Rant #1 of 2018:

Fashion is becoming less fun.

Fashion is fun and simple. Stop trying to make fashion sound so intellectual, because the greater majority of people only choose to wear clothing because we would be absolutely breaking the law if we weren't in clothes. Recently, I skimmed through an interview featuring a trendy streetwear designer and this person said something about "the dialogue between the clothes and the customer." And I thought to myself, "What conversation did I ever have window shopping with a designer at Barney's?" I surely do not consider myself in relation to the designer and the products that are hanging on hangers. Then it dawned on me: fashion is so private and personal, and in this day and age, we spend so much on things! Gucci is selling tee shirts for $800 and creating this vicious cycle of "trendy" poverty that I'd rather just spend my money with a small, cool designer who needs it to pay their bills. That's what makes retail for me fun- supporting business owners who still have a touch to their products. I can care less about the ideology behind a luxury product that only less than 1 percent of the world will get to wear and "cherish." If it's moderately priced, I will consider it. It bothers me that some blogs and magazines talk about fashion in ways the general public can't really relate to and it's taking the fun out of fashion.  Fashion is being wrung out to dry, picked apart thread by thread until it's no longer for the public, an elitist idea that only people who go to "fashion week" think they have power over to control and dictate. Well, how about get a life. lol. 

Tosheka Designs

Tosheka Designs is owned and operated by Lucy Bingham. With a thriving production process in Kenya and wholesale business in Philadelphia ( with clients like Anthropologie), the future of Kenyan fashion is sustainable. 

 Photo Credit: Travel Nairobi 

Photo Credit: Travel Nairobi 


What season or period are your products produced?

We work with a farming community, and therefore our spinning, weaving, and bag making production activities by producer groups are planned around their agricultural activities. We have two rain and farming seasons. The first and major farming season is during our short rain seasons which start around late October to early / mid-November. Our producers are therefore not available to produce from about the third week of October to the first week of November when they cultivate the land and plant their crops. After this we only have a month before we start our holiday season around December 12, Kenya’s Independence Day holiday to Christmas and New Years Day. The long rains start Mid March to early April, again during this time our producers take time off to cultivate and plant. Therefore we plan our production especially for the producer groups around May /June and July/August/ September. Coincidentally the other months October, November, December, January and stretching all the way through April are a good time for our local sales, for the holiday season, and back to school sales when our school calendar year starts in January.

For the Eri Silk production, we depend on the availability of the castor plant leaves. Between February and April and then September thru October (before the rainy season begins), the leaves shed off. At this time we will reduce Eri Silk Production because of the leaves but our egg production unit where we can irrigate our castor plants we will maintain the Eri worm production.

Explain the Eri Silk Worm patent? How is the silk extracted without killing the worm?

Tosheka Textiles currently has the only and first permit to commercialize the Eri silk worm production in Kenya. Although a patent for the Eri Silk Worm already exists in other parts of the world, we may consider licensing the processes that are unique to our Kenyan product development.

We are currently in the course of developing our standard production and operating procedures from our experiences since we started early 2016.

Unlike the mulberry silk, which requires the boiling of the whole cocoon, intact with the pupae to extract the silk and as a result the pupae are killed through this process, the Eri silk worm has an open mouth on the cocoon that allows the butterfly to emerge from the pupae inside the silk cocoon. This process is why the Eri is considered a peace silk. Very little water is used to produce the Eri silk, and it has zero waste. Because is food source needs very little water to cultivate, and the plants can survive drought, it can be practiced and sustained in dry lands. The end product of the Eri Silk fabric has excellent thermal properties. It keeps you cool in the hot season and keeps you warm in cold weather.

Does Eri Silk Cotton feel different from regular cotton harvested in the cotton community? 

Eri Silk feel is very similar to our cotton but it soft and fluffy.

How long does this process take? Are there any specific tools for this process?

Our cotton producers who harvest cotton annually can now produce Eri Silk after 19 to 26 days depending on the weather temperatures. It takes another ten to 14 days to create the Eri silk Eggs/seed worm that is distributed to farmers to provide the cocoons. To initiate the process of rearing the eri silk worms: farmers require a shed that is designed to ensure the worm is safe from its predators. This is not as sophisticated as it sounds. The farmer may use an existing structure within their homestead. For farmers who have minimal structures in their homes, we have designed a rearing unit for their homes. This is one of the issues we are addressing to minimize the start up costs of the farmers. The on going rearing process requires very little and minimal costs. Tosheka has established a ‘grainage ‘ facility to produced the disease free layings’ of eggs/worms that are sold to farmers to produce silk cocoons. The grainage is designed with equipment to facilitate the process of creating the disease free layings.

How do you work with the Kenyan Community?

We collaborate with the Akamba community in Makueni County located in the Eastern part of Kenya. This community exists under the umbrella of Wote Community Development Organization (WCDO) registered under the ministry of Youth, Gender and Social Services as a community-based organization. The Akamba people are known for their traditional basket weaving and wood carving skills. Tosheka has utilized these skills to produce contemporary basket and bag products using clean recycled plastic bags and cotton. Tosheka has now introduced Eri Silk as a new fiber for the production of handspun yarn and hand weaved fabrics and rugs. The introduction of this new fiber is also an alternative to the rain fed cotton that has not been very beneficial to our targeted communities. Eri Silk has the potential of addressing the poverty levels in the community we are working with. Tosheka is targeting 3,000 households who will increase their income by 30 times. Cotton provides a merger of annual income to the farmers. Whereas Eri Silk will provide monthly revenue that is more sustainable. Our mission is to empower disadvantaged communities through trade. In partnership with Marafiki Arts, a US- based organization we have had exchange programs where artisans can build their trade and sell.

How much does Eri Silk cost?  

It cost can range for $ 25 - $ 40.

How much does regular cotton cost as per the fibre directorate?

The minimum price was 42 Ksh per KG and we were guaranteed at planting the framers 100 Ksh per KG to stimulate the participation. 

How does the political climate in Kenyan affect your work as a social entrepreneurial focused on sustainability?

Kenya National and local governments like many globally are not at the forefront of supporting local business and social enterprises. There are a few stakeholders that participate and support the work we are doing. We currently enjoy the support of the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization, who are providing the research aspect of the Eri Worm considering it is new in this country. We also have the support of the Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate Service who keep an audit of our Eri Silk production and ensure that the process is not detrimental to the agricultural and environmental attributes.

Are there any specific regulations related to the textile industry and trading that you have helped establish in Kenya?

Tosheka has been instrumental in the cotton growing and now the introduction of Eri Silk production in Kenya. Previously cotton farmers depended on the world prices to determine what they would fetch for the cotton grown. That means they would grow the cotton without knowing how much they would fetch for their products. Through Tosheka’s initiative, the government passed legislature for the Cotton Authority (now the fibre directorate) to set a minimum price for cotton so that farmers were aware of what they would reap from the cotton growing. The introduction of Eri Silk provides the farmers with an alternative to cotton growing that will generate more income and is more environmentally beneficial. Cotton is referred to as a dirty crop because it requires a lot of pesticides, whereas Eri’s food source requires no pesticides.

Have there been challenges? If so how did you overcome these problems as a business owner in the fashion industry?

Our biggest problem is nature of the business that we have purposely decided to do. That is taking on the role of Government and their ministries to establish viable textile industry by supporting the production of natural fibers ( organic cotton & Eri Silk ) in sufficient quality and quantity to revive the National textile industry. Our business would be very profitable if we could focus on our core ability’s which are textile design and printing verses starting from producing fiber. A company that empowers the disadvantaged through trade, a green textile business bearing in mind the effects of textile production to the environment. Price is very much a key factor for most people who may purchase any product, and textile products are very competitive. We are challenged with producing handmade textile products that are aesthetically attractive, high quality, and competitively priced, as well as provide a sustainable income to our producers. The fact that this business is female owned it has been challenging to get substantial credit without matching collateral. However, through the very competitive Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, Tosheka was able to secure significant funds to initiate the Eri silk production.

What's on the horizon for your garment and accessory production?

Because of the lack of availability of quality cotton other natural fibers and textiles in Kenya we began producing bags from recycled plastic, local cloth, and leather in Mali to supplement our income. My husband Herman has become our accessory and bag designer and has well established this line in the high-end market.

Our plans are to concentrate on the accessory, home furnishings ( rugs, place mats, etc) and printed and knitted textile production. Our mission is to increase Eri silk production; I believe this has the potential of impacting the income levels of the communities we target to work with and can be replicated to other parts of the country and the region.

Jane Lu

The lazy CEO of Showpo Jane Lu talks about being broke, in debt, and faking it till she made it. 

Jane LU.jpg

How long did it take you to conceptualize Showpo?

After my first business failed, I was introduced to another girl that also wanted to start an online store. We hit it off straight away! We had only met a few times at this stage, but one night, over too many glasses of red wine, we came up with the name and concept behind Show Pony (which is what it was called back then). And that was in September 2010.

Describe the ideal Showpo girl style? Who wears Showpo?

Showpo really does have styles to suit so many women. Our goal is ‘to be her go-to place to shop.’ There are the party dresses for fun, younger girls; trendy pieces for our stylish customers who love to mix high-end.

What’s it like being a young CEO?

I love being the master of my own destiny, it’s a bit surreal (and a bit of pressure) now that the team is so big, but mainly it’s a lot of fun. And I love showing other women that it can be done, because I too have doubts. I just have to prove those doubts wrong!

What’s your “boss” mission statement?

Work hard, play hard :p

What do you like to wear to work?

Anything goes at Showpo HQ. My styles depend on my mood, some days I might wear skinny jeans and a vintage print tee, others days I might be feeling a playsuit and thigh-high boots. I’ve been known to rock some pretty outrageous looks at work, but the way I see it is that fashion is fun so I should play around with it!

What’re your favorite products on the site right now?

The graphic/vintage tee range. They’re so cool and comfy - I’m so proud to work with such a talented team. https://www.showpo.com/collection/graphics.html

How do you maintain your work - life balance?

The 80/20 rule. During the week I knuckle down and do crazy hours, getting minimal sleep and working at all hours (I come up with my best ideas at weird times, much to my team’s annoyance!). On the weekends I party, sleep, and catch-up on all my fave reality TV shows. If I didn’t have downtime, I’d go crazy.

Any last minute social media tips you can give my readers?

Post consistently (i.e. not once every few weeks), post at key times, post good quality content and think about your caption game!

Balenciaga En Noir

On a cloudy very Parisian morning, I visited the Bourdelle Museum in Paris, France to see the newly opened exhibit, Balenciaga L’ Oeuvre au Noir. As I walked into the small naturally lit museum filled with all of Antoine Bourdelle’s sculptures, I wondered what type of dresses I would see after becoming interested in the Balenciaga’s overall vision during the appointment of New York designer Alexander Wang as Creative Director. I needed to pinch myself when I arrived. I was in Paris, I was going to be served fashion on a silver platter. The exhibit was established and sponsored by Palais Galliera, the official fashion museum and historic center.