It's all rubbish: Up-cycling waste into fashionable items

Tuesday May 24 2022

Models dressed in various garments made by Kimuli Fashionability of Juliet Namujju. PHOTO | POOL


As the world grapples with waste management especially plastics, international campaigns are focused on either banning their use or recycling and up-cycling, which is creating new stuff from discarded materials.

In Uganda, the art of up-cycling has been adopted by social enterprises as both a solution for waste management and job creation for communities in projects that are sustainable.

Three fashion creatives—Juliet Namujju, Faith Aweko and Josephine Nakafeero—are among leading Uganda sustainable fashion designers transforming waste materials into fashion garments, accessories, coffee tables and other household items.

Although of different backgrounds they were all inspired by the desire to make a positive change in society through fashion. Circumstances placed them at a place where it was easy to choose waste as a material to work with.

They make up-cycled clothing, bags, backpacks, shoes, up-cycled tire poufs, coffee tables, and chairs. These are then sold on online shops, boutiques and tourist centres in Uganda.

Juliet Namujju


Namujju is the founder and chief executive of Kimuli Fashionability, a social enterprise sustainable fashion label. She holds a Certificate in Fashion and Design from the St. Elizabeth Vocational Institute in Kampala, and at the age of 20, she set up the enterprise in 2017 in Maya, Mpigi district in central Uganda.

The eco-fashion label turns waste plastic polythene into durable, sustainable and waterproof garments, bags and accessories.

They employ over 120 youths who serve on contracts as waste collectors; and disabled tailors whom they train on ‘’up-cycling’’ waste materials, and blending them with African fabrics to make garments and accessories. They specialise in using used cement bags to make laptop bags, shopping bags and backpacks and raincoats. The award-winning fashion designer says the raincoat is the favourite product among her customers.

Products by Kimuli Fashionability can also be purchased at sales partners’ outlets — like craft shops, sustainable fashion brands, hotels, restaurants and eco lodges — and shops and tourists’ centres in Kampala, Nakasero, Kololo, Bugolobi and Entebbe.

Namujju says they source the waste — sugar sacks, cement bags, plastic bottles and bags from dumpsites in the community. “Homeless or rural poor youth can earn an income by collecting and selling to us the waste materials. After collection the waste is washed, dried and cut depending on the design of the product to be made,” she told The EastAfrican.

Namujju, says growing up an orphan under the care of her single grandmother in a rural village shaped her life.

“Stigmatisation of disability caused my family to suffer. My grandmother was a tailor and inspired me as a child to use cut-offs and plastic waste to make my own dolls because she could not afford to buy me toys. I used what others had discarded and this changed my mind-set towards waste and I started to see the value in recycling which also protected the environment,” she says.

Namujju says her life experience pushes her to fight for the equal treatment of all people despite differences because discrimination of her disabled father by society led abandonment, lack of parental love and affected her early life.

She says she was lucky to have been admitted to the Social Innovation Academy, which changed her life, and now she wants to offer the same chance to disadvantaged youths. She argues that creating something of beauty out of waste is fulfilling.

Since its creation, Kimuli Fashionability has up-cycled 40,000 kilos of plastic waste into 15,000 garments, and sold products in 15 stores in Uganda and abroad through partners like Naturkosmetic-Berlin and Rich Everyday among others, saving the environment over 93,000 kilos of carbon dioxide emissions.

This year alone she has trained 94 persons with disabilities to fend for themselves and their families. Her vision is to empower more than 2,000 persons with disabilities across East Africa by the end of 2025.

In 2017 Namujju has presented her up-cycled fashion at the Germany Bildkorrekturren Fair Fashion Conference; won the Ugandan Ye-Community Award 2018, and was a Tony Emelu Foundation Fellow for producing eco-friendly facemasks for the disabled and was awarded winner of the Global Greenpreneur Award 2019 by Ban-Ki-Moon. In January 2020, Namujju was featured on CNN African Voices “Change makers.” She won the 2021 Innovation for Sustainable Development Award organised by the Commonwealth.

Faith Aweko

Aweko is co-founder of the social enterprise, Reform Africa in September 2018 with Naluyima Shamim and Mema Rachel.

They make sustainable, waterproof and durable fashionable bags. Production starts with the collection of plastic polythene bags from dumpsites, factories and streets of Kampala by a team of 10 single mothers whom the company pays better than waste collection middlemen. They deliver 300 kilogrammes of plastic every month.

The plastic is then cleaned, processed and fused into the final material which tailors cut into patterns and designs for backpacks, shopping bags, cross bags or toilet bags. Their bags are popular for their durability.

Aweko says the Mema Backpack is hot item because it is fit for work, travel and leisure. They also have Chimobi shopping bag, the Feza Fanny Pack which is wearable as a hip or should bag for the fashionable, and the Ashuza school backpack.

Reform Africa products are available on Jumia and in select stores around Kampala.

Aweko, who describes herself as a “waste-preneur” says ‘’every purchase means saves the environment 15 plastic bags.”

Aweko’s drive to work with plastics comes from her background growing up in slums of Kampala where the poor waste management meant blocked sewers, waterways and narrow alleys. It affected her education, because every time it rained, the slums flooded and classes got cancelled. Her mission growing up was to tackle the waste menace whichever way she could.

“I remember days when it would rain so heavily that my family and I would have to spend the entire night draining water out of our home. These harsh conditions were one of the consequences of having poor garbage and plastic waste disposal systems in the area,” she says.

Reform Africa won the 2019 Social Impact Award.

Aweko says “knowing that the livelihood of the women I work with entirely depends on the success of my business pushes me to work harder every day to support these mostly single mothers and young girls fend for their families.”

She also believes that creativity can “offer develop solutions for social problems and that’s how I ended up with fashion.”

Josephine Nakafeero

Nakafeero is the founder and chief executive director of Jose House of Creations.

They up-cycle old tyres into poufs, seats, coffee tables and chairs; they also make coasters from up-cycled DVDs and CDs.

Their denim bags are made from used denim trousers, shirts, dresses and skirts. Their up-cycled causal shoes are decorated with Ankara fabric have proved to be very popular.

“Our favourite waste materials is old car tires and denim,” Nakafeero says, adding that “What pleases me most is the fact that people are embracing sustainable lifestyles when they buy our products and support our projects.”

They source their waste material from friends and community through social media to donate their old and used items.

The products of Jose House of Creations can be bought from its shop located on Plot 44 Bukoto Street in Kampala, and in Jinja District at Local Flavours on Main Street, and via Jumia.

“I derive energy to go on from my passion to contribute to saving the environment.” She chose fashion because she says ‘’fashion and creativity attracts people’s attention and means it will make a positive impact.”