One Colour

The One Colour Journey by Cynthia Cheong of My Fair Baby

In My Opinion, Wisdom, In my own wordsOne ColourComment

Di Stitt
Founder of One Colour and Australian and New Zealand distributor for Kenana Knitters via Kenana Down Under
Photo Source: One Colour – Di Stitt with Milka

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“I didn’t set out for Africa. The place kinda picks you.

Back in the early 2000s, I became increasingly concerned over extreme poverty that I believed could be tackled through trade, not just aid. The statistics in 2005 were horrific; 1.4 billion trapped in extreme poverty. As my boys were going to school, I found myself with more time, and it dawned on me not to waste what time we have. We enjoyed a great and healthy lifestyle. We were educated. We need so little effort to make life easy.

I found out about fair trade through some key individuals. It fitted my beliefs of ‘trade, not aid’. I have a friend who buys from the Oxfam catalogue. She showed me what buying from people who made the products was like, and I found this to be a fascinating concept. Then there was a couple running Tribes and NationGrant and Mignonne, whom I met at a conference. They’d returned from living in Tanzania, and were big advocates for fair trade. The encounter gave me more ‘Aha’ moments, with stories of unconceivable poverty due to unfair trade.

I decided there and then that if I wanted to make a difference, I would tackle poverty through business and trade. I thought a great way to start was in the fashion industry. Everyone wears clothes, so surely, there would be a market for this. So when I followed my husband to South Africa for his work, I met up with some t-shirt suppliers from South Africa. They told me about a Kenyan producer who uses beautiful fabrics and takes care in their production. Finding a producer who knows what quality looks like is like finding gold! I took them on as my supplier, and so, One Colour as a clothing brand started. The first collection ‘Looking Beyond’ was launched in 2009.

I was a naive starter. I didn’t understand how complex and challenging the fashion industry was. Running a clothing brand is costly, and till today, I’ve been in the process of selling the remaining stock. Best intentions can often not create what you want.

However, in late 2010, something happened which opened a new path for One Colour. I was doing a Christmas market in Brisbane when a lady stopped by the stall. She saw that the scarves I sold were made in Nakaru, Kenya. The lady started telling me about Kenana Knitters that was based close by at Njoro, Kenya as well, and how they have started this wonderful enterprise to empower women through knitting soft toys.

So in 2011, I visited Kenya again to meet Patricia Nightingale, founder of the grassroots organisation since 1998. It so happened that the Kenana Knitters were looking for a new Australian distributor. What a serendipitous event! Paddy’s a great judge of character, and she picked One Colour to be her distributor. Africa had picked me!

By about 2013, I got a handle on distribution, did trade fairs, and now Australia makes up about 50% of the sales of Kenana Knitters’ products globally. The growth has been phenomenal. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.

You know about the lady I met at the Christmas market? Turns out she’s Paddy’s cousin. What a small world! Paddy is an amazing local white Kenyan. Mad keen knitter. 20 years ago, she said, ‘Let’s make something! We’ve got wool. There’s a few of us.’ And so, she started Kenana Knitters with two others. They now have around 600 women involved. 28 of them are on full-time employment managing quality, rostering, supplies, distribution, office management and of course, knitting! The remaining ladies are casual knitters who fit into the family-like environment. Many of them have children. Some even bring their babies to work. They sit on the lawn and knit.

Through Kenana Knitters, the women have been able to generate income and educate their children. The whole community has been transformed. The thing is, Kenana Knitters is fully self-sustaining. They are not a NGO, and don’t ask for donations. Kenyans run Kenana Knitters. This is their country, their society, and they know best how to transform their community. I feel I’m helping them to stay viable by creating a market opportunity to sell their products here.

I will always remember Mary who sadly died 2 years ago from HIV. Mary worked for Kenana Knitters for 5 years before her death, and all through those years, the organisation helped her with her medical treatment. When she first arrived, she was a starving mum with a sick newborn. They cared for her and her baby back to health. Mary was quiet-spoken, and always grateful. Through her employment, Mary was able to buy land and provide an inheritance for her children. Even today, everyone remembers Mary and leaves her knitting spot vacant as a respectful tribute. I featured Mary’s story a few years back on Mother’s Day, and it touched many of my readers. When I met Mary, I thanked her for allowing me to share her story, and to my astonishment, she hugged me and thanked me back. I still recall her tall, elegant figure (she was a Turkana woman), modestly dressed, such a beauty. How humble and extraordinary she was! In our society today, we applaud those who stand out but forget those who are quiet and humble. I have such immense respect for Mary as a mother. The sacrifices she made in her life for her family keeps me focused on ways I can keep bringing the Kenana Knitters products to our customers here.

The lady in the photo with me is Milka. She dances and sings while working at Kenana Knitters. Milka has an amazing energy. She suffered from terrible varicose veins and could not work, walk or dance. She was in a diabolical situation with no money for an operation, and no means to earn money. Kenana Knitters decided to fund her operation. I donated some money myself. There is a hospital nearby where specialists from the US come periodically and a vein specialist was one of them.

Milka lifts everyone’s mood whenever she’s with the knitters, and I can only imagine the amazing time that was had when she returned, fully recovered. The singing and dancing would have been phenomenal! Milka’s smile and charisma is a powerful tonic to me, too.

I feel privileged to be part of such a great group. Me, I’m a caretaker doing as much as I can, but as more people catch the vision, it will grow and keep on going.

My advice for those embarking on the business route? Always do your research. Talk to as many people as you can who have gone before you. Energy can get you a long way, but some good advice can save you a lot of trouble.

And ‘Never say Never’. Because something may change.”

The Slow Down

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So here's the Big Picture
 

It's been an amazing journey. Thank you for your company.

However, since 2014 One Colour has had no new clothing designs and I am now focusing fully on the distribution of the Kenana Knitter critters. The other side of the story is, for a small enterprise like mine, it’s too costly. And honestly, I can do a better job at supporting employment for our Kenyan partners as the Kenana Knitter distributor, supporting the Kenana Knitter women through the wholesaling of their hand knitted critters in Australia and New Zealand.
 

So, I am having a SLOWING DOWN SALE.
 

During the next three and a half months most One Colour clothing and accessories will beup to 50% off...it's a good chance for some massive savings if you want to wear, own or give One Colour one last time.

T-shirts prices will stay the same as they are already nicely reduced.

I have also added a small fee for postage ($5) as offering free shipping is not possible.

Please use your 10% discount code though!!  OCCHOICE53

TO RE-CAP:

From 15 September until 31 December you have the opportunity to purchase the last of our One Colour designs. After 31 December we will close the online shop and the One Colour brand will have a long, long break.

There is a touch of sadness in this, I can't deny. And as Kelly (wonderful friend and collaborator in all things digitally One Colour) has been putting together these last few newsletters with our lovely images, we reflected with nostalgia on the past 10 years, however I'm grateful that I have been able to pursue this path for so long, to see the fashion industry begin to change, to be part of the change, as you have been by supporting One Colour.

I will send a monthly newsletter up until December and then we shall see!

THE FUTURE:

In 2018 the One Colour website will be refreshed and I will continue to journal my thoughts, any bits of news and other things that interest me. Expect a newsletter every so often when I feel there is something worth sharing.

I will continue to distribute in Australia & New Zealand for the Kenana Knitters under the One Colour name with the online presence via Kenana Down Under.

You are always welcome to contact me via the website or email - di@onecolour.com.
 

You are all so very wonderful

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I love Le Tour

In My Opinion, InspirationOne ColourComment

Bonjour, Bon soir ou bon nuit! C'est l'heure du Tour de France!!

Late nights, early mornings, long stretches of time spent focused on each stage; one would almost think I was actually participating in the Tour de France. However, I am a couch watcher, drinking tea and knitting during the most tense, hectic, painful, exciting times, or all these mixed in together.

My muscles ache (not enough exercise), my mind goes jelly-like after long periods (too much telly), my body shakes with adrenaline, a mixture of fear, exertion and exhilaration (when watching the effect of these athletes). It's as if I was part of the race. But truthfully, I would never have been good enough (not having a love of cycling I'm sure one would need) or the discipline to deny myself to be the best I could be.

So I look forward to the high drama of this sporting spectacle: an amazing race of men, their machines and the mountains (and valleys) of France.

I also love the scenery. I miss Phil Liggett and Paul Sherman, though.

Photo by steve631/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by steve631/iStock / Getty Images

#tourdefrance #cycling #france #iloveletour

This Morning Sunrise

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Pink and peachy orange ripple across the sky.

A lone noisy minor goes crook on a couple of rainbow lorikeets as they take nectar from the grevillea.

Two currawong fly in swoops, calling out, landing on the tall tree next door.

Cold air turns my breath to clouds and I am chilled.

I am alive.

It feels good.

What Do Your Eyes See?

One Colour, In My Opinion, ReflectionOne ColourComment

What do your eyes see?

This is Purity. She works at the Kenana Knitters in Kenya. I love her hair, her head band, the way she wears the colourful wrap in the chilly weather. Her beauty is so evident. But I think she is rather amused at having her photo taken, yet again.

Many of the women at Kenana Knitters have their photos taken repeatedly. People come to visit and want their own memory of the ladies, and so the ladies very kindly smile as they work to earn the living that will change their lives and the lives of their families.

I wonder how we would go if random strangers wandered through our work places and took photos of us as we worked so that they could show them to others and so talk about their experiences of visiting our place of work. I have immense respect for the patient forbearance of these wonderful, wonderful women.

Challenge

In My Opinion, ReflectionOne ColourComment

A world wide wave, the Fashion Revolution, swept across the globe last week. Did you hear about it? Did you wonder who makes your clothes? Did you ask a brand you like to wear where you clothes come from? (see footnote)

I have a feeling this journal post will have more questions than answers, or at least more wonderings than advice or information, most likely due to the fact that I don't find huge amounts of clarity when it comes to understanding the impact of fashion, fast or otherwise.

On the one hand, fashion employs so many people from farmers to fabric suppliers, to garment workers to wholesalers, to retailers. It is just a massive movement of materials across the world, with people handling them at different stages. Who am I to demand these people stop how they are doing things so that I can feel better about it?

On the other hand, this same industry creates problems, too. Problems in unsafe work conditions, low wages, fantastic skills being wasted when a garment is made so quickly, so cheaply only to be worn and thrown away. So my one glaring problem is over production. Why do we produce so many garments? Why don't we value to skills of the garment workers to the extent that we want them to work for more money, make fewer garments - to truly be valued as amazing sewers of clothing and accessories? But getting back to over-production.

Tailor at Viva Africa 2014

I know the challenges minimum quantities pose to designers...my roof cavity is loaded with plastic tubs of past collections because, although I was producing as sustainably as possible, I didn't find a big enough market for my ranges. So, even though my quantities were tiny compared to most brands, I still over-produced for my market. To be honest, there is sadness for me when I know that what we created is well designed, well made and reasonably priced, yet this is not enough to make it viable and so to keep designing and producing. I guess we only need so many clothes (yet another conundrum of sustainability in fashion).

No wonder brands resort to land fill or second hand clothing bins to off load excess clothing. By using these methods of removal it immediately eliminates signs of over-production or failure to reach the market, or any number of other reasons why a style just does not work. And the window for the range or the style to work is getting smaller and smaller. Once upon a time we had at least 6 months to sell the range (spring/summer or autumn/winter). Now it's all mixed up with short runs, mini collections, trans-seasonal options and one-offs that are made to order. And then there is fast fashion on top of it all.

Which brings me to the conundrum of sustainability in fashion.

I know for sure, because I feel it in myself, that there is often a disconnect between what we believe (our values, principles, ideals) and how we live. Not for everyone, of course, as I know there are people who live with little compromise, however, I think they are the exception rather than the rule. Most of us will justify just about anything if we really want something badly enough.

Clothes aren’t going to change the world. The women who wear them will - Anne Klein

This is sounding a bit dark and angsty. But it does bother me. I have an uncomfortable feeling that things are not right yet there still isn't the will in most of us to make the necessary changes to begin to make it right. Even Fashion Revolution is a one-week-a-year focus (for which I am exceedingly grateful) but what happens when it's over? Do we continue forward looking for change or do we slip back into our comfy stance? I know which one I want to do and which one I am most likely to do, too.

My big questions are: how can fashion be sustainable if we keep producing vast amounts of it (even if it is sustainable in some way - organic fabric - fair wages - better working conditions - recycled fabrics)?

And: how can sustainable brands remain viable without going down the path of over-production to keep costs down? The hard reality is that the more you make the cheaper it is to produce.

Oh, dear, I think my journalling is starting to unravel. Time to pause, to bring to a close my ramble on this topic.

One thing is certain; there are no guarantees and no perfect fixes in this world. We will work to see our ideas come to life, hoping against hope sometimes, that we can live with less impact and clothe our bodies more sustainably.

And, thank goodness for Nelson Mandela.

Footnote: - a huge thank you to the many who shopped online with One Colour and the other brands who work towards sustainability in fashion, during Fashion Revolution Week.