June 29, 2010

Shopping with a Conscious: Bantu.

I have long grown tired of increasingly grandiose attempts to get consumers to consume more under the thinly veiled guise of saving the world. But this Vanity Fair headline really seemed to take the cake, "Buy a Swimsuit, Save Africa". Its a simple claim really, but yet, so loaded. A swimsuit that can save a whole continent, please let us not oversimplify rather complex development challenges that professionals have been trying to tackle for decades. But as I read on, my skepticism gave way to tentative support. Perhaps a swimsuit purchase will not save an entire continent, but here is what shopping with a consciousness may do.

Despite the often reported horrors of the continent, the founders of this swimsuit line, Bantu, seek to promote an often overlooked side of the African continent - Africa's amazing beaches and vibrant beach culture from Dakar to Cape Town to Zanzibar to Casablanca. Amidst stories that reach the American shores of the despondent and helpless peoples of African nations, this family business with African roots attempts to promote the sunnier side of this so called "dark" continent.

Yodit Eklund is the mastermind and visionary behind this new swimsuit line. Together with her brother, Yohannes Mekbebe, she is launching this swimwear line inspired by their childhood roots in Kenya, Egypt, and Bangladesh with strong influences from the low-key surfing vibe of the African coast.

So how exactly does this swimsuit purchase "save Africa"? Well, beyond, the bold efforts to rebrand Africa from "forever backward" to "full of vitality and life," their prints are sourced from sub-Saharan artists, and then cut and sewn in factories from Ethiopia to Cameroon, bringing industrial and economic development to some of the world’s most needy communities.

Bantu recognizes that we as consumers have the ability to make a difference, one purchase at a time, even in the seemingly far flung reaches of Africa. What Bantu does not provide is charity nor does it produce one off goods that consumers neither need nor want with a mere fraction of the proceeds supporting one cause or another. Rather their model is one of empowerment. Bantu does not create communities dependent upon aid, but gives them the opportunity to work and provide highly desired consumer goods (at least that is the goal of course).

Perhaps, not so ironically, you can find her collection at high end retailers across the U.S. including Barneys, Fred Segal, and Steven Alan boutiques (allegedly at Anthropologie as well, although I could not find online proof of that).



Vanity Fair, June 2010.




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