What began as a conversation with women in the townships around Cape Town has become a unique social enterprise in the fashion industry. Nicole-Marie Iresch, an Algerian-born executive with Air France, traveled from Paris to Cape Town on holiday. While exploring the city she was approached by a group of women who asked her for employment. They had basic sewing skills but could not find the work they needed to support their families. Nicole-Marie felt an instant bond with the women and visited them in their homes in the township of Khayelitsha. More than twenty years later, she still remembers clearly:
“When I was first invited to the township of Khayelitsha, during the final years of apartheid, I entered another world and got to know people that changed my life completely. Penetrating beyond the mass of shacks, I got to know the homes, the lives and the dreams of the women I met. I discovered a beauty, a style, and a spirit I have never encountered before. Ever since my first visit to Khayelitsha, I nursed a desire to express and translate the irrepressible urge to create beauty that I discovered there: to shine a light on the originality and style of the township women and their homes, to take the colors, textures and vibe and show them to the rest of the world.”
It was during that first encounter that Nicole-Marie recognized the energy and potential of township women, and felt compelled to offer them meaningful opportunities that would convey their spirit and creativity to the outside world. She acted as an advisor to the women and supported them in establishing their own sewing cooperative. The women gave Nicole-Marie’s life real purpose. She permanently relocated to South Africa and founded Township, an organization providing women with the training and business skills required to create independent sewing cooperatives. In order to generate sufficient income, the women began to produce reusable bags from non-GM cotton. There are now 7 sewing co-operatives all certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation.
The co-operatives now produce a range of very cool African inspired bags, shoes, decor and accessories. We have fallen in love with their recently opened store in Cape Town, that reflects a real contemporary, Afroc chic concept. We hope to have some of their range available soon through Bundu Designs.