Fashion school scholarships for Kenyan fashion designers

19 January 2022
ITC News

ITC’s Ethical Fashion Initiative and Polimoda announced a partnership to award scholarships to 3 Kenyan designers, building links between the fashion industries of Florence and Nairobi.

As part of this collaboration with the Florence-based fashion school, three Kenyan EFI Accelerator designers received scholarships for eight weeks of specialised training at Polimoda’s campus.

Katungulu Mwendwa of the label Katush and Mohamed Awale from Suave have just arrived in Italy, and this week they will start attending classes at the Florentine fashion school and connecting with the Polimoda international creative community. Louise Sommerlatte from the Hamaji studio will join them in February.

World-known for its excellence in fashion education, the institute offers a series of undergraduate, graduate, and short courses ranging from Fashion Design to Fashion Business and Fashion Art Direction, including the most up-to-date topics in the industry such as Sustainable Fashion, Fashion Styling, Creative Direction, Trend Forecasting, and many others.

Two Kenya designers stand in fashion studio
Katungulu Mwendwa (Katush) and Mohamed Awale (Suave) will attend Polimoda's campus in Italy for eight weeks of specialised training.

Inclusion is critical in overcoming economic, social, and environmental barriers. Through the EFI programme, the International Trade Centre (ITC) focuses on developing potential of African youth, giving them the opportunity to flourish under the guidance and support of other leading creatives in the industry.

The EFI Designer Accelerator is a two-year programme designed to propel selected brands towards success in the global marketplace. The Accelerator covers all aspects of running a fashion label, from sourcing and building sustainable supply chains to storytelling and finance, and brands are financially supported to bring their collections to market. With dedicated mentorship led by a team of industry experts, it’s a unique opportunity for emerging brands and designers on the African continent to grow their businesses. The chance to study at Polimoda now further amplifies the opportunity.

“We are very proud of this first for the fashion industry, a partnership between the UN and a world-renowned fashion institution. The designers in our Accelerator have the solid foundations of craftsmanship and sustainability, and this scholarship will push the designers to innovate, grow and create an impact. This is the next generation of fashion talent and with EFI and Polimoda they will reach new heights.” – Simone Cipriani, Head of the Ethical Fashion Initiative and Chair to the UN Alliance of Sustainable Fashion.

“We are honored to have been chosen by the UN as a training partner for the Ethical Fashion Initiative project," said Massimiliano Giornetti, director of Polimoda. "Talent needs to be continuously nurtured by knowledge and cultural exchange, and we are here to make it possible. We welcome these Kenyan designers to our international community of creative talents, with the hope that innovative ideas related to sustainability and inclusiveness can arise from their experience at Polimoda.”

Two Kenya fashion designers stand at school
Katungulu Mwendwa, left, and Mohamed Awale, right, will be joined by third participant, Louise Sommerlatte (Hamaji), in February.

Since the programme’s start in July 2020, EFI’s Designer Accelerator is witness to the growth and success of three brands: Katush, Hamaji and Suave. Focused solely on Kenya-based designers that had a distinct interest in sustainability and eco-conscious fabrics and methods, the Accelerator opted for brands that had a proven track record of energy efficiency, work with natural fibres, and upcycled or recycled fabrics.

The emerging brands were chosen for their talent, connection to African heritage, commitment to responsible sourcing, and capacity to scale. A striking focus on traditional craftsmanship and a celebration of African artisanship in their collections is what links these brands together, noting their Kenyan roots as the inspiration behind their work.

Thanks to the partnership with Polimoda, the designers will gain increased global exposure and further access to the fashion community around the world, building bridges between two fashion forces in different continents: Africa and Europe. Such opportunities help strengthen the textile sector in Kenya and Africa, contributing to a significant increase in job creation and sustainable development opportunities for local communities. The EFI is proud to receive support from the European Union to facilitate such partnerships.


About the project

For the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), lifestyle choices impact livelihoods. EFI acts as a bridge, connecting marginalized artisan communities in emerging economies with discerning global lifestyle brands, creating meaningful work and fair, decent working conditions.

We develop and sustain social enterprises, designers, artisans and micro-producers in fashion, interiors and fine foods. We build on tradition, heritage and craftsmanship, and inject modern production and business practices to improve quality, consistency and productivity while leaving intact the intrinsic value of the product’s provenance.