Nakate Project is an international fashion brand that specialises in accessories including sandals, jewellery and handbags made by mainly women artisans in Kakooge, Uganda. Most products are made from either natural materials such as a swamp grass or by transforming waste materials into something beautiful and marketable.
The Nakate Project exists to empower women in underdeveloped or remote areas of the globe by providing a platform for their art in the fashion and design community. By providing access to a previously untapped combination of artistry and materials, while also creating sustainable livelihoods in the Kakooge community, Nakate Project is adding real value to the market.
Nakate Project is also part of the Fellowship 500, uniting pioneering innovators in fashion and sustainability to take the movement to the next level.
Tell us briefly about the Nakate Project. How did it develop, how long as it taken to get from initial idea to product on the market, what were some of the key steps to get where you are now?
Nakate began after my second trip to Uganda. I wanted to break out of nonprofit work and into the international marketplace. I wanted to work in partnership with women. And, I wanted to experience becoming part of the culture and creating relationships.
Our company began as a collaboration with Antonio Esteban, an LA based stylist and wardrobe director, myself and Agnes Kabugo, a real figurehead and leader in Kakooge, the village we’re working in.
We started out scattered and I felt unsure of what we were doing. I was being educated on the fly, I was learning a lot of my lessons through failure and think it was a good six months before I really felt we were headed in a congruent direction.
For me, the enterprise is really personal, and I think has shifted a lot based on my own growth and changes in my thinking. About a year in I really hit this point where I realised that if I wanted to take a certain place in fashion and in the marketplace then I would have to start treating my company like we were already there.
This led to a really difficult season. We had to get tighter on deadlines. We had to get more stringent on quality. This taught me a lot about being a leader. It taught me a lot about respecting my company and the artisans within it beyond anything else.
What do you think has been the biggest “break” for Nakate Project? Has there been anything notable that’s really elevated the brand to the next level?
Hiring new staff on the ground really elevated Nakate to the next level. I worked a lot on networking in Uganda during our first year – meeting people, asking people’s advice, you know, really creating this familiarity between myself and professionals there. A lot of this was through email and twitter and the exchange of information. Mostly it was through learning humility – learning how to ask Ugandan writers and business people and professionals – “how do I do this well? How would you do it?”
We hired a manger who was young and aware of the international market and was really on point with quality and management, and his perspective on business and quality has really elevated our work to the next level. We’ve been able to move into wholesale. We’ve been able to begin partnering with these women in promoting their dignity and their best work.
How do you work with your producers in Uganda on design, bridging the gap between traditional techniques and modern trends & style?
Our business model at Nakate is that we want to ‘bridge the gap’ between villages and cities through professionals and seasoned artisans training women that haven’t previously been invested in that way, or had the time or opportunity to learn a skill.
The group of artisans we currently partner with in Kampala is under the direction of a Ugandan woman. She is very conscious of trends and works closely alongside our LA based stylist, Antonio, to create products that he believes are congruent with what is cutting edge in the fashion market.
Tell us about quality control. When you work with artisans, every time you get a unique, often handcrafted product – this can be both a benefit and a challenge. How do you uphold standards and how do you incorporate this into training?
This definitely comes back to our management. I’m grateful to have so many talented professionals on the ground that understand the culture and know the resources available to them when they need to troubleshoot.
What’s next for Nakate Project, what are you most excited about going forward?
I am really excited about our next line – I think it really steps up design wise, due to the direction of the new group of artisans we’re working with in Kampala. I think that it will add a dimension and an element that we’ve been hoping for, and I can’t wait to see how it shifts things for our company.