Africa Fashion Guide
A social enterprise promoting sustainability within Africa's fashion and textile industry.


July 30th, 2012

Ethnic Supplies – Handicrafted, fairly traded fashion Empowering African women through business

There is nothing more refreshing than learning about ethical projects in Africa that help create a sustainable future within poverty-stricken communities. Ethnic Supplies is an online social enterprise that enables East African women involved in handicrafts and textile production access western markets with their products and create an income for themselves.

 Ida Horner is the founder Ethnic Supplies. She is also the founder and Chairperson of a community development charity Let Them Help Themselves Out of Poverty, that works to address day to day community challenges in Ruhanga SW Uganda. Ida has a keen interest in business as a tool for fighting poverty and is listed as an expert contributor to the Business Fights Poverty platform. Ida is also a keen blogger, as well as her own blog Ethnic Supplies, she curates Africa On The Blog.

Ethnic Supplies is one of the development projects that we find very interesting and inspiring. In 2006 , Ida visited her native Uganda and was astonished by the level of poverty she witnessed. This prompted her the set up Ethnic Supplies. The social enterprise supports women in the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Madagascar by sourcing handmade handicrafts and fashion accessories from suppliers that support women to be financially independent or directly from established women’s groups in rural locations. They work closely with their producers, using natural materials and methods, to ensure all handmade products are ethically produced.

Beaded Bracelets, handcrafted from glass beads, made in Rwanda – Ethinic Supplies

Cotton Totes, hand decorated with African prints, made in Tanzania – Ethnic Supplies

Cotton Totes, hand decorated with African prints, made in Tanzania – Ethnic Supplies

Almost all the women in these East African communities have been excluded from any form of employment and lack of education makes it difficult for them to become financially stable. Ethnic Supplies essentially bridges the gap that hinders the route to market for these women. These women are talented in crafts and the profits generated from the sales of their products help provide valuable income to these women. It is interesting that all of the producers at Ethnic Supplies are female, founder Ida Horner explains that these are talented women who are able to create work for themselves through fashion accessories, but their biggest obstacle is not a lack of wanting to help themselves, it is a route to market so Ethnic Supplies helps them to help themselves for education, healthcare etc.

Ethnic Supplies offer a range of beautifully crafted, hand-made products including handbags, scarves and costume jewellery. We love the wild silk scarves, hand made in Madagascar. Female artisans make the scarves from 100% Madagascan silk, using traditional equipment and spinning methods. The silk comes from endemic wild silkworms, called Borocera Madagasciensis, these worms are found mainly in the tapia forests.  The silk is dyed using unique vegetable and mineral based dyes to create an array of colour options. The production of one scarf, would take an artisan a whole week to spin and weave as it is a delicate process, the village artisans are supported through all stages of silk scarf production.

Raw Wild Silk Shawls, handwoven, made in Madagascar – Ethnic Supplies

Wild Silk Shawls, handwoven, made in Madagascar – Ethnic Supplies

As beautiful and unique as these products are, it is not entirely easy to sell African made products to the international market. A main issue with the silk scarves is, as they are hand produced from a rare fabric, they become unique and this makes them a luxury product, which unfortunately does not appeal to the budget of every consumer. Madagascar is also very far away from the Ethnic Supplies headquarters in the UK, this makes it quite expensive and difficult to transport products to and from Madagascar.

Ida Horner explains “not all challenges are easy to overcome but we try to, mostly its attitudes to something that they don’t understand or something that might be unusual.”

For now Ida Horner hopes to continue the development of the current projects Ethnic Supplies are involved, that helps East African villages generate employment for themselves, selling their products to passing trade and to each other.

For more information please visit :,

All images are courtesy of

Author: Natalie Nartay



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