Upcycled T's Find New Life While Providing Income to Fair Trade Artisans in Africa

Upcycled T's Find New Life While Providing Income to Fair Trade Artisans in Africa

Charitable stores like Goodwill resell gently used clothing at low prices for Americans looking for a bargain. However, when that same clothing is shipped to countries across Africa by the ton and sold in open air markets for highly competitive prices, communities suffer. Local designers, businesses and textile factories cannot compete with the imported fabrics and are shut down resulting in major job loss. In 2016 Huffington Post published an article spotlighting the crisis happening in East Africa due to the hordes of second hand clothing being donated from the west. Read article

African Market

In an effort create more jobs, Imani Workshops, a group in Kenya supporting HIV+ women, has begun turning these imported shirts into beautiful scarves to sell back in the United States. Barbara Zech, an Indianapolis based artist and long-time volunteer with Imani, traveled to Kenya on a recent trip and provided pictures and stories about the artisans.  

Antonina, one of the Imani tailors, started working at Imani in 2006. At that time, she was uncertain of her own survival and the future of her 8-year-old daughter. Now she is proud that her daughter, now 19, is college in Nairobi studying Deaf Education and hopes to become a teacher for the Deaf who are another under-served population in Kenya. Through AMPATH, Antonina was able to access HIV medical treatment, and hone her skills in sewing at Imani Workshop.  Antonina is a proud mother, a great friend, and mentor for other women who come to work at Imani. 

How the Scarves are Made: 

First, artisans cut the sleeves and collar off the shirts.

Imani Workshops Kenya

Next, the shirt torso is cut into strips of the same width which creates loops of fabric.

Imani Workshops Kenya

Upcycled T-Shirts Africa

Finally, the fabric loops are bound together with decorative beadwork which adds a unique Kenyan style and keeps the strips together.

upcycled fringe scarf


Purchasing these scarves and all Imani goods provides livelihood and income for these hard working, empowered, and HIV+ women. Most are single mothers raising their children alone; some are also providing for extended family members. Thanks to AMPATH, Imani Workshops, and Global Gifts these women can build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.  themselves, their families, and the community.

Special thanks to Barbara Zech who took pictures and provided stories of the artisans.

Written by Cara Yoder, Global Gifts Student Intern


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