The Umòja adventure began in 2017. At the time, Dieuveil was a student at the University of Brest and Lancine an insurance executive in Paris. In search of meaning and solutions to our consumption patterns, we were already aware, with great concern, that they were very (too much) influenced by the codes of industrial overproduction with actors left on the sidelines.

“When we left our professional lives, we had no idea of the great financial and social sacrifices involved in this new adventure. “

With this in mind, we decided to leave everything behind to embark on an adventure in an environment that we, two former university students, did not master. “When we left our professional lives, we had no idea of the great financial and social sacrifices involved in this new adventure. This was all the more striking for Lancine, who was giving up a career and a comfortable salary for a project that might not see the light of day. “Naively, we set ourselves the mission of experimenting with an alternative economic model that would allow all the actors in the production chain to be paid a fair price, while respecting the ecological and social issues of our time. The objective was clear: to ensure a production that respects our environment (ecological, economic, human) in every way.

Genesis

With our backpacks on, we set out to discover West African crafts: Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, and we also took the opportunity to visit Congo and Uganda. We could never have imagined the richness and plurality of the craft skills we were about to discover. As we travelled and met with textile artisans, we identified the great wealth: social, economic, historical, traditional and vernacular of this knowledge.

Very often underestimated, craft skills are an opportunity for the development of local economic policies because they call upon several trades in the creation process. The making of a woven textile requires the involvement of farmers, spinners, dyers and weavers.

Consumption patterns have been changing significantly over the last decade, mainly in Europe and the United States, which could be a real niche for the craft sector. The desire of consumers to favour quality, by investing in sustainable, ethical, responsible and ecological products, now allows our craftsmen to do well. We are working with them in this direction to give them visibility and access to new markets.

Transparency

“When we left our professional lives, we had no idea of the great financial and social sacrifices involved in this new adventure.”

Today we are confronted with a linear industrial system that prioritises the manufacture of the product and its delivery at the lowest cost. This hyper-production system is designed without taking into account the origin of the materials, their ecological and human impact and the end of life of the finished product. We develop products by taking into account all stages. From the conception of the raw materials to the end of life of the finished product, we collaborate with nature to follow its logic. Deconstructing without destroying to offer positive production alternatives.

For us, a transparent project is above all the consideration of all partners involved in the production process. Between fibre cultivation, production, spinning, dyeing, weaving, assembly of the finished product and marketing, a finished product goes through between 15 and 30 stages. These steps are often hidden by all brands in their communication.

Due to the large number of intermediaries operating in the textile industry, there is a lack of transparency regarding the origin of the materials used. By working in a direct circuit, we go to the source, in contact with farmers, weavers and workers to check the origin of each material used. Working in a short circuit allows us to have total transparency on all the materials used in the production process.

Field reality

One of the main difficulties we face in the field is the variability of the price per kilo of the raw material for our textiles: organic cotton.

In Burkina Faso and Mali, cotton plantations only produce “in season” and yields change from one season to the next. Umoja makes it a point of honour to work only with farmers certified by the Ecocert label. In order to ensure a constant salary independent of market fluctuations, we have decided to ignore the prices set by the world cotton market, preferring to give priority to local realities. We pay the asking price.

We always work directly on site with our intermediaries to ensure the origin of the materials used and that the working conditions of all are in line with the values defended by the brand. It is also a way for us to keep an eye on the evolution of the local sector, the materials, the production techniques, while continuing to feed our ideas and experiments.