#LadyBoss Interview: “We use plastic waste materials to produce fashion accessories, handmade by our tailors with disabilities, whom we train and employ,” Juliet Namujju – Founder, Kimuli Fashionability.

Image credit: Juliet Namujju

Entrepreneur, Juliet Namujju, is the Founder of Kimuli Fashionability – an eco-friendly fashion startup whose aim is to transform trash into fashion while employing people from a disadvantaged background. Kimuli Fashionability is an Ugandan fashion label upcycling plastic wastes while employing people with disabilities. It was born in SINA, the Social Innovation Academy.

In this Interview with Leading Ladies Africa, Juliet shares the inspiration behind establishing her eco-friendly fashion brand, why her business employs tailors with disabilities, how her business has contributed to the reduction of waste in Uganda and how it’s conserving the environment, plus business tips for fellow women who want to establish a thriving social enterprise. Lean in!

Who is Juliet Namujju?

I am Juliet Namujju, 23 years and the Founder/CEO of Kimuli Fashionability. I’m a social change maker, fashion designer, entrepreneur and environmentalist. I am committed and passionate about changing people’s lives and saving the environment through fashion. I have committed myself to change the mindset that most people have about plastic waste. I believe that through sensitization, training of persons with disabilities, upcycling and fashion skills, we can create a bright, green future for our future generation.

Background story to Establishing “Kimuli Fashionability.”

I grew up in poverty as an orphan with my single grandmother in a remote and rural village in Uganda; due to the victimization of disability that happened to my family. My Grandmother was a tailor and inspired me as a child to use cut-offs and plastic wastes. I would gather plastic wastes from the streets to produce my dolls because she could not afford to buy me toys. What others threw away, I started to use as available resources to create something. This changed my mindset about waste and I started to see the value in protecting the environment. 

At the age of 20, my team and I founded Kimuli Fashionability as a sustainable fashion brand to fight for the conservation of the environment and inclusion of persons with disabilities. We use plastic waste materials to produce fashion and accessories, which are handmade with love by our tailors with disabilities, whom we train and employ to creatively upcycle plastic waste into fashion for beautiful products, to create awareness about the under-looked global plastic waste crisis. “Waste is only waste if you waste it.” 

Image credit: Juliet Namujju

Tell us about “Kimuli Fashionability” and the Inspiration behind the name.

“Kimuli” is a Lugandan word which means “A Flower.” I used the name “Kimuli” because my business turns what people see as trash into something beautiful like a flower. Kimuli Fashionability transforms the plastic waste crisis in Africa into an inclusive eco-fashion label providing employment opportunities for disabled tailors and youths through turning plastic polythene into durable, sustainable and waterproof garments and accessories.

How would you measure your impact over the years?

We have a monthly goal of collecting 5,000 Kgs of plastic and polythene waste in 2020, and we hope to increase this amount by 70% in the next years due to the expansion of the market size. 

For the monthly and the annual number of sales of our up-cycled garments and accessories made monthly and annually; we expect to sell 20,000 products in 2021, and hope to increase the target by 95% in the next 2 years.

Thirdly, for the number of self-sustainable trained persons with disabilities, who can train others and make products from locally available resources; our goal for 2020 is to train 40 persons with disabilities as trainers to meet our vision of training more than 1000 people in the period of 5 years across East Africa and Africa both indirectly and directly.

As an entrepreneur in the creative space, how do you get inspired to keep innovating your business?

The need to offer solutions for Uganda´s alarming garbage and plastic waste management problem, empower persons with disabilities through meaningful employment following my parents´ discrimination and a deep-rooted love for fair, sustainable and inclusive fashion has sustained me to keep innovating my business.

Where do you see Juliet Namujju and Kimuli Fashionability in Five Years?

To have built Kimuli Fashionability as the leading African sustainable and inclusive eco-fashion label. Also, I want my business to not only generating money but to also create employment opportunities for the most underprivileged persons with disabilities and youths while promoting fair fashion. Personally, I want to inspire and empower more marginalized girls to find their passions and purposes so that they become valuable African citizens.

Also, in the future, I plan to start a blog inspiring young African entrepreneurs while sharing my real entrepreneurial life on how to run a sustainable social enterprise.

Image credit: Juliet Namujju

Challenges on your journey and Lessons…

Our main challenge has been instilling a new sense of idea in people’s mindset that waste can be worn and valuable. This challenge has been addressed in our sensitization programs in schools, children camps, open communities, local media, social media and fashion shows where persons with disabilities are trained as models to showcase the upcycled garments they produce. It was a struggle to raise capital and we solicited 13 USD for materials from ourselves and this marked our inception in early 2017.

LESSON 1: As a social entrepreneur, starting small is the best way to grow since it helps you to practically learn the market demographics and other business associated challenges. Never wait to raise 10,000 USD before you start to chase your vision. Also, we had no money to pay workers in the beginning and this made it difficult to build a team with the required skills.

LESSON 2: At the early stages of the business, passion is the fuel and the driving engine. Therefore, work with people who share similar values and passions. Also, don’t spend your little funds on paying workers. Rather, approach qualified people and ask them to support you as volunteers (it might be 1 hour a week) since you are still testing the market.

Lastly, market penetration has not been a walkover since it is a continuous business strategy which we are still even working on.

LESSON 3: Your social capital is extremely vital. Therefore, always build relationships with people whom you can learn from, give you connections and referrals for your growth and progress.

STRATEGY: My co-founder (Kiggundu Cyrus) and I decided to work tirelessly and also get volunteers who had the same passion for conservation and inclusion. These volunteers later became a part of the team. We also used social media and referrals because it was cheap for a starting enterprise since the main media like television advertisements are purely expensive.

You’ve attained quite a success in a short amount of time and have been featured on major platforms like CNN. What is the secret to your success?

Hard work, sense of humility, continuous creativity, the ability to identify opportunities and utilize them and finally, perseverance and persistence – not forgetting sleepless nights. I have been able to use my story to create impact and build a strong and passionate team. My mantra is “If you want to go first, walk alone. But if you want to go far, walk with people”.

Image credit: Juliet Namujju

Final words to the women in our community.

To my fellow women who would wish to start a sustainable business, “I urge you to utilize every opportunity that comes your way- whether it’s via partnerships, networking and hard work. Do not wait to have lots of money to start. Rather, start small and grow big as you learn from failures.”

It’s no surprise that grassroot women-led organizations are successful today because as women, we can adapt to local needs while mobilizing community members to create positive social change. Therefore, I strongly urge women to rise from their long-lasted comfort zone and get involved in working together to dismantle barriers, challenge perceptions and improve the lives of women and girls, and save the environment in our various communities.

The Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business. 

It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent. 

If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email lead@leadingladiesafrica.org, and she could possibly be featured. 

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