Holly Dunlap 4MaCoHa is the collaboration between the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MaCoHa) Factory and American fashion designer Holly Dunlap. Having been working in fashion for years, Holly took a year out of which she spent 3 weeks in Malawi on a project building a school, and while she was there she learned of the MaCoHa Factory. Inspired by the skills of the craftsmen there and the potential she saw, she decided to stay and set up an export business with them.
3 years on and 4MaCoHa now provides work for around 60 craftsmen in the factory. As the workers are paid according to the work they do, so increasing the work available by creating a greater demand for their products has a very direct positive impact on the lives of the workers and their families. 4MaCoHa also support the factory by donating equipment and materials which greatly increases their capacity and ability to attract other clients.
Their range includes a variety of products from cushions to kaftans to handwoven rugs. Dunlap explains that she didn’t want “to reinvent the wheel” with regards to the designs but instead has updated and modernised the colours and shapes of styles that the factory has been making since its inception in the 1970’s. The brightly coloured hand tie-dyed kaftans with embroidered finishes are perfect for any beach holiday and have been worn on beaches from Ibiza to St Barths to Mozambique so far.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the 4MaCoHa team though, there are still many challenges to producing clothing and textile goods in Africa and one of the main issues is cotton sourcing. Dunlap recalls “we had a much greater response to the line than I imagined, and weren’t ready with cotton fabric in stock”. As Malawi exports its raw cotton to places like China and India where it is woven into cloth it is expensive and often timely to get hold of large quantities of woven cotton cloth.
In addition to these challenges of getting enough cotton cloth to meet their demands, Dunlap is also very keen to use African cotton cloth but has found it very hard to get hold of as a finished product. Currently they are using an Indian fabric woven from predominantly African cotton, but even the origin of this cotton is hard to track due to the nature of the industry and so Dunlap has been searching for almost 3 years now for a 100% African cotton and African woven cloth and often finds only cheap polycottons instead. Over the next 3 months however Holly will be travelling to a number of African countries including Tanzania, Kenya, and Ghana in order to search out other possibilities.
4MaCoHa products have recently been on sale alongside products from companies such as LaLesso, Sawa shoes and Maxhosa by Laduma on Kings Road in London in a pop-up shop run by Bluebird and Merchants on Long. But don’t worry if you missed them there, they are also available to buy from US based online shop www.shoplatitude.com as well as in the Merchants on Long shop in South Africa.
Big plans are in place for the future of 4MaCoHa, including diversifying their manufacturing and sourcing to meet customer demand as well as employing more talented African artisans and developing more gorgeous products. There will be a big announcement in November this year and a revamp of the brand altogether so watch this space and more importantly sign up on their website www.4macoha.com in September to get the latest information on the new brand and the big launch.
Author: Imogen Butler