How Sass & Bide is helping African women become the future of fashion.

When I ask Sophia Berman, head of the Sass & Bide Design Collective, if she thinks her industry is doing enough for ethical fashion, she’s frank with me.

“We’re never doing enough,” she tells me. “But it’s all about small steps.”

And small steps, important ones, are exactly what Sass & Bide are taking right now.

As early pioneers of ethical fashion in Australia, the local brand has collaborated with the Ethical Fashion Initiative’s Artisan.Fashion, to create numerous sustainable pieces with African communities.

Some 82 people from three different Kenyan communities were involved in production.

It’s the fifth time Sass & Bide have created an ethical range, and each time pieces are put on the market, it becomes more important for the story behind the pieces to be communicated with customers.

After all, consumers aren’t just purchasing a bag or a clutch. They’re buying into a movement that gives women and men access to a job that’s steady, that pays well and that harnesses their creativity.

Sass & Bide are committed to producing ethical pieces that are created in fair work conditions,” Berman tells Mamamia.

“We work with three different communities to produce these bags. Some work on the beads, another works on the fabric and another community work on the tassels. They have fair work conditions and earn a fair wage. It’s important for us to be able to empower women.”

Although there are men helping create the designer pieces, 67 per cent of the workers are women. Working on these pieces gives them a kind of job security that’s otherwise hard to come by, and gives them the ability to plan ahead financially.

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Leonida Okiela is one of the women who is able to use her income to "pay her rent" and "save for future use".

"All my children rely on me to provide food, shelter, clothes, education and other essential needs," she tells Sass & Bide.


More importantly, though, as soon as the order from Sass & Bide came in, it gave the people in Okiela's community "hope for continued work".

However, Berman is quick to clarify one thing: this isn't charity.

Sass & Bide has a long affiliation with Make-A-Wish Australia and other key charities, but this is different. It's more simple than that.

It's "fair work", ensuring women who live in an entirely different part of the world are able to "go to work" because "it fits in with their lives".

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In fact, the work fits in so well with the women's days that some even bring their babies along.

The pieces are inspired by what the communities do and the skills they bring to the table. Buyers can purchase a clutch, a handbag or a bigger "baby bag", as Berman calls it, that are made from 100 per cent organic cotton.

Understandably, when it comes to the initiative, many are interested in the consistency of work for those creating the pieces. It's all well and good for these people to have stable work for a single period, but what happens after that?

Berman explains that these women, and men, are employed by Artisan.Fashion to continuously create new pieces. In fact, Sass & Bide are already planning their next ethical fashion range.

"For us, it's all about making a difference," Berman explains. "Sure, we like to think that when someone wears one of our pieces and feels great in it, that we're making some form of difference in their lives. But this is different, and this is far more impactful.

"It's not just about the women and men who are employed through this. This is directly affecting their families, and the next generation of those families too."

How do you ensure the clothes you buy are ethical?