Anyone who’s into fashion will tell you how it allows someone to express their personality through style and clothing. Some call it an art as showcased on the catwalks at the recent AW16 collections shown in Paris, London, New York and Milan. While others see it as a big business opportunity. According to the latest facts and figures published by London Fashion Week, the UK fashion industry directly contributes £26 billion to the UK economy. From the designers and buyers to manufacturers and merchandisers, the industry requires a number of skilled people to make it work and prosper in the west world.
Head to the developing world and you’ll find a completely different story. Yes, there is some exploitation in order to produce cheap clothing so that retailers prosper. And yes, it can make you feel uneasy when you buy something that is essentially the same price as a sandwich from the supermarket. But there is a way that the skills behind making a dress or tailoring a suit is helping those in conflict and strife support themselves with help from external aid. It is this that Oxfam contacted me to write about.
Oxfam’s current campaign aims to help those forced to flee their homes from conflict and live in camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is currently a camp in a place called Kibalti which is now home to over 55,000 people (put into context this is about the same size of the Ethiad Stadium or the City of Manchester football stadium at full capacity. Most of them arrived with few if not no possessions. And while there is little chance of providing for the family, Oxfam are their utmost to not only provide much-needed safe water, sanitation and essentials but also classes so they can learn new skills such as sewing, tailoring and basket making.
One man I read about is called Hubert. He arrived at the camp with his family and a Singer sewing machine. This has given him the opportunity to earn something towards feeding his family. He says:
“I knew I had to take it with me, how else would I put food on the table? I was here back in 2009 without any means to survive and I did not want to put my family in this situation again”, says Hubert sewing a tattered garment by the side of the road leading into the Kibati camp.
“Business is not good here because people have nothing. I charge very little, 100 Congolese francs (approx 8p) for my services but it is at least enough to make sure my wife, my two children and my mum all eat once a day.”
Another case highlights how a woman called Marceline Habyarimana has been using her skills to tailor clothing for people in the local village and earn a bit towards their daily bread.
It’s not much but through their skills and Oxfam’s help, those who are living in the camps can work towards a better future.