When sisters Natalie and Kim Ellis returned from London after working for Burberry and Positive Television respectively, they knew they needed to marry their love of fashion with supporting local industry and communities. ‘We started The Joinery to provide an alternative to oftenhazardous methods of production in fast fashion,’ says Kim. ‘So many seamstresses in Cape Town are highly skilled but unemployed due to the decline of the South African textile industry. We started working with a women’s sewing cooperative to create our garments, and a group of artisans in Khayelitsha to create our handbag range.
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‘Our motto is “Do Something. Anything…”’ Kim adds. ‘South Africa has an incredible heritage of craftsmanship, and that’s the essence of our brand. Our producers have gained their skills from the older generation, and they create our products using traditional handicraft techniques.’ The Ellis sisters find it difficult to source sustainable fabrics in South Africa. ‘We do a lot of work with Tony Budden of Hemporium – hemp is an extremely sustainable fabric, and we use a great deal in all our collections.
We also use other natural fabrics such as Tencel and linen, but most of these are imported. We’re very interested in creating fabrics on South African soil.’ They’ve conceptualised a luxurious felt fabric made from discarded plastic bottles collected around South Africa. ‘Salvaging plastic bottles creates job opportunities for plastic collectors, and keeps plastic bottles out of landfill,’ Kim says. ‘We realised that the materials necessary for sustainable textile production are all around us, and that South Africa needn’t be dependent on imports from other countries. We create bespoke products from these fabrics.’ The sisters recently launched a tech range called My Office – laptop and tablet bags, sleeves and covers and other accessories, all made from recycled plastic bottles. Kim and Natalie’s decision to use women in cottage industry-style production units and sewing cooperatives to produce their clothing and accessories has had a powerful impact on the wider community.
‘Many of the women are the breadwinners, but they also have to take physical care of their families. With our support, they’re able to live and work within their communities.’ And that’s more important to the sisters than pure profit. ‘Our brand is coming full circle, closing the loop on living a sustainable lifestyle.’ KIM AND NATALIE’S TIPS: Fight for a cause. We’re proud to be on the board of Fashion Revolution, which encourage consumers to ask: ‘Who made my clothes?’ It is a global movement that raises awareness of the fashion industry’s most pressing issues. Find fresh, authentic inspiration. We’re blessed to be in an industry that allows you to play and experiment. Adapt and experiment. This is what is leading us on the path to success. We recently created tech accessories for Coca-Cola made of recycled plastic bottles, for example, and recycled plastic bottle felt shopper bags for Design Indaba.