Heritage, tragedy, future: These are the drivers that inspired a new capsule collection codesigned by Vancouver-based sustainable fashion brand Obakki and a community of women living in the world’s largest refugee camp, Bidi Bidi, in Uganda.
The opportunity arose when Obakki — and its philanthropic counterpart, the Obakki Foundation, a registered charity focused on projects that provide clean water and education in Africa — sought to work with women in Bidi Bidi to create a scarf that was launched last year. Treana Peake, founder of Obakki and the Obakki Foundation, worked directly with the women in Bidi Bidi to codesign the item: Its pattern, centered on designs developed by the women living in Bidi Bidi, illustrates a story of hardship, hope and strength through cow imagery, which conveys the importance of cattle camp culture; snakes and scorpions, symbolic of a civil war that resulted in tragedies, and agricultural symbols that represent growth and endurance. The imagery coalesces with figures of women illustrated throughout to create a striking textile layered with meaning and purpose. And the scarf’s pattern was painted by the women in Bidi — the design collaboration was their first time touching paint, according to Obakki.
The Bidi Bidi Scarf’s global success led to the development of an Obakki capsule line that made its debut last week at Isetan in Japan. Its collection includes the original Obakki Bidi Bidi Scarf and bandana; a T-shirt by Aodress; a dress by Les Brique, and an Obakki jacket, shirt, skirt and dresses, each donning the Bidi Bidi pattern, alongside a necklace by Mamelon and Bidi Bidi motif stamps that can be used on tote bags, designed by illustrator Yuko Yahara. In line with Peake’s 100 percent donation model, which drives profits from Obakki to fund programs for the Obakki Foundation, 100 percent of the proceeds from the capsule will be donated to the women in Bidi Bidi who cocreated it.
Peake told WWD, “After I launched the fashion brand, Obakki, I thought to myself — could I modernize a traditional triple-bottom line approach by giving it an altruistic edge? That’s when I started the Obakki Foundation, Obakki’s philanthropic counterpart that to date has delivered water to 2.5 million people and counting. Originally its mission was to provide clean water and education to African communities. But we quickly expanded support based on the needs we uncovered in those communities — from beekeeping, to prosthetics, to sewing and more.”
Peake’s collaborative design concept empowers women in these communities to start their own businesses in refugee camps, as the income received from partnering with Obakki enables them to buy sewing machines to create products that can be sold at local markets, or seeds to crow crops, among other necessities. “Whether it’s agriculture, textiles or trade, they will be determining their own future,” the company said.
And Obakki will continue to regularly release products that directly benefit the foundation, proving the success of a unique sustainable business model that allows Peake to design her own collections in tandem with directing good works projects that support various charities and initiatives. “Obakki absorbs all administrative fees for Obakki Foundation, allowing 100 percent of Obakki Foundation’s donations to go directly to its charitable initiatives. This is huge for us. Additionally, Obakki regularly releases products — like its Bidi Bidi scarf, its Essentials Collection apparel, Scarves for Water and The Cinder Blanket — that directly benefit the foundation. One hundred percent of net proceeds from those products go to Obakki Foundation programs.”
Regarding The Obakki Foundation, Peake told WWD, “While ensuring that the elements of people, planet and profit are integrated into our business practices, the Obakki Foundation has taken the intersection of the three P’s as a model of sustainability and added a fourth P: Philanthropy. These four P’s not only intersect — they cycle into each other, making a lasting impact that is sustainable for generations. By empowering our partners to tell their stories and create lasting change in their communities, we are strengthening the social sector.” She added, “Sustainability is at the core of what we do — all four P’s are focused on facilitating viable, enduring solutions that benefit the communities where we work.”
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