With its latest 'Made in Kenya' collection, ASOS commits to well-paying jobs in Africa

With its latest 'Made in Kenya' collection, ASOS commits to well-paying jobs in Africa
Source: ASOS/SOKO
Source: ASOS/SOKO

Just this week, there's been a wave of controversies involving clothing factories not paying their workers a livable wage. 

Workers at a Chinese factory that creates some of Ivanka Trump's clothing are reportedly earned about $62 a week. And in the most recent annual "Fashion Transparency Index" report from Fashion Revolution, it was revealed that just 34 out of its 100 surveyed clothing brands had made public commitments to paying their workers livable wages. And among the 34, just four are publicly reporting progress toward this goal, including H&M and Puma. 

With consumers paying more attention to supply chains and working conditions in factories than ever before, ASOS' latest Made in Kenya collection comes at just the right time. 

ASOS' Made in Kenya collection
Source: ASOS

That's because, with its frilly dresses, T-shirts, skirts and even jumpsuits, the collection is created with sustainable, practical, well-paying jobs at its core. 

With help from the organization SOKO Kenya, a clothing factory and initiative in Kenya that provides professional and skill training (like sewing), as well as sustainable and safe jobs, ASOS has been responsible for helping more than 40 people find well-paying, sustainable and even environmentally-friendly jobs in one of the poorest areas in Kenya. 

A woman working at the SOKO factory
Source: ASOS/SOKO
A woman working at the SOKO factory
Source: ASOS/SOKO

According to Louise McCabe, director of corporate responsibility at ASOS, designer Joanna Maiden set up SOKO in 2009 with just four tailors, producing a small clothing range using local fabrics.

"ASOS was just beginning its sustainable fashion journey at the time and loved the work that SOKO had produced, as well as its commitment to developing livelihoods and providing a good wage and social benefits to its employees," McCabe said in an interview. "The first collection sold out on ASOS and we formed an ongoing partnership, producing two collections a year, designing in house at ASOS and manufacturing at SOKO Kenya."  

The Made in Kenya collection is created thusly: ASOS designers mock up designs for shirts and pants and skirts and dresses. Then, through SOKO, who ASOS has been working with since 2009, those designs are sent over to Kenya, where people at the SOKO headquarters cut and manufacture the items, bringing in tiny touches of their own culture too. 

For this particular collection, local schoolchildren were asked to draw some doodles, and now those doodles appear in the ASOS collection. 

ASOS' Made in Kenya collection
Source: ASOS

"In this collection we once again see drawings by local primary school children turned into prints by the ASOS design team, with parrots dancing along the hems of kimonos and fabric-blocked T-shirts,"  Vanessa Spence, ASOS' head of womenswear design, said in an interview. "Denim is introduced to the collection, upcycling deadstock garments and reworking the denim pieces with pretty chiffons and jersey panels." 

Though the collection does have its African influences, and is designed by ASOS' team and then crafted in Africa, ASOS is adamant that there is no cultural appropriation in this case, because it's more about celebration — and also supporting SOKO reach its goal of providing safe, sustainable, well-paying jobs to Kenyan people. 

A SOKO factory
Source: ASOS/SOKO

"[It's] less about an African influence in the design and all about a focus and commitment to supporting SOKO, who are empowering a community by creating opportunities to work for more than fair pay and develop skills they wouldn't otherwise be able to," Spence said. 

In partnership with the SOKO Community Trust, which is separate from this factory, ASOS has helped provide essential programs, like workshops on reproductive health, financial management seminars and eye care clinics for the local community. 

And with two Made in Kenya collections a year, which have been a hit with ASOS shoppers, McCabe said that this is just the beginning. 

"We want to keep growing and producing amazing pieces that our customers will love, and with the knowledge that they have been made in a way that provides ethical, sustainable livelihoods in an area of high poverty and unemployment," McCabe said. "We want to help SOKO expand further and increase its capacity to manufacture for other clients, as well as growing ASOS volumes."