Jeilo Collection: Reducing Textile Waste In The Fashion And Textile Sector

JEILO Collections is a social enterprise created in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, by founder Grace Mbugua. Over the years, it expanded to include a profit-making subsidiary called the Jeilo Leather Company to sell the leather goods it makes. Jeilo has 22 employees – 11 men and 11 women.

The company specializes in quality leather, textiles and accessory items custom made for local and international markets. The brand and the pieces are culturally inspired by Kenyan history, tribes, and its people. All materials are sourced locally, and the products are created by skilled Kenyan workers, using Afrocentric design, and incorporating recycled bones, recycled glass and Masai beads. The pieces are designed with collaborative approach with the customers ideas in mind but, each piece incorporates Kenyan aesthetic and culture; whether in the beadwork or the craftmanship, each piece is uniquely made and uniquely Kenyan.

Jeilo strives to be environmentally sustainable. Rather than being mass-produced, all items are made to order.  Anything left over is recycled or upcycled.  Their approach to being environmentally sustainable is to upcycle and recycle fabrics to reduce waste and reduce the amount of textile waste that ends up in landfills. Textile waste is often turned into home decor products, hair ties or storage bags used to maintain the products’ shapes, which can also be reused and recently turning the additional left-over textiles into personal protective equipment such as masks. Reducing textile waste is a key component of the business model.

Jeilo’s regional exports were   primarily to Uganda and its international exports mainly to the United States plus some small orders to Canada. In seeking to expand her business, Grace attended the New York NOW trade show in 2017 and engaged some buyers.

Jeilo was introduced to TFO Canada in 2018 when it was selected by the Kenyan Promotion and Branding Agency to be part of a collaborative SheTrades project with the International Trade Centre and TFO Canada. Jeilo received training on export strategies, planning and export readiness.  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot changed for the company in 2020 when it responded to meet new market demands.

“Overall, the pandemic’s impact on my business has not been negative,” says Grace. “With the onset of the pandemic, we switched to producing fabric masks. Before COVI, we did not have many employees but because of the demand for masks we have been able to employ 22 staff. Additionally, since people were spending more time at home, many took an interest in home décor and renovating their spaces, which meant there was a demand for home décor goods. We were able to capitalize on this and create home décor textile items. Since we all work from home, our workers were able to have a safe workspace and generate an income at a time when many people were job insecure. I think our ability to adapt our business and evolve has allowed us to continue to produce and support our community.”

In 2021, Jeilo attended the Textile and Apparel virtual trade show through the support of TFO Canada where they received pre and post trade show training and buyer engagement training.  During the show, Jeilo received 173 inquires from buyers.

“Attending an online trade show actually had many benefits because all our inventory was online, and it was quicker and easier for buyers to see items and make inquires about them. It was our first time attending a virtual trade show and, though I had some concerns, it turned out to be pretty good.,” adds Grace.

“These few years have been a whirlwind. Our connection with TFO Canada allowed us to explore a new platform (the online trade show) that was very successful for us. Now my goal for Jeilo is to  have a stable and functioning company and too be able to sustainably supply our items to  other African countries as well as internationally. I want Jeilo to be found in Nairobi, or Accra or Toronto or New York. Our work now is to continue to inspire the young people in our community by providing them training in skilled craftmanship so they too can change their lives.”