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    Treasure from trash: the last straw?


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3-4/2008 

    © ITC Betty picking straws,Uganda

    By using innovative new materials, African women are competing in the popular ethical fashion market around the world.

    Is it possible for communities of women based in slums to be part of a global value chain linked to high-end fashion houses? How can they compete with time, productivity of labour, quality and so on? Surely these women belong to another world. Benedicta in Kampala, Uganda sees things in another way. From her house of mud and wood where she brings up a large number of HIV orphans, she says "you just give me market access and support to acquire the skills I need, and I will do what I have to do. I produce fashionable things." Naive? No. Benedicta produces fabric woven from recycled plastic straws, which has now caught the attention of numerous international fashion houses who are queuing up to work with her through links established by ITC's Ethical Fashion programme.

    Benedicta's success comes from using innovative materials (drinking straws) to create mats, which are sold into a world economy that is increasingly concerned with ethical and environmental issues. She's not the only woman creatively entering new markets. Women across Africa can cross cultural barriers in an instant, provided that they have a common objective. These enterprising women are the future of the continent.