Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Designer of the Month: Johari Designs

This month, instead of featuring a solo designer, the spotlight will be on the creative young designers of Johari Designs, a project of the Johari Foundation.

Johari Foundation supports child education and promotes self sustainability in Kenya, working at the grass roots level to help vulnerable children and young adults take charge of their lives and build a positive future for themselves and their families. They set out to achieve this through the building of social development and enterprise programs, like Johari Designs. The social enterprise runs an apprenticeship program that supports at-risk young adults to develop life enhancing skills and knowledge. At the Johari Apprenticeship Centre, they deliver an 18-month curriculum in tailoring and jewelry making. The students develop skills in fashion construction and print design, which leads to ongoing employment at Johari Designs and in some cases establishing their own small businesses. The organization also utilizes the creative talents of guest designers for some collections, as well as in-house product design. To support the graduates of their programs with on-going skills development, the organization encourages their creative input and supports them with their product design ideas. 

Krystle: Who are the original creators of Johari and what inspired them to come together and start designing?
Johari: David Sibbald is the founder of the Johari Foundation which supports child education and promotes self sustainability in Kenya. Our Social Enterprise, Johari Designs followed soon after as it became clear that quite a lot of the older teenage girls and young women we met showed a strong interest in fashion and design. The establishment of Johari Designs allowed vulnerable young women to learn life enhancing skills such as tailoring and jewelry making leading to ongoing employment and economic opportunities. 

Krystle: What influences the creativity of your designs?
Johari: The inspiration for our print design comes from the landscape, animals and people of Africa. We combine the best of African culture with Western design influences to create unique and stylish clothing and accessories.

Krystle: Where do you find your fabrics and materials?
Johari: All fabric is sourced locally from markets and suppliers in central Nairobi. The paper beads we use in our jewelry are sourced from social enterprise, Mzuri Beads, which is based in Uganda. We also use a co-operative in Kenya to supply packaging materials. It’s important to us to keep sourcing within Africa, as it is crucial for economic growth.

Krystle: What is your favorite aspect of working with local communities in Kenya?
Johari: The young people we work with have a very positive outlook on life. It is wonderful to see their confidence grow within such a short space of time as they build up their skill level. We have discovered a huge range of skills and talents within the local community and so utilize local businesses and other social enterprises at every opportunity. This includes printers who produce the screen prints used on many of our clothing designs, Mzuri Beads who supply the paper beads for our jewelry and Kawangware Street Children and Youth Project who produce our carrier bags. We believe that communities thrive and develop where opportunities for self sufficiency exist or are created.

Krystle: Do you have any memories of a specific young adult you’ve enjoyed working with?
Johari: It would be impossible to choose just one person. Given that most of the young women from Johari Designs have come from difficult and vulnerable backgrounds their strong work ethic and desire to provide for themselves and their families is truly inspirational. Not only do they work well together as a team they have all made very close friendships with one another.

Krystle: Do you feel like you’re helping to not only provide economic benefit to communities, but also creating little fashionistas?
Johari: Along with providing economic opportunities and ongoing employment, Johari Designs actively encourages the young women to develop their own designs. The team has regular brain storming sessions where they are asked to suggest new ideas to add to the existing Johari collections. The production managers regularly involve the young artisans in idea generation and concept development of new designs. This is an exciting activity that helps them to improve their creativity skills as well as build up on their overall design and production expertise. Some of our most popular sellers such as the Jani Necklace have been designed by the girls.

Krystle: What new projects are you working on, and what can we expect to see from Johari in the near future?
Johari: We are just about to launch our latest womenswear collection with involvement from the entire Johari team, from initial design all the way through to production. It’s always great to see the young artisans take a creative lead. Items from our new range will be available to buy through the Johari online store this week!

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