The Ugandan designer who upcycles British cast-offs – and returns them to sender


Making a press release in additional methods than one, a brand new trend assortment is constructed from the worldwide north’s cast-offs. Can it reboot Uganda’s textile trade?

As trend statements go, Ugandan-based designer Bobby Kolade’s new assortment is as daring as they arrive.

The mish mash of stitched-together panels holds an unequivocal message, one which’s printed loud and clear on the label of his one-off clothes: ‘Return to sender. Supplies sourced from secondhand garments from the worldwide north.’

Kolade’s first assortment underneath his Buzigahill model is made up solely of garments despatched to Uganda for ‘recycling’ by international locations just like the US and UK. Repurposed and refashioned by Kolade’s six-strong workforce, Buzigahill is sending them again to the place they got here from.

“We really feel there’s a form of clothes dictatorship, coming from the worldwide north to us,” mentioned Kolade. “By sending issues again, we’re responding with a transparent, proud message: we’re not simply the dumping floor. We’ve got the potential to supply, we now have the potential to create.”

Kolade – who’s half German, half Nigerian – spent 13 years working in luxurious trend in Europe, choosing up a Vogue award for a set crafted from a vegan, leather-based various often called bark material, sourced from Uganda.

He returned to Kampala – the Ugandan capital and town the place he grew up – hoping to work with home-grown cotton. As a substitute, he discovered that the once-thriving textile trade had been decimated by a brand new form of colonialism. Like many African international locations, Uganda had turn out to be a waste bin for the north’s clothes cast-offs.

A woman models a Buzigahill design

Kolade types by way of bales of clothes, on the lookout for gems he can repurpose. Picture: Ian Nnyanzi.

Oxfam estimates over 70 per cent of garments which might be donated worldwide find yourself in Africa. Uganda imports over £100m-worth of secondhand garments a 12 months, that are bought on to avenue distributors in 90kg bales.

“The vast majority of Ugandans put on secondhand garments from the worldwide north,” mentioned Kolade. “Nobody is distributing these garments to the poor. What began out as an harmless, charitable concept is actually a multibillion-dollar enterprise.”

We’re not simply the dumping floor. We’ve got the potential to supply, we now have the potential to create.

Kolade sources his personal uncooked materials clothes from the identical warehouses that provide Kampala’s avenue distributors. Sorting by way of bales for gems he can repurpose, he’s continuously stung by the state of the garments that attain Uganda: together with shirts with sweat-stained armpits and denims spattered with grease or paint.

“We’re clearly on the very backside of the availability chain in sub-Saharan Africa, as a result of what arrives right here from Europe and North America is the bottom high quality stuff,” he mentioned.

‘We’re being a bit cheeky,’ says Kolade, ‘however we try to ship a optimistic message.’ Picture: Ian Nnyanzi

His plan is twofold. He needs to create an trade that makes use of these waste garments as a commodity, and in addition to revive the nation’s personal textile trade, promoting handwoven Ugandan textiles to each native and world markets. He’ll begin by increasing Buzigahill factories throughout Uganda, and ultimately into neighbouring international locations.

“Uganda is a fertile floor for funding when it comes to upcycling and repurposing,” Kolade mentioned. “It’s clearly one thing that hasn’t functioned within the world north. With Return to Sender, we’re being a bit cheeky, clearly, however we try to ship a optimistic message on the market.”

Primary picture: Ian Nnyanzi. 

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