KIBERA, Kenya – In 2012, fashion designer Ava Darnell founded Slumlove Sweater Company to boost employment in Kibera, home to Africa’s largest slum and one of the largest slums in the world. Slumlove hires women to knit organic cotton sweaters in exchange for fair wages.
About 250,000 people live in Kiberia. Unemployment rates for residents can be as low as 50 percent and without sufficient pay families can’t escape the cycle of extreme poverty.
Slumlove provides women with a safe, respectful environment to work and ensures that they take home enough wages to meet the needs of their families. In addition, the company provides a five percent health care budget to help women receive regular medical checkups.
“At its core, Slumlove Sweater Company exists to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty,” Darnell told Darling Magazine. “It’s a privilege to get to play a small part in this movement and help give people the opportunity to change the world with the clothes they buy.”
Darnell refers to her clothing line as “ethical fashion” because agriculturalists use only environmentally-friendly methods to produce the yarn. Preserving the environment protects the large number of Kenyans that rely on agriculture for food and income. Furthermore, the yarn production sustains small farms in Kenya, which supply the local markets.
Along with expanding employment, Slumlove encourages education. The majority of wages are spent on groceries, leaving families unable to afford schooling. Slumlove donates 10 percent of its profits to the Kibera Penda Project to fund scholarships for high school students attending the New Hope Academy. All children who pass the entrance exam receive a free secondary school education.
All Slumlove products are available solely online in order to keep costs low. Darnell hopes that affordable fashion will attract more consumers and increase profits for Kibera. So far, she seems to be right.
Successful business has allowed Slumlove to relocate its main facility to Nairobi, Kenya, to accommodate more female workers. The increasing production has given Darnell and her supporters hope that, one day, one of the world’s biggest slums will be another beautiful, economically-stable city.
“So far, it’s going well,” Darnell told Austin Way.