Olivia Naava, Founder of Tailoring and Crafts by Kampala Disabled Initiatives, is Empowering Women Through Fashion
In recent years, the world has gotten more vocal and courageous in their fight against inequality. We are calling institutions and society at large out and are demanding equal pay for women, more cultural diversity across the media and educational material and more opportunities for marginalized communities and people with disabilities. And as we can see, the change is slowly happening. Women are taking a stand and are succeeding in what they do best – they are keeping the conversation going and striving for even bigger changes by raising awareness through creative channels and ideas. Thirty-three-year-old Olivia Naava, founder and leader of Tailoring and Crafts by Kampala Disabled Initiative is one such woman who is creating a positive change in her community.
Olivia cried with happiness when she received her first wheelchair aged ten. It opened a new world of freedom to her, but she admits, it is still not easy for her to get around Kampala. “To be honest, struggles there are many. Even the every-day commute is very limited for us, we can find transport to be expensive and traveling to be complicated. I move around with an Uber and with an escort. It brings a challenge to having a social life or social gathering which, at times really miss,” Olivia tells Fashionomics Africa.
“We are still not seen as equal when it comes to the job market. Sometimes even the jobs we would be able to do are not given to us, because of our disabilities, with little or no explanation. The attitudes towards the disabled affect us and our lives constantly. Our most vulnerable women and children are suffering in closed communities and left alone or discriminated and abused by others. For me, I have to be very thankful for my family and all their support. This is why we are pushing KDI to go forward to empower our women to survive in this society and to support each other,” she goes on to explain.
It all began when the Estonian non-profit organisation, NGO Mondo launched a Pop-Up Café in a residential area in Ntinda, Kampala. The café was run by differently abled people such as Olivia, who worked as a cashier and cook, and helped them develop new vocational skills and confidence, as well as to generate an income. “Unfortunately, the cafe didn’t pick up. After a year of trying we had to close it down. During that time, we had become a team and wanted to come up with a new plan. I continued to work with the Mondo co-operation. We came up with a plan to open a tailor shop and it worked well that I knew some disabled tailors around. We founded the Kampala Disabled Initiative in 2013.”
In 2014, Mondo sent a volunteer to help Olivia and her team to improve their capacity and product quality. “She took a great interest in teaching us and showed us how to make bags using different prints and, also supported us in finding a market and actually getting the shop going. Our experience with volunteers is always positive, because the learning goes both ways - while they teach, they also learn.” One volunteer as such was Liina Viira, a Swedish-Estonian fashion designer with a strong focus on wool and old patterns with a contemporary twist. She spent four months at KDI. “Liina, for example, learned how we use different materials to make our prints by tie-dying with porridge,” Olivia smiles.
The KDI women are all alumni from the Kampala Disabled Children’s School and make everything from handbags and backpacks, to beautifully designed dresses, slippers and aprons. KDI offers sewing training and is always happy to welcome new people on to the team. Their products are sold via Mondo’s office in Telliskivi and through direct sells, but these do not come without their challenges. “Even if there is support for the disabled in Uganda, it is very limited or not easily accessible. We are hopeful to see that advocating on behalf of the disabled is becoming better year after year and we are proudly calling ourselves disabled advocators. However, no government institution has ever supported us,” Olivia explains.
“The main problems are like for many other businesses here in Uganda. We can have challenges with the manufactures, knowing the quality, etc. Also, the market competition is tough because there are a lot of arts and crafts producers in Uganda. Still, we are hoping to stand out showing we can stay in competition because disability is not inability!”
Olivia is extremely proud of the business she has founded and how it has impacted the lives of her team, and her own. “I proudly call myself one of KDI's examples of success – being able to support my family and still having the shop open for customers, it's amazing. Our success stories are our students, who have gotten new skills through our trainings and can now at least earn some income through tailoring. Having a purpose in life gives you confidence through which it becomes easier to survive and even grow out from very vulnerable situations. We are all women and fashion and design is something we appreciate and want to see around us. Through this we empower women to become more independent and sustainable! We improve our living standards by supporting each other. Since we are all from poor backgrounds and families, having a way to somehow support each other is already a reason to be grateful!” Olivia beams.
KDI is going strong and Olivia has many hopes for this year and beyond. “We like to dream big! However, on a smaller scale - having a better balance between supplies and demands is a strong focus. Learning new skills is always a goal and having new people join and developing together can also be very inspiring. Our big dream is a big house where we could all live and work together!”
Check out KDI’s Facebook page and see how you can support Olivia and her talented team in their quest to make their dream of a big, communal house happen!