What you need to know:
- Juliet Namujju is the founder of Kimuli Fashionability, a sustainable fashion house that recycles waste into durable garment and accessories such as raincoats, shopping and laptop bags. Her innovation has won her awards and recognition.
Located off Maya Road in Mpigi District, Kimuli Fashionability is a designer fashion house that employs persons with disabilities.
It is here that people cycle waste products, mostly plastics, into African fashionable clothing.
The fashion house is premised in one of the residential houses in Busembe zone, off Maya Town; it has been partitioned into three sections; the garage serving as the workshop and part of the living room as a store for the finished products.
The remaining part of the house is where Juliet Namujju, 25, resides. Upon entering this residential house, heaps and heaps of waste material welcomed me.
It is this trash that won Namujju the 2021 Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Innovation for Sustainable Development Award on October 7. This consisted of a trophy and Shs14.7m (£3,000) in prize money.
Namujju leads a team that uses various waste materials from landfills, construction sites and people’s homes collected by the youth.
These are trained and deployed at a waste collection centre at the Social Innovation Academy in Mpigi, before it is taken to their offices in Maya for cleaning and recycling.
Out of sugar sacks, cement sacks and milks sachets, they have been able to process and upcycle durable garment and accessories such as raincoats, shopping bags, laptop bags and pencil bags, among others. “When I look at waste, I see something beautiful, like a flower,” she explains the genesis of the name of her brand, Kimuli meaning flower.
Raised by her grandmother who was a tailor, Namujju spent most of her time making toys and sewing clothes for toys from cutouts. Watching her grandmother, load an upper and a lower thread into her machine got her curious and she could not wait for the day she would be in control of the machine.
Nineteen years later, Namujju is the brain behind Kimuli Fashionability, working with a team of 25, majority of whom have disabilities such as hearing impairments.
“When my father got involved in a road accident that got his legs amputated, he was laid off and no employer seemed to believe in his abilities. This became my driving force to change the mindset people have towards persons with disabilities,” she discloses her inspiration for starting a fashion house.
Namujju believes people with disabilities can overcome all obstacles if they are given assistance.
When the lockdown was first eased in May last year, Namujju got back into the workshop with her team. They identified a need. About half of her employees have hearing impairments- meaning the masks on market were not in their favour since they prevented them from lip-reading.
“Whenever we had to communicate to people with hearing impairements, we would have to remove our masks. But we feared we would get Covid-19,” she says.
Namujju says she sat down together with her team and devised means of making innovative face masks to cater for the needs of members of her team with disabilities. Today, people with hearing impairments are happy they can communicate without having to remove their masks.
One of the employees at Kimuli Fashionability, Rose Nakangu, through a sign language interpreter, says with this transparent mask, she can easily speak, sign and clearly see facial expressions.
She adds that whenever she is in a crowded space, she does not have to remove her mask to read lips and facial expressions. The new masks are fitted with a transparent material from used polythene waste. They not only provide comfort to the people with hearing impairments, but also ease communication by allowing them read lips whenever one is talking.
She says since they started production of the transparent masks after the outbreak of the Covid-19, they have sold about 3,000 pieces. Many of them are donated locally and the rest of the masks are exported.
Namujju believes that since wearing face masks has become the new normal, as part of efforts to contain the deadly virus, her innovation will ease the life of persons with disabilities.
It is this innovation that gave Namujju an opportunity to display and auction Kimuli rain jacket made from upcycled plastic sugar sacks, at the UN General Assembly in New York.
During the Global Greenpreneur award winners 2019 in Korea, Namujju was selected as a speaker and a panelist to present upcycled fashion in Germany at the fair Bild Korrekturen fashion conference.
Namujju won the Ugandan Ye-Community Award 2018, became a Tony Elumelu Foundation Programme (TEEP) Fellow and her rain coats were showcased as the first runners up in the African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship (AWIEF) Awards in 2018.
The global event that brought together Ugandan Young employers of the year, challenged policy makers to invest more in environmental sustainability and inclusiveness.
This year, Namujju was nominated together with 15 winners of the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Innovation for Sustainable Development Awards, where each received a £3,000 trophy. Besides the prize, she got an opportunity to scale up her innovation in collaboration with partners and mentors across the Commonwealth countries.
“This award gives my team visibility and credibility in the reputable networks of the Commonwealth,” she says. By 2025, Namujju plans to train 600 persons with disabilities as trainers of trainers in their communities to meet the 2030 goal of reducing plastic waste disposal by 70 per cent.
Challenges and social media
Namujju says while foreigners snap up her designs, it is tough persuading Ugandans the stuff they throw away can be reborn into desirable and fashionable items. She is, however, optimistic that the local market is yet to appreciate the innovations recycled out of waste materials.
“We still have a challenge of changing people’s perception about plastic waste, many look at it as rubbish to be burnt or disposed of in the environment.”
People from outside wear these jackets. We want 90 per cent of Ugandans wearing these jackets, wearing these masks, because we are working to reduce plastic waste disposal in our country,” she says.
Having completed high school in 2014, Namujju decided to join St Elizabeth Vocational Institute, Mengo, where she pursued a six-month course in fashion and design. After completing her course, she was advised to join the Social Innovation Academy, Mpigi District.
“This institute trains disadvantaged youth to become job creators and social entrepreneurs with the ability to turn challenges into solutions. It is here that I developed the idea of transforming plastic waste into fashion labels,” she explains.
The institute gave her a sewing machine and startup capital of Shs50, 000. Today, Namujju owns more than 10 sewing machines and has about 25 trainees.
Future of fashion
Numujju explains that sustainability has now become synonymous with fashion and eco fashion is the way to go.
“It is important to re-evaluate our purpose and what we can give to the world through our creatity. Opportunities lie in the resources we have and it is our duty to make the best out of them.
You do not have to spend money on new materials to create products, you can create something from dead-stock materials such as sugar bags which everyone think are a waste product. It is high time to start looking at Eco fashion because it is unique and protects the environment.
‘“African designers have to be innovative and resourceful when it comes to creating collections,” she says.
Process and market
Cement bags are collected from different construction sites and waste sites such as Kitezi. Once waste materials are collected, they are washed, dried and then packed. From Mpigi District, these are transported to a production centre based in Maya. It is here that they blend it with African fabric. It is cut into small patterns depending on the product ordered by clients. The cut outs are then sewn into the up cycled waste.
Namujju believes awareness and celebrity endorsement of eco-friendly fashion products would go a long way in boosting the local market. The introduction of any sustainable fashion products into the market through a celebrity triggers the purchase by the customers.
Sustainable fashion products are considered trendy. The principles of reducing, reusing and recycling may be applied on eco-fashion products, chiefly apparel. Instead of buying new products each season, one can modify an old one to create something new or mix and match the products bought earlier to create an interesting combination. The help of a stylist can be sought.