Facil Clothing – Quality Underwear from The Gambia
Anyone who has ever divided their time between two countries, knows just how difficult it can be to settle in just the one. It’s the classic “the grass is always greener” syndrome – we spend the winter in one country reminiscing about the milder climates in another; we sweat out the summers in our other country of residence missing the opportunity to dress up in our favored cute and cosy winter wardrobe of that other place we call home. Another thing we grow used to when travelling back and forth between two countries, is the fact that we become carrier mules for our friends and family. We introduce them to special treats, accessories or fashion pieces that are not available in their home country and, next thing we know, they’re hooked – suddenly we find ourselves unable to travel to the source of their new obsessions without them all lining up to bat their eyelashes at us, pleading for us to hook them up once more. Founder of Facil Clothing, Elizabeth Gomez, who was born and raised in The Gambia before moving to Sweden in 1998, is all too familiar with these situations.
Elizabeth regularly travels back to visit family and friends. Over the years and during her yearly Christmas holiday visits to The Gambia, she would receive requests from friends and family, to bring back quality cotton underwear as gifts from Sweden. This need for quality basic undies increased until she found herself paying excess luggage on her trips. This really inspired her to do something about it and in 2017, after the former dictator of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, stepped down, she decided to return and start Facil Clothing. "It started with our sewing center in Kanifing. We trained disadvantaged youths in industrial sewing to make underwear and after selling over 1,000 garments in just a couple of months, we knew we were onto something. People understood that if you're committed to ending poverty, you must create jobs, and do so for youths and women. The centre provides fair employment for our sewing team, predominantly women, empowering them to protect their families, gain a lifelong skill and embrace hope for a better future. Hence, Facil Clothing is an underwear business with a mission to provide underwear and create jobs to people in need,” Elizabeth told Fashionomics Africa.
Elizabeth founded Facil Clothing alongside her life and business partner, Henrik Bergström, who has worked as a software engineer and programmer in various areas since 1995. Elizabeth’s background is in insurance and finance, both in a company and consulting environment. They first decided to start a small side business in 2010, running an online shop in Sweden that focused on the import and sale of hair extensions as well as hair and skin care products. They successfully ran this shop until 2016, when Elizabeth’s long-term dream of starting a business in The Gambia as a way to contribute to the development of her home country, started shaping in the form of Facil Clothing. “We chose the Serekund community out of convenience. Our production centre is located very close to a skills training school where most of our trainees and employees studied. Job creation was always the main priority, since jobs is what Gambia really needs. Manufacturing, which relies on manual labor is a great way to create jobs since a lot of new jobs will be created as the business grows. Garment production still requires a lot of manual labor so that’s a perfect business for creating jobs,” Henrik told us.
The reason Elizabeth and Henrik decided to focus on underwear production, is that it’s very hard to find affordable quality underwear in The Gambia and many other African countries. What’s usually available is second-hand underwear sold in open air markets and low quality imports from Asia. If you’re lucky, sometimes you can find small quantities of underwear sold by individuals on WhatsApp groups. None of these options are optimal or desirable since it makes shopping for underwear very inconvenient. Using second-hand underwear is also unhygienic. “Facil Clothing solves all this by manufacturing high quality underwear in standard sizes and sells them through local retail partners. This way it becomes easy to buy durable underwear with a great fit,” the couple explains.
Simplicity is a keyword for their quality underwear business, a name that was actually inspired by a fine dining, Michelin star restaurant in Berlin, also called Facil – which translates into “easy” in many languages. “The restaurant has a very clean and minimalist interior but serves amazing food. Simplicity and quality are two of our main values, so we thought this was a fun coincidence.” Not all is quite that easy, however. Elizabeth’s dream of sourcing 100% organic cotton fabrics from Africa has proved challenging due to the high shipping costs. “Hopefully things will change now that the intra-Africa trade agreement is active, it will enable us to source Made-in-Africa fabrics more conveniently with less bureaucracy. For now, we are mainly buying our fabrics from Turkey, our sewing threads from Portugal and our elastic waistbands from Portugal and China. For underwear we use 95% cotton and 5% elastane four way stretch fabrics. For t-shirts we mainly use 100% cotton.”
The COVID-19 crisis saw Facil Clothing producing face masks and medical aprons as opposed to underwear, as a way to survive the pandemic economically, but also as a means to help the people, companies and medical institutions of The Gambia. “Manufacturing face masks has been the main way for us to support our employees, because without this new business we probably would have needed to shut down our production for a long period as a way to minimise our expenses. Our main goal for 2020 is to produce as many face masks as possible to support the fight against Covid-19. Another goal for 2020 is to increase sales in the UK-based Facil Clothing online store that we opened in May 2020.”
Stay up to date on Facil Clothing’s latest products via their Instagram page!