Conservation, Wildlife Works, and Local Sustainability
Wildlife Works, a Kenyan apparel brand, is a pioneering wildlife conservation company. Founded in 1997, the company employs 70 people from communities near the factory’s location in the southeastern corner of Kenya, and it demonstrates how a manufacturer can be a better partner with its surroundings.
This partnership starts on the most basic level: with its location. The factory is on on the Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, between two national parks, and simply occupying this space helps prevent poachers from accessing the adjacent national forest. Marketing director Joyce Hu told Vogue Business that this location is “crucial to protecting that ecosystem.”
Beyond location, one of the brand’s most important values is actively connecting with the community around it. Wildlife Works employs local workers and pays them fairly, Vogue Business reports, uses local materials like African-grown cotton, and runs charitable programs tailored to the community. As young people look for more sustainable and ethical options in the fashion industry, brands are increasingly looking for ways to shift their production to align with those values. Though not a large company, Wildlife Works offers a model that these brands can follow.
Though large brands may try to “give back,” that giving often does not correct ills elsewhere in their supply chain. Hu says, “the conventional system is completely broken, and it’s based on the extraction of brown and Black bodies. We really have to create a new system.” That is exactly what Wildlife Works is doing, with excellent results.
The brand has a store in Nairobi that caters to young professionals looking for sustainable fashion designed by Africans and made in Africa. It employs local residents in its factories and as rangers protecting wildlife, as well as working with local women who use their traditional artisanal skills to make pieces like baskets. Mostly, Wildlife Works produces items for other companies, including Threads 4 Thought and Raven + Lily, brands that adhere it the standards of quality and sustainability that Wildlife Works holds itself to.
Many brands, including Veja and Tonlé, prioritize truly giving back to the communities they source from and exist in. Tonlé, among many other brands, is member of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance, an initiative, co-founded by Hu, to support and empower sustainable fashion professionals to create change through collective action. Hu hopes that even small companies like Wildlife Works will be able to influence the larger industry to improve. After all, “if you’re going to start producing anything anywhere,” it’s only right “to start the production from a place that benefits that area.”
Featured Image via Vogue Business