Kampala, Uganda generates 350,000 tons of waste every year, much of which goes uncollected. Sorting through glass, plastic and other trash is a dangerous job, but that does not stop Juliet Namujju from collecting waste for her sustainable clothing brand, Kimuli Fashionability, and teaching people with disabilities how to turn trash into treasure.
From Tragedy to Hope
Juliet Namujju’s father had his legs amputated after a terrible accident. Because of his disability, he was not able to find employment, lost hope and eventually died. At only 6 years old, Namujju became an orphan when her mother died shortly after. Her grandmother, a tailor with little income, took her in. Since her grandmother could not afford toys, she inspired Juliet to make and sew dolls using leftover fabric and waste. After high school, Namujju attended a fashion course and joined Social Innovation Academy, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth realize their full potential.
At 20 years old, she founded her sustainable clothing brand with the hope of employing and empowering the people of her village. Kimuli Fashionability was born out of ingenuity in an environment of poverty. Namujju’s mission is to simultaneously promote inclusivity by hiring people with disabilities while also limiting the out-of-control waste in Uganda.
Kimuli is the Luganda word for “flower.” Namujju named her sustainable clothing brand “Kimuli Fashionability” because she takes the trash and turns it into something elegant, like a flower. Not only are her fashions flowering treasures, but her budding students make her business flourish. The sustainable clothing brand has trained at least 75 people with disabilities, and these new trainers are now teaching others. Kimuli Fashionability also contracts with 120 underserved adolescents to collect waste.
The company’s slogan is “waste is only waste if you waste it.” According to its website, Kimuli Fashionability transformed 33 tons of waste into more than 9,000 products to date, proving her slogan and solidifying her contributions to sustainability in Uganda.
The Product Line
Namujju and her team makes fashionable and affordable bags, raincoats, wallets and dresses using upcycled waste from disposal sites. One of Namujju’s most recent designs is a transparent face mask to help people with hearing loss communicate effectively in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Typical face masks cover the mouth with opaque material blocking people from reading lips. Because roughly half of Namujju’s staff is hearing impaired, she saw a need to design a mask that would alleviate the communication barrier. Her face mask design uses a clear, recycled plastic at the center of the mask. She has sold and donated more than 2,000 of these masks.
Upcycled sugar sacks and African fabric make up Kimuli Fashionability’s bright yellow and red rain jackets. The U.N. General Assembly in New York displayed them. The rain jackets also come in neutral colors and feature both children and adult sizes.
The brand also sells duffle bags made out of old cement bags with straps of colorful African fabric. It also sells earrings in different shapes made from vibrant and colorful recycled plastic.
An Inspirational Journey
Though Juliet Namujju creates lasting change in Kampala by employing people with disabilities at Kimuli Fashionability, many with disabilities are still impoverished in Uganda. These people count for over 12% of the population, and only 20% of them do not live in poverty. Namujju wants to continue growing her business and training more people with disabilities. By 2024, her goal is to train more than 1,000 people with disabilities and offer employment to at least half of them. She wants to expand her business and market her clothing in Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. By 2025, she wants Kimuli Fashionability to own its own production and training center. Throughout, Namujju will continue to teach her fellow Ugandans to look at waste differently and recruit them to solve the waste problem in Uganda.
– Amy Helmendach