AfroRetro is a “fashion and make” brand that transforms unloved and unwanted clothing – combined with glorious ethical Ugandan fabrics – into modern, edgy and stylish wardrobe pieces and accessories. Founded in 2012 by Ugandan-British sisters Anna and Lilly, AfroRetro has since taken on a mission to transform how we perceive, make and purchase accessible ethical fashion. Anna and Lilly are both Londoners of Ugandan heritage – a wonderful cultural mix that is apparent in their designs and their mission.
Anna and Lilly’s company vision is to create a brand that uses only ethically-sourced material to create sustainable fashion that is manufactured in a way that is environmentally friendly, fair on its sources and manufacturers, and accessible. They are planning to build an eco-ship on their mother’s land in Uganda, where they can employ and engage Ugandan women in sourcing ethical, authentic materials, manufacturing sustainable items and being paid a very fair wage for it!
“We have ancestral land in Uganda so the next step… is to take our manufacturing [there].” Anna believes that, “having the land and the connection is key, so even if we only realise this on a small level to start with, we see it as very achievable in our 5-year plan.”
Caring hugely about the environment, they focus on upcycling old clothing, rather than mass-producing. They use eco-friendly materials. Banana leaf sourced ethically in Uganda – they visit their mother’s hometown regularly and source their material personally or via a trusted family member – features heavily in their jewelry, while bark cloth is used in oyster covers, purses and other fabulously ethical accessories.
AfroRetro not only manufactures and sells ethical clothing: Anna and Lilly also hold workshops aimed at giving people creative outlets by teaching them useful skills. Their workshops welcome everyone from city workers who need a burst of fun outside the office to vulnerable adolescents and young adults who are seeking a sense of self-worth, self-expression, support and skills.
AfroRetro workshops teach creative fashion techniques from designing and printing your own textiles (which they cleverly dubbed “Monoprint Your Life!” – of course) to Ugandan weaving techniques and how they can be used to upcycle unwanted garments.
Last October, Anna and Lilly crowd-funded £2,500 to hold a one-month residency after being selected for MBE Yinka Shonibare’s prestigious Guest Projects Studio. During that month, they transformed the studio into the School of Uganglish (Ugandan-English, geddit?) where they spent a month hosting workshops, catwalks, music sessions, food events and other amazing activities for the local community – and the odd tourist! But perhaps one of their biggest moments of emotional fulfillment was seeing a mother and daughter bond over monoprinting during a workshop they hosted with The East End W1.
“They started out fairly nervous,” recalls Lilly. “The daughter was so anxious that her mother wasn’t “doing it right.” By the end of the session they were laughing and joking. They said it was the first time they’d ever tried anything like that and let their creativity flow!”