Michelle Pino is a fashion enthusiast, an artist at heart and founder of One Hundred Years – a fashion house in Kenya. Pino’s made-in-Kenya clothesline sources cotton fabrics from within Africa in efforts to preserve African heritage through her collections.
As the name suggests, her plan is to play by the sustainability rules and see the company run for 100 years, if not more.
Africa Sustainability Matters (ASM) journalist Pamela Okutoyi caught up with the entrepreneur for an inside look at her fashion game plan. Below are the excerpts:
How did the One Hundred Years brand come to be?
I spotted a gap in the market and decided to fill it after noticing there was demand for high quality stitched basic wear, yet no one was really doing it. One Hundred Years is about going local. We source locally, produce locally and sell locally.
Your brand seeks to address sustainability issues around fashion industry, from environmental protection to preservation of the African heritage. How are you going about this given that fashion industry is a known big polluter?
Broadly speaking, it’s the big ‘fast fashion’ companies producing about 52 collections a year that are the top polluters, mostly located in Europe and America. (Many ‘fast fashion’ retail stores receive new deliveries weekly, translating to 52 different collections a year. This has led to a culture of ‘throw-away fashion,’ where a clothing item is worn a few times before being discarded and ends up in landfill. This has led to huge amounts of textile waste, releasing harmful chemicals.)
All Kenyan brands are slow fashion brands with maybe two or three collections a year. Since we don’t really have seasons here, the Kenyan climate allows us to have almost the same kind of clothing all year round. Maybe a jacket during rainy season and a pair of shorts in summer but otherwise it’s quite the same. So the weather condition here is perfect for a slow fashion brand.
What are some of your products and fabrics that go into making them?
We make high quality basic wear – shirts, t-shirts, trousers, shorts and so on. It is not high fashion, but classic wear that will never go out of style and always make you look good. All our clothes are 100 percent cotton, and the shirt-material is our niche. We source the material from Madagascar and I developed it specifically for Kenyan weather (cold mornings, warm daytime, cool evenings).
How easy or difficult is it, sourcing these materials and upcycling them?
It is not easy. While starting out, there was no local producer that could make the quality we wanted; all local manufacturers of textile only want to make cheap poly-cotton blends for uniforms. It takes almost forever to get the fabrics here and Kenyan customs don’t make it any easier for us either, never mind we have been importing the same fabric time and again. Every other time there is an issue coming up or a new fee to be paid. To be honest, it causes a lot of stress. I work around it by ordering fabrics eight months in advance.
Alongside protecting the earth’s pristine ecosystem, there’s also the jobs and livelihoods aspect. How many employees do you have and what impact has this business had so far?
We are a team of five, all women. And if you count our lawyer and accountant, we are seven. The manufacturing unit that we use is also women-led and they have 70 people working there.
What message do you want your brand and collections to communicate to your customers?
Since we are a Kenyan brand, we have made the conscious decision to incorporate Kenya’s nature and environment in all our photoshoots. I think it is very visible in our brand.
Is sustainable fashion profitable?
It actually depends on what you mean. Will you be able to earn a living and follow your passion at the same time? Yes. But if you are looking to have five houses, three cars and a yacht, then the answer is no. In any case getting rich has never been my primary goal with this brand. My goal is to be happy and have a positive impact on people, the society and the environment.
Describe your brand in one word
What challenges do you face in the green space?
The challenge has been justifying the higher price as a result of using high quality natural fabrics sourced from Africa instead of cheap fabrics from China, Taiwan and so on. A lot of people are just looking for cheap products and it is a challenge to change their mindsets that a high quality shirt from us will actually be cheaper in the long run than a second-hand shirt. A shirt from us, for instance, will last you 10 years or more if you take care of it. The best part is that it will never go out of style.
What new projects have you lined up in regards to sustainability?
We have a new collection coming out hopefully in June that will neatly tie into the Kenyan culture. We will also be making children’s clothes this year.
What are your interests and hobbies outside work?
I do a lot of photography. I have taken all the photos on our social media pages. I also enjoy long walks with my dogs in Karura Forest. Additionally, I like cooking dinner for my friends, watching movies with my boyfriend and reading books.