The world is becoming increasingly more enamoured by the wonderful traditional designs and fabrics of Africa, particularly when they are incorporated into contemporary fashion and decor pieces. Entrepreneur Sarah Nakisanze and her business Easy Afric Design, is harnessing the inspiration of the wonderful Ugandan traditional fabric of Barkcloth for her collections of fashion and art.
LoA spoke to Easy Afric Design founder, Sarah Nakisanze, about the inspiration for her company and her passion for Uganda’s traditional fabric
What does your company do?
My company is engaged in the production and sale of Fashion and Art categorized into fashion accessories, gifts and home decor, corporate items and gift wrapping services, made out of an identifiably Ugandan eco-traditional fabric Barkcloth, also a UNESCO International Cultural Heritage fabric (UNESCO, 2005). Easy Afric Designs is a socially motivated Fair trade organization based in Kampala. ’BARKCLOTH’ is a unique International cultural heritage fabric, sustainably harvested by hand from the ‘Mutuba’ tree (Fig tree) in Uganda. Barkcloth is complemented with other natural and/or safe fabrics and fibres. Our Vision is to sustainably revitalize the Ugandan eco-cultural heritage fabric to sustain livelihoods, therefore, generating new value for the barkcloth fabric through the application of an innovative mix of old and new knowledge. We are committed to high standards of relationships, an environment of respect, integrity and honesty, encouraging innovation and excellence, and nurturing a sense of responsibility for humanity and the environment.
"Our Vision is to sustainably revitalize the Ugandan eco-cultural heritage fabric to sustain livelihoods, therefore, generating new value for the barkcloth fabric through the application of an innovative mix of old and new knowledge."
What inspired you to start your company?
The love for the art of fabric manipulation and decoration, the realization of a enterprise potential, and the need to work with others for growth.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Our company and brand is both unique and eco-chic, based on Fair Trade art and fashion, and branded LUSUSU, which means “simply authentic”. It is a quality brand made up of hearts, minds and hands to impress relations with lasting statements; memoirs of footprints and accents that tell stories of origin, sustainability, appreciation and associations. Our impact includes: Home and schooling stability; Leadership empowerment at community level; Recognition platform created for the community based organizations; Socio-economic and cultural relationships empowered; Cultural sustainability reinforced; Fair, Just and Responsible minds nurtured.
Customers buying our products do so from a social cultural motive which includes:
- Eco friendly fabric
- The Hand made niche
- Fair Trade
- Quality make
- Chic-ethnic design
Our customers also appreciate our eco-production values. Barkcloth is the main fabric used, a felt cloth from the bark of a fig tree (Ficus Natelensis) and sustainably harvested by men through the application of an ancient technology, which is non-machinery and non-chemical using human hands with the help of man-made simple tools. The tree is never cut down but rather the bark is harvested off the tree through a skin regeneration natural system, for a period of about 20 years, after which bark harvesting for that particular tree stops. In 2005, UNESCO recognized the technology and proclaimed it a master piece of oral and intangible cultural heritage of humanity; a Ugandan Identity. The eco cloth is complemented with cotton, khakhi, denim and paper. To translate the cloth into a LUSUSU product, it is taken into a handcrafted value addition process, using natural raffia from the raffia palm leaf and rayon fibres, for both fabric aesthetics and longevity functions, towards an assortment of dynamic eco chic products.
"Our customers also appreciate our eco-production values. Barkcloth is the main fabric used, a felt cloth from the bark of a fig tree and sustainably harvested by men through the application of an ancient technology, which is non-machinery and non-chemical using human hands with the help of man-made simple tools."
Tell us a little about your team
The 11 year old socially motivated, woman-led and woman majority team responsible for the LUSUSU product is made up of a collaboration of two Registered Community-based Organizations - Easy Afric Design, a Registered Limited Company and Ngalo Women's Group in two localities so far. Easy Afric Designs is responsible for work concept development, skills development, production engineering, marketing, and support development connections and network linkages. Ngalo CBOs are responsible for community mobilization, skills development, fabric and product decoration and construction. Easy Afric Designs employs 4 full time staff and the Community based organizations are a total of between 45 and 50 women, with a plan for future growth. We have also built long-term relationships with suppliers of the locally produced fibres and fabrics, and suppliers of technical expertise that we contract when needed.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I guess I come from an entrepreneur foundation because I started working with my mother when still in school, having grown up on a sewing machine. After my art and design degree studies, in 1995 I got employed in an art gallery in Uganda and that is where my passion for using an identifiably Ugandan fabric as a high-end market fabric for product design developed. This was because my bosses then imported into the country fabrics and artifacts from other African countries for sale in Uganda. I guess it was a protest in disguise giving birth to a journey that I will live to celebrate. My passion for playing with fabric at an early stage translated into a business. The desire to produce more and more and to put it out to the market led to my next venture of teaching others - I would be both the manufacturer and the consumer. I have been able to adapt my sophisticated artistic styles for others to reproduce so that we all can gain. The entrepreneur in me started cropping wonderfully, leading me to affiliate with many networks from where I learnt and got to know a lot more about my craft up to today.
"My passion for playing with fabric at an early stage translated into a business."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
For Easy Afric Designs to tell the story of barkcloth both and home and abroad through a 10 year Sustainability Agenda. This will be through product design and marketing.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
When the LUSUSU product stirs emotions... then people decide to buy and own; quite encouraging to keep the fire burning.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Remember that Easy Afric Designs was once a baby.
Networking is important for it connects to people in a way that can nurture someone into becoming a valuable being.
Believe in your self because the way forward is only where a will resides.
Contact or follow Easy Afric Design
Why LoA loves it….
At LoA, we love to see women entrepreneurs who are inspired by the traditional designs and production techniques of Africa and who find ways of harnessing those designs for new and contemporary collections that have a global appeal. Sarah Nakisanze, founder of Easy Afric Designs, is creating some truly unique and authentically Ugandan gift items, accessories and art pieces, all celebrating the beauty of barkcloth. This is one company raising the global profile and interest in traditional Ugandan design and craftsmanship, and taking it to a whole new level. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa