It’s never easy connecting with emerging businesses half way across the world but Malawians Freeda and Veronica, founders of Kuwala, make it look simple as cake. Both women want to share their connection with Africa through heritage and fashion.
Their brand, Kuwala focuses on vibrant African prints like the chitenge and their goal is to encourage ethical production methods. Kuwala achieves this by partnering with select fashion brands and designers that have unique messages to share.
We had a chat with the friends turned business partners on how they promote high-quality fashion designed in Africa and they promote high-quality fashion designed in Africa and about how Africa can be more than just an inspiration for Western designers, but a fashion hub for creativity and manufacturing.
Who are Freeda and Veronica? How did you both decide to start Kuwala?
We are Malawian women who share a strong connection with the African continent through our heritage and fashion. Both our families had been close friends for some years. When Veronica moved to Toronto, the same city as Freeda, we further connected as friends.
Interestingly, while discussing our life and career goals, we realized we had similar goals for business, fashion and staying connected to Africa. After months of researching and planning, Kuwala was launched in January 2014 and the rest is history.
How do you identify socially responsible fashion brands for Kuwala?
First, before agreeing to partner with brands, we consider their online presence and the message they share on their website and social media. Today, it’s almost impossible to have a business without some sort of online presence.
From there, we email people we intend establishing a partnership with and negotiate terms that are mutually beneficial.
Also, when we can, we also travel to the countries where the designers are based to further connect and review their operations. We think Africa has the potential to become a fashion manufacturing hub.
In summary, through Kuwala partnerships, we want to encourage and promote ethical production methods across Africa.
Who is the ideal Kuwala shopper?
Simply, our ideal shopper is a woman that’s interested in rocking African inspired fashion in her everyday life. She understands Kuwala’s mission and is interested in spreading the stories of the brands we work with.
Typically, her wardrobe is full of vibrant colors and unique prints. She simply enjoys standing out in a crowd and not conforming to trends.
Most people are familiar with the wax prints of West Africa or the Ghanaian kente cloth. Do you work with Malawian fabrics?
Of course, the most commonly worn fabric in Malawi is the chitenge. This cotton cloth comes in a variety of vibrant prints and patterns.
How is Kuwala redefining African fashion abroad? Tell us about your new model to connect fashion designers in the Diaspora.
Basically, through Kuwala, we aim to promote the idea that beautiful and high-quality fashion can be designed and made in Africa. We want to dispel the idea that the African continent is simply an inspiration for Western designers.
Whether it’s in-person or on our website, we try sharing stories of the designers and brands we work with.
Also, with our new model, we’re working on facilitating partnerships with designers in the Diaspora.
Kuwala works in Canada, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana and the United Kingdom, how do you manage this? Have you started manufacturing on the African continent?
We manage everything through technology. From social media to emails and phone calls, technology has really helped us to better manage Kuwala effectively.
In the past, it’s never been this easy to connect with emerging businesses half way across the world. We manufacture in Africa through the brands we partner with that are based on the continent.
Also, like with most businesses, running Kuwala has had its share of ups and downs. However, this whole process has been a learning experience and we learn from the past mistakes made.
You and Freeda have visited many African countries, what is your top advice on travelling the continent?
Veronica: My advice for travelling in Africa is eat everything! No matter how different or “strange” it is.
Be open to tasting the many delicious dishes that are available across the continent. It’s okay to not like it, but at least you’ll be able to say you tried something your friends back home haven’t eaten.
Freeda: I am not as adventurous as Veronica in the food department. I would say, be prepared to have some of your preconceived ideas and assumptions about Africa dispelled.
In addition, remember to also appreciate the beauty and diversity because that narrative of Africa is often overshadowed.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.