Ethnic Supplies Product range

I recently came across the Ethical Fashion Forum and I went along to their event on 18/8/9. This event was promoted as focusing on sourcing from Africa.

As the discussion got under way I could not believe some of what I was hearing, “these people need educating” was one of the statements made by a couple of speakers there was too much of “them and us” too. We in the audience could be forgiven for thinking that we were listening to a report from a 19th century Royal Geographical Society journal. It all sounded like “poor Africans we need to do them a favour” type of situation. The facilitator on the other hand was fantastic, he drew attention to issues of respect and the fact that the West can learn from Africa.

As I listened I felt myself increasingly getting angry and when given the opportunity to speak I let my feelings known. In my view the speakers had failed to draw attention to the ingenuity of Africans, especially the sort of women that I work with, who turn rubbish and utterly useless things into fashionable items. What about the men in Kenya who make sandals from old car tyres?

The fashion accessories at Ethnic Supplies are the African women’s designs and have been very well received by women here in the West. I was upset too that some of what was being said was reinforcing the negative views about Africa.

Fashion provides an opportunity to lift many African people out of poverty as VALUE can easily be added at source unlike some of the agricultural products such as coffee but I felt that this had not been highlighted either. It was interesting to note that a buyer from a large retail outlet felt that unlike their Asian counterparts Africans have not bombarded her with emails regarding their fashion accessories.

The challenge with this is threefold, someone in the audience felt that the people she works with in Tanzania earn a better income selling locally than they would if they had to sell to a UK retailer along with the hoops one has to jump through!

The other is African artisans tend to work in much better conditions and get higher wages than their Asian counter parts this coupled with expensive import/export duties and freight costs.

The last reason is the buyers have a perceived idea that the supply end in Africa is unreliable and are almost always unwilling to explore the fact that this could be wrong or that it can changed.

Don’t get me wrong, they are challenges working in Africa and sometimes the quality leaves a lot to be desired. The way forward is to alongside the artisans, in a collaborative manner and where necessary adapt their designs to suit the Western market. After all it would be insane bringing in products for which there is no market because of poor design and or quality.

As an afterthought it would have been good to include a discussion about the materials used as well as the production process to demonstrate the GREEN and sustainable element of African fashion.

In Madagascar for instance, wild (raw) silk is collected from the forests and woven into beautiful fabrics. These fabrics are for instance used in the making of this bag which starts life as a plain basket made from palm leaves. Palm leaves have no use unless value has been added to them.

Raw Silk basket

Raw Silk basket

Wild silk shawl

Wild silk shawl

In Rwanda sisal, a cactus like plant is used in the making of these beautiful baskets, the same material is used in the making of these silver sterling earrings. The bark cloth from Uganda is very environmentally friendly as its extraction does not involve the cutting down of a tree; simply the bark is removed, and is allowed to grow back.

Rwanda peace basket

Rwanda peace basket

rwanda earing

Rwanda Sterling Silver earings

In my mind’s eye African fashion offers a real opportunity for lifting many out of poverty, is mostly kind to the environment because of the African ingenuity of turning rubbish into fashion, as well as the use of naturally occurring raw materials and offers a real chance to REBRAND the continent.

I would love to hear from anyone who has a view about the issues raised here.

Well it seems like a distant world but what fun I had at this year’s BBC Gardener’s World Live. It was our first visit .

It was a wonderful opportunity to show case the women’s work to wider market. the products were well received and you can see from the photos at some point we had such a lage que of people waiting to browse.

The handcrafted straw hats from Madagascar were are a hit and so were the Ugandan baskets
It was interesting that men, women and children all loved them, the women in the age brackt of 23-35 especially loved them apparently because the baskets were a better alternative to carrying a bottle of wine in a plastic bag when going around to a friend’s for dinner!

The comments that I got about the products over the course of the week was “unusual, well made and beautiful”


If you haven’t put your summer wardrobe together and are looking for unique and handmade summer accessories please visit our website

Ugandan baskets

Ugandan baskets

a fellow exhibitor who fell in love with thsoe hats

a fellow exhibitor who fell in love with thsoe hats

Japanesse delegation on our stand

Japanesse delegation on our stand

visitor to BBC GWL tries on our our hats

visitor to BBC GWL tries on our our hats


Que to get onto our stand at the BBC GWL


The most exciting thing that has happened at Ethnic Supplies has been the introduction of a new group of producers from Rwanda.



After the 1994 Rwandan Genocide Rebuilding the nation of Rwanda was never going to be easy following the atrocities of 1994, especially the economy of that wonderful nation. Women were especially vulnerable due to their lack of property specifically agricultural land. The women got together and formed weaving circles called the Ageseke.


The group is made up of 3800 women from in and around the capital city Kigali. The project provides training skills to impoverished African women to work their way out of poverty, these skills include, weaving, family planning, literacy and business skills



Dinah Musindarwezo  Project Manager of the Ageseke spoke  to Leslie Ethnic Supplies Africa Operation Manager about the famous basket from Rwanda


After the 1994 weaving of Agaseke came to be popular in promoting and rebuilding peace and Unity among Rwandans. This is because, women came together to weave regardless of their ethnic background which promoted friendship and peace among them.


Agaseke is a highly valued product in Rwandan traditions, primarily woven by women. Historically Agaseke symbolizes confidentiality. One set (there are 5 baskets) in set is of Valentine baskets (Agaseke) takes 14 days to weave,  




When girls were given Agaseke on their wedding day as a symbol that they should keep secrets of their new homes, The family of a girl to be married also gave Agaseke to the family marrying the girl as a sign that the girl is still intact and covered just like how Agaseke is, which means that the girl is still a virgin.



As for fruit basket (Ipulato) is not as popular as Agaseke in Rwandan culture but it was also woven by women and used in households to keep the harvests of the households. One Ipulato takes 4 days to weave; it is also made out of sisal and other grasses


Today, both products are being used for different purposes including jewellery boxes, decorations and storage of food   fruits, sweets etc.


Materials used are; sisal for Agaseke. Sisal plant was previously a wild plant but today it cultivated, the leaves of the leaves of the plant are peeled to reveal a white thread like by product and it is this that is used in the weaving.



The white sisal is then dyed to a desired colour. Some colours like brown and cream/off-white are natural colours made out of tea and coffee whilst others are made from plant roots


The colour is made by boiling water, pour in the dye, deep in the sisal, boil together for about 30 minutes while steering every 10 minutes.