The three founders of Reform Africa; Faith, Rachael and Shamim, met at Social Innovation Village (SINA) and through the various personal growth and team sessions, they realised that their passions were alike, they all had an interest in fashion and environmental conservation. This passion drew them together and has since kept them together.
Rachael says, “I wanted fashion that is different from the usual kitenge and could contribute to environmental conservation.”
Even though they had a common goal of producing something sustainable and eco-friendly, they still had to sit and agree what idea would work best. They dreamt of even bigger things but couldn’t sit and wait, they had to make these dreams a reality. They decided to use the ‘kaveera’ to make their products albeit the first bags were of very poor quality, completely different from what we had in mind. Disappointed but not giving up, they got the courage to start again in March 2019, the process teaching them patience. The inspiration to produce bags and not shoes or any other product came from the school children in rural areas that carry their books in polythene bags, torn bags or in their hands and have no way of shielding them. Their interaction with a lady who paid 200 UGshs daily for a polythene bag that her child carried as a school bag, also inspired them to make affordable bags. This is after realising that when added up, the cost of buying a kaveera daily was actually more expensive than buying a bag. They therefore decided to make a bag from the same material, polythene, to solve the issue of children with no bags but also as advocacy to people that are not aware of environmental hazards caused by polythenes. They now make durable and fine texture bags and sell them at a subsidised price, or let the clients that cannot afford to pay in installments.
The process of making a Reform Africa bag mainly involves collecting plastic bags from various dumpsites, washing and drying them and finally ironing to fuse them into a hard long lasting material. One bag alone is a collection of 15 plastic bags. They are most proud of creating a product that really speaks and has action towards ending pollution, a product that is tangible and not just a dream.
Despite their hard efforts, they still find challenges in making the product known and hence increasing awareness on the importance of conserving the environment. Also, since they want to go and do bigger, they are limited by resources like the machines to sew.
Faith says, “What we want is for people to think of Reform Africa when Uganda is mentioned.”
Reform Africa was a name that purely portrayed their vision because they wanted to change or reform Africa’s mindset on waste, to know that it can be translated to value. They actually started as ‘We Women’ because they wanted to do something for a woman but their vision was often misinterpreted for women empowerment entirely excluding environmental conservation.
It is hard for people to start together and stay together but we are grateful we went through sessions on teamwork and we have come to understand and appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses and to use them to drive our passion.
What/Who is your inspiration?
Faith: My inspiration is from social change makers because I love hearing their stories and asking how they did it to learn something. I also believe in peer to peer mentorship.
Rachael: Greta Thunberg inspires me, at just 16 years she has done a lot. This challenges me because at 16 I don’t even remember what I was doing, so I am pushed to do something that is meaningful to myself first then to the rest. I am also inspired by my team members, everyone is different and they’ve strengths that inspires me.
What are your dreams and are you living them?
Faith: Yes, I am living my dream. I love recycling and even before I did it for jewellery, I am a collector. So I live to inspire and recycle.
Rachael: I am living one of my dreams which is fashion that speaks differently.
What is your advice to young people?
Faith: Have a passion for your dream because you can just admire someone and what they do yet your passion does not equal theirs. Surround yourself with the right people and brand yourself as valuable. Look for knowledge to feed your passion. And finally, like Rachael said, start with whatever you have, we actually started with 100,000 Ughsh.
Rachael: Be obsessed with your dream, don’t let people shut you down and don’t look at criticism as all bad, pick what helps you grow. Don’t wait for resources or money to start, start with the little you have. If you doubt yourself you cannot convince others to believe in you. Be flexible and open to learning.