Photographed by: Katie Jameson | Interview of: Ava Darnell, Found of Slumlove Sweater Co.
How did you get started?
Slumlove started as a way for me to combine two great passions in my life - fashion and Africa. I had been working for a non-profit organization in Kenya’s largest slum Kibera, and over the years had developed really great relationships within the community. It was through these relationships that I was first introduced to Clare, a woman from the slum who knit school sweaters for children. Clare and I worked together to design Slumlove’s first collection of unisex sweaters for men + women and I began selling them to friends and family online. As interest in the sweaters grew, we expanded our production and developed new collections. We now operate a knitwear workshop in Nairobi, Kenya that employs more than 20 knitters and have grown our company into a lifestyle brand for men and women! We now not only knitwear, but tees, leather goods, and accessories that are all made with love in Kenya and giving back to various organizations within the country.
What influences you? / Where do you get your inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is being in Kenya. My love for the people is what started Slumlove and it continues to be the thing that motivates me. Although I live in Austin, Texas, I travel to Kenya frequently to spend time with our knitwear team and visit our other suppliers. I find so much beauty in the culture and environment - there really is no place like it. Whenever I need a little boost, I look back at photos and videos of our time there and it always gives me the inspiration I need!
What keeps you motivated?/ Why do you love doing this?
I am passionate about helping put Africa on the fashion map. There isn’t a ton of global textile production coming out of Africa, despite it’s abundant talent and resources. Being “made with love in Kenya” is something we really push because it is such a unique aspect of our business. My motivation is my team of 20 Kenyan women who work hard everyday to bring my designs to life. It’s the group of 300 kids from the Kibera slum who we are helping send to school through our customers purchases.
How do you balance your personal time + work? / How do you create separation?
Not only running a company, but also having a baby, has really made personal time elusive! Most down time is spent with my family enjoying the city of Austin and traveling to new places. We are a food family, so most of our evenings are spent on a patio enjoying the sunshine and a good happy hour deal. When I do have some alone time, I love to pamper myself :) Massages, pedicures, getting my hair cut - these things feel soothing to me and reset my energy levels.
Where do you see yourself in 2-5 years? / What’s next for your brand?
The two big things that are always on my mind are how can I better improve our current product offerings and what’s our next product going to be. I want to work hard to continue improving the types of products we currently sell. That means investing in our knitting team to help advance their skills or make connections with other East Africa suppliers to find great, new materials for our products. For example, we recently found a great eco-friendly yarn dyer in a small, rural town in Kenya and have begun using them to dye our yarn for our current knitwear collections. But I also love to dream about what’s next. We started as just knitwear, but over the years expanded to tee collections and leather goods. We have another new category in the works right now that I am really excited about, but can’t quite talk about, yet!
While in Nairobi this summer, Katie + Ava visited the Slumlove headquarters in Nairobi where Katie got to meet a few of the talented ladies who create the beautiful sweaters.
Ava sources the Slumlove leather bags from Gonzala Leathers. Katie also had the privilege of meeting Grabriel, the talented leather worker behind the brand, while visiting Nairobi.