Kenyan organic silk: upcycling waste materials and empowering communities in Kenya and Zambia

Commonwealth Fashion Council

 Explore the exchange story of designer Deepa Dosaja from Kenya and artisans Mumwa Crafts Association from Zambia and find out how they created their look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, 2018. 

“I stand for the spirit of joy, freedom and unity. I am determined to prove that this wonderful continent has the ability to create truly beautiful clothes at international standards.”
Deepa Dosaja
The Exchange: Kenya x Zambia
For The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange 2018, designer Deepa Dosaja exchanged with artisans Artisan Fashion from Kenya, and Mumwa Crafts Association from Zambia to create a look that highlights craftsmanship and tradition in both countries. The look was unveiled at Buckingham Palace on February 19, 2018, and later moved to the Australian High Commission, London, where it was open to the to the public in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, April 2018.
Kenya: Designer Deepa Dosaja
Born in Nairobi, but raised in Canada, Dosaja set up her own company back in Kenya in 1991, determined to celebrate the vibrant culture and diversity that surrounded her through her unique design aesthetic. But her ebullient, sophisticated designs also speak volumes for the creative abilities of her homeland, and Dosaja is held as instrumental in changing the perceptions of Kenyan fashion. Her couture show “My Flowers” met critical acclaim in New York in spring 2017.
Kenya: Artisan Fashion
Artisan Fashion is a social enterprise of African artisans handcrafting over 100,000 bags and accessories for some of the most recognisable fashion houses in the world. It employs and engages communities and artisans right across Kenya, from beading groups in the Masaai Mara to urban artisans in the Kibera slum. It provides international market access to the continent’s talented artisans and in doing so, promotes social value for the industry.

Deepa Dosaja's gown is both hand-embroidered and hand-painted, constructed from organic silk produced in Kenya, with elements of upcycled leather scraps and Swarovski upcycled crystals fashioned into floral embellishments.

The Mumwa Crafts Association
The 3,500 artisans of the Mumwa Crafts Association, Zambia, create a range of high-quality handicrafts, made entirely with local, natural materials, and by traditional methods passed through many generations. The cooperative enables its community of artisans to generate income through traditional crafts, and therefore improve the standards of living.

Natural materials

'Deepa's Flowers' are crafted from sustainable cow horn and recycled brass

The story behind the look
Deepa Dosaja’s Deepa Flower Garden Gown is both hand-embroidered and hand-painted, constructed from organic silk produced in Kenya, with elements of upcycled leather scraps and Swarovski upcycled crystals fashioned into floral embellishments. 

Designer Deepa Dosaja's sketch for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange 2018

Designer Deepa Dosaja's design for a shoulder purse to accompany the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange look. The bag was created from Zambian palm leaf.


The embroidery and beading of the look was crafted by Deepa's in-house team of women, who have been trained by Dosaja herself.

Waste reduction

The gown is also lined with remnant silk pieces, reflecting the brand's ethos of reducing waste.

To finish the look, Dosaja worked with Artisan Fashion, a social enterprise based in Kenya that connects over 1,000 artisans to international fashion.

"Deepa's Flowers" are crafted from sustainable cow horn and recycled brass.

Flowers crafted from recycled leather, sticking to the brands ethos of zero-waste.

The neckline and the beaded belt of the gown is traditional Maasai beadwork.

Swarovski upcycled crystals were applied to the bottom of Deepa Dosaja's dress.

Clutch bag by Mumwa Crafts Association

Also collaborating on the look is Mumwa Crafts Association in Zambia, who have created a shoulder purse made from Zambian palm leaf. The purse has been embellished with Deepa Flowers crafted from recycled leather, Zambian Shitenge Fabric from Mumwa Crafts and sustainable cow horn along with a recycled brass Deepa Flowers shoulder strap from Artisan Fashion.

The look was completed with a woollen shawl.

Deepa Dosaja's look at Buckingham Palace, 19 February 2018

Credits: Story

This content has been specifically curated for the Google Arts & Culture platform on behalf of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange exhibition that launched on the 19th of February at Buckingham Palace in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM.

The project, created and managed by Eco-Age, with the support of The Commonwealth Fashion Council and The British Fashion Council.

More information about the images is available by clicking on them.
Read more about the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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