Sew Good One Stitch at a Time

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The ‘Sew Good’ Community Project

Text Mel Kelly

A group of Nama women, who live in the Windhoek suburb of Otjomuise, came together in mid-2019 to form ‘Sew Good’. The community project is aimed at addressing the growing challenge of environmental pollution in Namibia by sewing beautiful products from upcycled waste materials.

REDUCING OUR RELIANCE ON PLASTIC

Most people now recognise that we all need to adapt our lifestyles so that, as far as possible, we steer clear of the plastic bottles, wrappers, bags and containers that we use just once and then discard without much regard for the consequences. Recycling, at best, is a compromise: recent investigations have shown that across the globe some of the plastic waste that is separated by conscientious consumers for recycling in fact ends up contributing to pollution ̶ cynically by being transferred to landfill sites or dumped at sea by the very companies commissioned to process it.

The large South African retail chains operating in Namibia commendably stock a range of alternatives to single-use carrier bags. But these products are only rarely made by Namibians, and some in fact represent a ‘greenwashing’ exploitation of the eco-friendly ethos since the production of certain bags-for-life, canvas bags and paper bags is at least as damaging as the infamous alternative (albeit some are eventually biodegradable).

SEW GOOD: MAKING GOOD BY DOING GOOD

Women with sewing skills launched a new community group in Windhoek in June 2019. One of Sew Good’s aims is to create genuinely Namibian alternatives to the various eco-friendly products already available. The project uses sample books of glorious fabric to make sturdy, long-lasting shopping bags as well as a wide range of other household items. The high-quality fabric remnants that they upcycle come from luxury design studios. When lines are discontinued as decorating fashions change with the seasons, the shops generously donate their wallpaper and fabric books to be transformed into a growing range of stylish products, rather than letting them go to waste.

By repurposing the swatches of textiles into hard-wearing items the members of the group are able to make a sustainable income in economically challenging times. They are also developing useful planning, budgeting, marketing and promotional skills that will help them to become self-supporting eventually. The Sew Good group sells its stunning, tough shopping bags at the Zero Waste Store in Stein Street, Klein Windhoek. Pop in there to purchase an alternative to those banned plastic bags before you travel to Etosha or another protected area (information on all the different product lines can be found on the Sew Good Facebook page).

Shopping bags and gorgeous, lined tote bags are just the beginning. Amory Tjipepa, for example, uses furnishing fabric to hand sew patchwork blocks that can be stitched together into cushion covers, quilts and pet bedding. And as winter approaches, customers are able to buy luxury velvet and satin scarves to keep out the chill of an early morning game drive.

In fact, every new donation provides an opportunity for the women’s imaginations to take flight. They are even experimenting with wallpaper samples to make covers for mobile phones and cases for sunglasses.

*Mel Kelly is a British writer and editor who has lived in Namibia for 20 years. She contributes regular articles for The Namibian newspaper and her fiction is published at www.kalaharireview.com

Each Sew Good item is totally unique. Shown here: an unlined heavy-duty shopping bag.
Patchwork blocks created from upcycled upholstery fabric are turned into a variety of cushion covers and quilts by Amory Tjipepa of the Sew Good project.

For more information visit www.facebook.com/ sewgoodnamibia. To enquire about commissions/ orders and discounts on bulk purchases contact sewgoodnamibia@gmail.com. For general information on the background to this initiative, as well as potential future Good for Namibia projects see www.goodfornamibia.home.blog. Find out about Xceptional Tourism Service’s township tours at www.ecotours-namibia.com.

PLASTIC BAGS AND NAMIBIA’S WILD PLACES

Visitors to Namibia frequently remark on how clean the towns and countryside are compared with other tourism destinations, but this doesn’t mean that trash isn’t a problem here. For example, this stormwater channel in the centre of Windhoek is all but blocked by accumulated plastic garbage and polystyrene takeaway containers, a situation that will inevitably create upstream flooding in residential areas once the eagerly longed for rains arrive.

A ban on most types of single-use plastic bags in Namibian parks and nature reserves came into effect just before Christmas 2018 and the penalties for bringing plastic bags into protected areas are severe. For example, a spot fine of N$ 500 must be paid if you are caught with prohibited plastic products inside a park’s boundaries. Use the waste bins at park entrances to dispose of banned plastic items such as the carrier bags you might have accumulated in your car (who doesn’t use their vehicle as a mobile rubbish bin on long journeys?).

Furthermore, a national levy on the non-biodegradable single-use plastic bags formerly provided gratis by Namibian retailers was gazetted by the government in August 2019. Each carrier bag requested by consumers at tills anywhere in the country now has to be paid for. Both of these measures are a clear indication of Namibia’s growing commitment to address the scourge of plastic-based pollution.

LOCAL IS LEKKER WHEN IT COMES TO GREEN LIVING

A virtue in purchasing Sew Good products is that they are manufactured here in Namibia by a self-supporting group, so every cent goes straight into the pockets of the women involved. If you would like to visit the producers at their work from home premises to view the items they make, you can now do so courtesy of local business Xceptional Tourism Services, which offers a Katutura Interactive and Cultural Township Tour to put visitors in touch with small-scale craft producers in Windhoek.

When you buy from Sew Good you are helping Namibian families to help themselves and protecting our fragile environment, too.

This article was first published in the Autumn 2019/20 issue of Travel News Namibia.

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