Looking to bring change to the fashion industry is Ubuntu Wear, an urban fashion brand whose bold take on blending traditions with trends is making a big impression.
With a backpack each and 100 Euros in their pockets, Henriette Visscher and Elmer Emanuels quit their full-time jobs in Rotterdam, sold most of their belongings and took a plane halfway across the world in 2016 for the adventure of a lifetime. Endlessly inspired by the cultures and creative artisans they met along the way, the two soon had an idea for a fashion brand – one that would take those traditional skills and present them to a global audience, all whilst supporting local craftsmen. They told Hive Life about their mission.
Established as a brand connecting traditional craft and heritage with global consumers, Ubuntu Wear is a business that’s all about giving back. “Ubuntu is an African Nguni Bantu term that means, ‘I am because you are.’ I wanted to introduce a brand that is honest and connected to the world around us,” explains Henriette, who worked as a designer for major fashion brands before branching out on her own. Determined to forge something with a lasting positive impact, she founded Ubuntu in 2013 alongside her partner Elmer to try and change the focus of online retail. “With the clothes you wear and the money you spend, you can express yourself and make a difference,” she says. Taking inspiration from different cultures and working with traditional artisans living in communities around the world, the two set out to develop products that offered customers a chance to buy into something bigger than a fashion statement. “The brand focuses on 3 main pillars – love, unity and fair trade. I wanted to use my skills to create something bigger,” explains Elmer.
For Ubuntu, introducing local crafts to the wider world and creating positive effects as they do so is a much more interesting proposition than peddling fast fashion. “In Europe, there are not a lot of handicrafts anymore,” explains Elmer. “It’s an art that is being lost. However, in places like Bali and Chiang Mai, everything is still mostly done by hand. A lot of our jewellery is handmade by carvers in Thailand, and it is the behind-the-scenes work that is most fulfilling.” What that work involves is connecting with local artisans and working with them to design pieces the duo feel will appeal on a global stage. “The nicest part is that we get to really know the local people,” says Henriette. “We also like telling our customers a story about where the money is going. It’s not only that you are supporting Ubuntu Wear but you are also supporting local artists and their families. It’s very important to us that our business is a win-win situation for all and not just one party.”
Currently focused mostly on accessories, Ubuntu will shortly branch out into ready to wear. “For now we have a lot of jewellery,” says Henriette. “I am working on getting a new clothing line ready as soon as possible and I think in the future we would like to focus on men’s clothing, too.” Products can be purchased online and are shipped worldwide from their warehouse in Rotterdam. The couple also hopes, soon, to have a presence in retail stores in Europe and Asia. “Our marketing strategy is mostly online advertising and we have a lot of Instagram ambassadors. We love to sponsor upcoming artists and musicians who are not afraid to speak out about societal problems and politics. We want our brand to represent the pioneers and new generation” says Elmer. With its basis in sustainability, craft and responsible retailing habits, Ubuntu is just the sort of brand that generation will embrace.