you to start Xoomba?
I used to work in theater, and because of the design background, I inherited from my designer parents, founders of MacKenzie-Child’s Ltd. I often found myself working on the visual aspects of theater and notably costumes. I made a musical-visual show based on sculptural costumes and their translation into music called Perplex. I enjoyed the creativity of this work but I began to be drawn to trying to use my creative abilities to make a real impact in a real economic situation and not simply taking the role of the artist/observer.
I decided to base my work in West Africa because I knew I would need to spend extensive time establishing a production and I have a long-standing attraction to West African culture. I made a research tour of the region in 2009 to decide where to work and chose to establish the production in Burkina Faso, which translates to ‘land of honest people’
By conventional measures, it is one of the poorest countries in Africa and it is landlocked which makes for many challenges to the operation but it is rich in ethnic diversity and has a history of courageous resistance to injustice. It is highly satisfying to work here.
Why do you think Sustainability in fashion is essential?
I am touched by the fact that the making of our clothes is a complex process that involves so many people. Each stage tells a very human story, from the planting of the cotton, each grain placed in the soil by human hands, and later harvested by them to the final stitches with real people pushing the garments carefully through their machines, verifying the quality with their eyes- by the time we wear these clothes, they have been touched by so many humans- and in conventional chains of production many have suffered from the conditions in which they work. I don’t want to harm my fellow humans the minute I get dressed in the morning- this is what motivates me to show that harmless fashion is possible
What are some of the challenges of being a sustainable brand?
There are many! Especially in a country where even the most basic infrastructure is insecure. Our biggest challenge has been securing access to a steady supply of organic cotton in the form of yarn we can use for weaving. Because the spinning process is industrial, to produce a yarn practical for weaving textiles that can be used in versatile apparel uses, it takes a tremendous amount of coordination with the regional actors and some years we have simply not had access to the material.
After that, there are daily challenges, in communication, training and working through infrastructure problems like water cuts and transportation logistics etc.
What do you envision for your brand in the coming years?
I would love to see this model of creating fashion to order flourish. I would love see consumers trading in instantaneous purchases for investment in harmonious survival on the planet!
I envision growing the production to the point that we can keep our employees employed year round and make sure their basic needs like health care are guaranteed.
I would like to put in place infrastructure that improves our ecological impact like a water filtration unit for recycling the water and a solar water heater for the dying process. I hope to have means to do this before the end of the year.
I would like to contribute to the neighborhood in which we work. It is an old neighborhood in the city of Bobo Dioulasso, rich in cultural traditions but poor in monetary means. It is situated next to the former French army grounds that have been transformed into vegetable gardens that supply the neighborhood with food. We would love to help these small plot farmers to farm with sustainable principles and to flourish productively.
Biggest milestone for the brand?
We are arriving at a milestone right now in ensuring a steady supply of organic cotton yarn and regional coordination for keeping that access to the material we need. In response, our wholesale textile orders are growing exponentially.
Which other sustainable brands do you think does a great job?
I am so involved in working out the logistics of Xoomba that I do not have the time to really follow other brands so I am surely unaware of many great brands out there.
I know that we are the only company in francophone West Africa currently making organic cotton products locally but due to our efforts of working out access to the material, this will be changing quickly. One of the other companies soon to be using the same material is Francois Premier who has a small factory in Koudougou, Burkina. I admire his ability to produce quality apparel and develop a local market for it. I also admire our client Studio 189 for creating a brand with a road map towards sustainability, social justice and investment in a just development of African economy. I admire the cofounders ability to deliver this with a joyful and attractive style. I am proud to supply textiles to a made in Africa production.
There are obviously some larger brands that are working towards sustainability in important ways. Patagonia and Eileen Fischer come to mind. It is tricky for small brands to have the means do so.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability is literally devising techniques to harmonize our activities in order to sustain life on earth, especially human life. We might not be able to achieve these goals with immediate perfection but we should all be making roadmap.
Xoomba at work