DIAKWU CLOTH: The Finalists of the Fashionomics Africa Contest Transforming Waste into Beautiful Fabrics
The 2nd edition of the Fashionomics Africa Online Contest proved to be a tight race, in which sustainable fashion brands from all over Africa were vying for the top spot. Amongst the finalists was Diakwu Cloth, a sustainable fashion brand based in Nigeria. Its innovative model of converting textile waste into its signature fabric called the ‘Diakwu Cloth’ intrigued the judges and helped the brand to secure a place among the finalists. We sat down with the brand’s team to learn more about how its operations are contributing to build a more sustainable fashion industry in Nigeria.
Diakwu Cloth is a fashion brand housed under Slay Dot Com Limited —a social enterprise that collects textile waste. It processes waste collected from industry generators, weaves it on traditional looms and upcycles it into the ‘Diakwu Cloth’ fabric. According to the brand’s founder, Ijeamaka Nwizu, the name ‘Diakwu’ derives from the name of her village, Ndiakwu while the design is inspired by the Akwete Cloth.
Ijeamaka is an entrepreneur, legal practitioner, textile designer, social justice crusader and sustainability enthusiast. Her motivation to establish Diakwu Cloth was inspired by a deep concern about how textile waste could be managed better in Nigeria. While collecting off-cuts to make reusable sanitary pads, and repurposing donated clothes that were not fit for distribution, Ijeamaka began to consider more sustainable ways of disposing of pre and post-consumer textile waste.
“As the unusable fabric piled up, we started exploring repurposing options, and the idea of incorporating off-cuts in woven fabric slowly formed,” says Ijeamaka.
Then, she established Diakwu Cloth in August 2020. Fast forward to 2022, the brand now employs five full-time female weavers and has so far collected over 2,000 kilograms of scrap fabric since the commencement of its operations. Both the design and production processes are done in a way that impacts the environment least negatively, without sacrificing the aesthetics and quality of the cloth. Owing to the brand’s production operations, local weavers have access to gainful employment, which also allows them to preserve an age-old craft. As part of the parent company Slay Dot Com’s social mission, 5% of the Diakwu Cloth brand’s profits are donated to Slay Dot Com Aid’s charitable initiatives.
Although Diakwu Cloth is optimistic about the future, funding remains a significant challenge for the brand. Between the high costs of running a business in Nigeria, paying workers decent wages, and sustaining its highly non-mechanised production processes, sometimes breaking even is a win for them. Their plight is further complicated by the fact that the local acceptability of their fabric is still low. Nevertheless, the Diakwu Cloth team remains determined to communicate better and more effectively the value of its products to consumers. The brand notes that it would benefit from more funding opportunities, mentorship and technical assistance, especially with its e-commerce and online marketing set-up strategies along with further media coverage.
In terms of market, Diakwu Cloth’s products appeal to a wide spectrum of customers, including designers in the Nigerian fashion industry who have the interest and capacity to implement sustainable design practices into their collections. The brand is also looking into supplying the international markets, after realising that the local market is relatively slow to accept the prices that sustainable fashion pieces are worth. Having received several orders from the United Kingdom and the United States of America, Diakwu Cloth is motivated to develop a retail channel for exports to expand its reach. Ijeamaka also pointed out that the production model used by Diakwu Cloth is easily scalable as it is focused on value creation, collaborative partnerships and customer education. She also added that it is a low entry point with a positive social and environmental impact. Given the importance of sustainability, Ijeamaka is convinced that Diakwu Cloth’s incorporation of eco-friendly principles contributes significantly to maintain the brand’s competitive advantage.
Views on Sustainability
Ijeamaka admits her business would make more profit without adhering to sustainability principles, but for her, sustainability ethos is far more important than temporary financial profit. She has also observed that the need to follow sustainability principles is widely acknowledged in the fashion industry, but its practical implementation still requires improvement. Ijeamaka believes more efforts need to be made in terms of policies and consumer education to motivate cooperation and accountability within the fashion industry. The entrepreneur commended African fashion entrepreneurs for creating this distinctive value for their brands, by revisiting generational, sustainable practices such as repurposing clothes and incorporating traditional craft techniques. She further urges upcoming entrepreneurs to consider social and environmental impact with the same magnitude as economic gain.
Views on the Overall Fashionomics Africa Initiative
In Ijeamaka’s view, the Fashionomics Africa Initiative is an incredible model for supporting sustainable fashion businesses.
“The Fashionomics Africa initiative fills the gap created by the lack of government policies and structures for industry creatives on the continent,” added Ijeamaka.
She discovered the Fashionomics Africa contest via social media and she immediately fell in love with the initiative as it supports sustainable fashion businesses such as hers. With the money of the prize Diakwu Cloth received from Fashionomics Africa, she plans to launch a pilot weaving hub in Okene, Nigeria.
Since she has been chosen as a finalist of the contest, the brand has also had more visibility and received more inquiries from potential clients. Thanks to its partnership with Fashionomics Africa, Diakwu Cloth looks forward to having mentorship opportunities and more support in the areas of business development and strategy, particularly for global markets. The brand is also hoping to boost its access to investors.
To discover the variety of products that Diakwu Cloth has and purchase its products online, visit their website.