Ikuru providing strength and opportunity to women
There’s a certain sassiness to the bold motifs and colors of African print textiles, but there’s also a strength that empowers women when they wear the Ikuru label. It’s not only the fashionistas who feel strong, but also the seamstresses who design and piece together the garments.
Ikuru means strength in the Macua language of Northern Mozambique. When Sarah Bove, the managing founder of the Ikuru Project, launched the company her goal was to work in a creative environment that empowered women from vulnerable backgrounds. Ikuru Project started small. Bove hired a tailor she had known for several years and recruited six women who wanted to change their lives. “My love for the gorgeous, colorful African print fabrics, so intrinsic to the lives of these women, made fashion an obvious choice for the type of business I wanted to pursue. I also wanted to take these clothes to people living beyond Africa who are not used to African prints. This is why our styles and cuts are stylish yet simple, so anyone can rock their IKURU outfits in New York, San Francisco, London or Paris,” wrote Bove in an email.
Prior to Ikuru, the women had few options to earn a decent living wage. Many were single mothers who come from high-risk social backgrounds. The single most desire among them was to better their lives and find fulfilling work. This opportunity materialized when the company opened its doors. By becoming part of Ikuru, the women learned sewing skills, pattern making and cutting. “We provide daily training through our two tailors, and we have also been able to bring in two professional trainers. The first was an established professional seamstress from Maputo for a 10 day period and the second was a fashion designer volunteer from NYC who stayed for two months and also helped create our first Designer’s Collection. The latter gave an immense boost to the team’s confidence, techniques and quality of work.”
In addition to learning practical new skills, Ikuru pays for 70 percent of their childcare, their health expenses, and transportation. It also offers loans when needed, and constant mentoring. “We organize workshops on sexual education, family planning, malaria, women's rights, gender equality and domestic violence. We also offered English and Computer lessons though these are on hold as it became difficult for them to manage both classes and their workload. Lastly, we are working on partnering with international and local NGOs in the province whereby online customers may donate money directly through our site to local initiatives linked to women's health and human rights.”
Ikuru’s collections consist of Ready-to-Wear, their main collection for women, but they also have men’s and kids’ lines. Their Prêt-a-Porter collection for women boasts primarily dresses with colorful African prints. The design process starts with brainstorming styles that work well with capulana fabrics. Bove designs the final cut and takes it to the master tailor where he does the draping and the first pattern. “It usually takes several fittings and changes until we get the right cut. The tailor must then correct the pattern and then grade it to our five sizes: XS- XL.”
Bove spends time at the market selecting the right fabrics and color tones that will go with each garment style. With the patterns and the fabrics in hand, her team gets to work on learning the new styles. “We then see which products sell well and which don’t as well as the fabrics that are most successful. Our issue is ensuring the same fabric a few months down the line, once they are no longer available at the market; this is what we are striving to solve in the long run, by linking with factories or their direct importers.”
From Februry 5-8, Bove and Ikuru will attend for the first time NY NOW’s Artisan Resource at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. Samples of all their designs will be shown as well as their new designer collection for women that was designed in collaboration with NYC fashion designer C A R L A A M A N I N G. The collection was inspired from the daily surroundings of IKURU's workshop, situated in a picturesque fishing town by the Indian Ocean. “Visions of the ocean and waves, ropes and fishing nets, and vibrant markets, were uniquely blended with 1950s Mediterranean style to lead to the creation of IKURU's 2017 spring/summer collection.” Bove hopes this collection’s higher price point will contribute to IKURU’s sustainability.
For more information and where to purchase visit www.ikuruproject.com.