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In East Africa, an ITC Ethical Fashion project is demonstrating
that international quality and standards can be met, even in the
most remote and impoverished communities.
Created for Italy's largest retail chain, Coop, Africa Community
Projects (ACP) was set up in 2008 by ITC's Ethical Fashion
Programme. With ITC working as an intermediary, the project
connects thousands of marginalized artisans to international
markets through partnerships with high-end fashion houses and
ACP's first order for Coop, the Africa Community Bags, was a
series of simple hand-crafted cotton tote bags made by
disadvantaged communities in East Africa. The bags were embellished
in nine different styles using the skills of the local artisans:
crochet flowers, Masai beads, bone buttons and recycled
When Coop received their first order of 300,000 bags from ACP,
they were surprised at the extremely low non-conformity rate of
only 2%, which is low in comparison to industry standards. 'That's
less than what our factories in China deliver,' said Francesca
Gatteschi, Head Buyer of Unicoop Firenze (Italy). The low
non-conformity rate was the result of strict quality control
systems put in place by the ACP.
To operate effectively, the programme developed the 'Hub' - a
large workshop located in Nairobi's industrial area that also
serves as a product development centre, storage space and regional
headquarters for ACP projects.
Every order dispatched from the Hub in Africa to Europe was
meticulously measured with quality control integrated holistically
into the entire production process. Some production lines in Kenya
and Uganda were required to pass six stages of quality control. The
positive results of this demonstrate that an effective quality
control system can be adapted anywhere, even in impoverished rural
areas, to deliver goods that meet strict international
Needless to say, ensuring that 300,000 white cotton totes 100%
made in Africa match the standards required for distribution in
mainstream Italian outlets had its challenges. For a start, keeping
the goods clean between the muddy rainy season and the dusty dry
season was a priority, especially as the bags were transported from
place to place in true African style - on the back of buses, trucks
and bikes. It was ensured through separated storage rooms and an
efficient cleaning rota. But the real key to this successful model
was the involvement of the artisans themselves who integrated
quality checks all along the supply chain.
Artisans involved in the ACP each have the responsibility for
the quality of goods that pass through their station. At the Hub,
quality control staff check all the materials upon delivery, work
spaces are cleaned twice daily and the conformity of individual
products are verified as they go through the different units
(screen-printing, tailoring and ironing), before undergoing a final
check for packing and shipping.
'Many of the artisans were not used to operating in this way.
But we stuck to this principle and it is what made it possible to
deliver good work,' said Judy Adhiambo Okumu, Quality Control
Manager at the Ethical Fashion Hub in Nairobi.
In addition, workers are paid according to the standards and
guidelines set by the Fair Labor Association. ITC's Ethical Fashion
Programme also set up a diligent quality control department of 40
full-time staff to support the Africa Community Bags project. 'We
screened every single piece at several times at different stages.
We were incredibly strict in filtering defective bags and rejected
anything that was not 100% to the specifications,' said Mrs Okumu.
'It got people who work with us to understand what a job well done
means and know that to be part of this industry requires accuracy