How Fashion and Fair Wages Feed Families in East Africa

Influenced by the UK’s high fashion and bold patterns from her African heritage, Ange Muyubira brings fashion to the forefront of social impact in her home country of Burundi.

Ange started in 2012 when she founded Kaz’O’zah with only four Burundian female artisans producing 200 handmade products. Today, Kaz’O’zah has supported over 958 artisans, often women and youth, who make over 60,000 handmade products.

Burundi is a small landlocked country in East Africa and is one of the five poorest countries in the world, according to The World Bank. Ange derived the company’s name from the Kirundi word “kazoza” meaning “future”. Kaz’O’zah focuses on giving artisans a brighter future.

Kaz’O’zah artisans go from making $1.20 a day and living below to poverty line, to making up to $30-50 a week. Their higher income impacts on the whole family. In a country where one in two households cannot put enough food on the table to feed their families (Source: World Bank), 90% of the Kaz’O’zah artisans use their wages to feed their kids and send their kids to school.

The products are not your traditional African goods. Kaz’O’zah uses “Hybrid Modernity“ to fuse traditional African aesthetics with Western modern conceptualization. Ange’s time spent working in the UK’s fashion industry brings a fun and flirty style to traditional African designs.

Kaz’O’zah’s best sellers are the women’s wrap dresses and skirts. Transforming the Kitenge sarong-style clothing typically worn by African women around the chest or waist, into a high-waisted wrap skirt that goes great with a solid tank or tee.

Photo: A wrap skirts with bold Kitenge pattern featured in the “Mango Time“ social aid campaign launched by CARE International & Mango.

Kaz’O’zah uses bold African patterns for their flats and jewelry to add some style to an everyday outfit. The men’s line is just as colorful. For those bold men, the button-up all over pattern shirt is sure to set you apart from the crowd. For the more timid man, the Kitenge bowtie is just the right touch of funky.

Ange Muyubira’s Story

Ange was forced to flee Burundi in 1999, and she lived in the United Kingdom as a Burundian refugee for ten years. In London, Ange worked for high-end fashion designers like Carolina Herrera, Lauder Group, and Chanel.

Burundi is a small landlocked country in East Africa that gained independence in 1962. Since the 1970s the country has faced genocides and civil war, causing many citizens to flee like Ange did. Burundi is situated south of Rwanda and sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. It has continued to face conflict with a civil war lasting from 1993 to 2005, resulting in over 300,000 people killed. And since 2015, more than 400,000 people have fled the country due to ongoing political unrest, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

When Ange decided to go back home to Burundi, she knew she wanted to do something big to showcase young Burundian talent and provide economic opportunities at the nexus between fashion and social entrepreneurship.

“I’m on a constant mission to rewrite the social impact narrative through innovative projects, thereby helping artisans to become self-sufficient,” Ange Muyubira explained, “And at the same time, actively contributing to defining the East African region as rising fashion hub.”

Photo: Ange Muyubira, Founder of Kaz’O’zah is seated in the middle in front

Business with Purpose

As shoppers, we know no boundaries, thanks to the Internet. But if you are a socially conscious shopper, it is hard to know just how far your “shopping cart” impact goes in the real world.

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Kaz’O’zah not only helps East African artisans reach the global market with their goods, it impacts the entire family and community. Kaz’O’zah gives artisans full-time jobs, training them in fashion design and production. Their non-profit arm enhances life skills, connecting artisans to business coaches and Savings & Loans Cooperatives. The community-centric approach goes beyond fashion to put food on the table, pay for school fees and give artisans a livable income.

Through this model, Kaz’O’Zah has trained and supported more than 34 cooperatives representing 958 artisans (as of May 2018). Kaz’O’zah has recently begun expanding its operations to neighboring Uganda.

The African Influence in Fashion Around the World

Hybrid Modernity is at the forefront of individualistic designers, such as Nigerian-born, London-based fashion Duro Olowu and Ghanaian Christie Brown. The mix of tradition and high fashion are creating unique fashion statements that should not be missed.

African trends are also making their way to US and European consumers. MaxMara created an African-inspired collection in 2017, making Kitenge and typical African Animalier prints staples in their main collection and in more commercial collections, such as MaxMara Weekend.

Contact

To get ahead of the trends visit http://www.kazozah.org and make an impact while shopping.

From experience, I can tell you that Kaz’O’Zah artisans can make anything. The floor-length wrap skirt, African-patterned flats, and jewelry I have are not featured on the website, but if you email Ange at ange.muyubira@kazozah.org or info@kazozah.org with some style ideas and favorite prints, you can help contribute to the livelihoods of Burundian artisans, not to mention help send their kids to school.

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Alyssa Mesich

International development practitioner specializing in ICT4D, media and public-private partnerships. Loves fashion, writing, and anyone who is saving the world.

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