Tell us how the partnership with Mimco and The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) came about?

Simone Cipriani from the EFI has worked for the UN for a very long time. He doesn’t believe in charity but strongly believes in empowering the world’s poorest communities through fair work opportunities to learn a trade, and not just giving people money, but teaching them how to run a business for themselves so that they have a sustainable life. So he started the EFI several years ago. I was introduced to him a few years ago through Sass & Bide, another Australian brand, and we just got on very well. He’s very inspiring and charismatic. We started chatting about what we could do between Mimco and the EFI.

So we started working on a tote and a pouch with them, with Kenyan artisans. When I went to Nairobi last year to see the products being made in the creative hub, it was a thoroughly moving experience to witness the Maasai women beading the bags. How proud they were to be earning an income as opposed to waiting for handouts.

Cathryn Wills
Cathryn Wills

How did you choose which artisans to partner with?

The Maasai women are the beaders and the EFI has gone into those communities to try and teach them efficiencies and how to do the work for this project and how to bill for it. There is also the printing group and another group in the centre of Nairobi that is responsible for stitching the bags.

What techniques were involved in creating the pieces?

Assembling/sewing, printing, and beading.

So every single bit is done in Kenya?

Absolutely! And you know, it takes a while to get the project done. Unlike China, where you have sketches, spreadsheets and lean manufacturing processes (watching every second), this took more time because of the relationships that needed to be built – backing and forthing on the design details. But it was so worth it in the end.

And the quality controls – because Mimco’s quality standards are rather high.

Yeah, but so are these groups’ standards! So it was pretty seamless. With Simone being Italian, he has links with luxury houses back in Florence, so he’s brought some Italian skilled artisans into these environments to train the groups on how to make a handbag. So there’s that Italy-meets-Africa aspect to it.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the latest range?

The boho trend is one of the main themes this season, so we borrowed inspiration from there.

What is the percentage split between the artisans and Mimco?

I’m not at liberty to share that. All I can say is that producing in Kenya is a lot more expensive than producing in China! It’s a lower profit for us, but so worth it.

mimco 2

Is this going to be a long-term project or just a once off?

Completely! I hope it goes on forever. I hope more products get to be manufactured with them. Simone and his team set these hubs up so that they are sustainable. Profits are being made and communities are empowered and have the money to do what they need to do. I think the worst thing would be for a brand to partner up with these communities for a marketing exercise and then walk away.

Is Mimco able to measure the impact of the project on the artisan community?

There are impact assessment officers that work together with the EFI to measure the impact the work has on the women, and they see that the ladies are able to take their kids to school or financially contribute to their household, and they gain the softer but equally important benefits of self esteem and being stronger. Everyone loves being recognised for a positive contribution!

Soo Joo Park is the face of your current campaign, love her! What are you looking for when looking for the face?

Diversity is our primary motivator. We like to work with beautiful women from different backgrounds who have very interesting stories. We like the fact that she has an architecture degree and loves art and design, so there’s substance to her as well, which is always great. We all like layered women, so it’s nice to make sure there’s a conversation there as well.

Where are the pieces available?

The February 2015 range was the first shipment this year, which was black and white graphic. It was only available in Australia. When we got a great response on social media and when we showed it to the South African press, we decided to bring it here! November 2015 was the second shipment. It’s a different colour way from the first project – we’ve gone for cream and neutral tones and a bit more boho with the fringing.