As Covid-19 disrupted the livelihoods of fashion designers, some of them pivoted into the stop-gap measure of applying their craft to making face coverings. We spoke some of those who are facing the future with new solutions.
“We hope to reach our simple goal; sell masks, promote the brand and, most importantly, keep the factory in Kenya open.” – Olaya Chesneau
My father, Edmond Chesneau, is a Parisian craftsman that moved to Ireland in the ’70’s. He successfully ran a leather goods business out of Thomastown, Kilkenny, before the economic slump came in 2008 and his business was forced into liquidation. Eager to continue his craftsmanship, but left with very little here, he decided to move to Kenya to try and set up an ethical fashion business that focused on teaching people to learn leather craft and set up a sustainable business for the area that helped boost the economy and empower the local people.
Although things moved very slowly at first, he eventually managed to establish a factory and begin to teach locals the art of leather making using his designs. The business moved slowly but steadily; trying to integrate closely with the local community in Thika (around 40km from Nairobi).
However, recently with the Covid outbreak the business came to a complete standstill. Local stores came to a close and none of his goods could be sold. Desperate to generate cash flow he decided he would start making protective masks, as they had become mandatory across Kenya. However, because of strict government guidelines around PPE the masks could not be sold. Faced with having to let staff go and the possible closure of the factory completely, he reached out to myself and my partner, and to his old, adopted nation to try and sell the masks here and keep his factory up and running until a level of normalcy resumed and he could begin to sell his products again.
With no marketing budget and only the time of us volunteers we set up an Etsy page and have been trying to generate sales and a following ever since in the most organic way possible. We’re nowhere near there yet, but we hope to reach our simple goal; sell masks, promote the brand and, most importantly, keep the factory in Kenya open.