I am happy to share with you the interview with Francesca De Gottardo who is one of the two founders, together with Serena Izzo, of the ethical fashion brand Endelea. She will tell us more about her brand, her fashion point of view and we will discover with her the land of Tanzania. Keep reading!
Q.: What does Endelea mean? It’s a Swahili word that literally means “keep going, continue without stopping”. We chose it as our brand name for it’s broader motivational meaning of not giving up and continuing in the pursue of dreams, despite the challenges.
Q.: How and when did you start the brand? The brand was born as a pilot project at the beginning of 2018, and the first collection went live on the website in July. Starting a brand is never easy, but to it half in Italy and half in Tanzania was pretty adventurous! Especially considering that neither me or my friend and business partner Serena had any previous experience with startups or fashion production. The recipe for success that first year was a mix of skilled collaborators, “try and error”, “learning by doing”, problem solving, patience, creativity, optimism, and luck.
Q.: What ‘s your background? I have a degree in Archaeology and a master in Marketing and Communication. I have been working with social media and digital marketing for 10 years now, focusing on museums for the first 5 years, and on fashion for the last ones. Before founding Endelea, I was in charge of social media for the fashion brand Furla, and during the first 2 years of the project I continued working as a freelancer in the field, collaborating with brands such as Dolce and Gabbana, Canali, Fondazione Ferré, Fondazione Furla, Harmont & Blaine, and Google Arts & Culture. Now I’m dedicated to Endelea full-time.
Q.: What kind of fashion does Endelea make? Ethical fashion, mixing Italian design with the colorful African fabrics. At the moment, we’re focusing on wax prints, sourced locally in Tanzania but coming from different African countries. For the upcoming Spring Summer 21, we’re going to introduce new textiles in our collections, featuring more Tanzanian traditional tecniques and organic materials, and collaborating with independent women entrepreneurs and artisans. The collections are women’s clothing, unisex accessories and home decor items. They’re all designed in Italy and ethically made in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where we invest part of our revenues to support the development of local skills through educational programs for students and fashion professionals.
Q.: I read that the products are designed in Milan but produced in Tanzania, why did you chose this African state? Because it’s one of the countries in Africa where fashion is not an industry yet. Most of the clothing is imported from China or second-hand from Europe; schools don’t offer any specific program to develop the necessary skills; and tailors are often underpaid and not regulated. Plus: they speak English as official language with Swahili — and my French is terrible!
Q.: How did you meet your African tailors? I met the current Tanzanian team the same way I met the Italian one: by talking to people. The power of communities and networking is always unbelievable in my experience, and it is especially true in Tanzania, where everyone I talked to about Endelea has always tried to help me somehow. I was introduced to amazing Kemi Kalikawe, fashion designer, who supported me in finding seamstresses, machines and a location for our production. On the other hand, I supported her in her adventure with the Naledi Dream Center school for fashion, sponsoring scholarships and volunteering Italian professionals as teacher. I strongly believe in the power of people when they support each other.
Q.: How often do you go to Tanzania? Not so much as I wish, especially in 2020, unfortunately. I usually travel back and forth and spend around 5-6 months per year in the country.
Q.: What’s the actual situation of Tanzania in general? is it a safe place? Tanzania is a very friendly, very peaceful and stable country. I never felt in danger in Dar es Salaam, but of course I take a lot of precautionary measures when I’m there, as anybody who’s traveling abroad. Tanzanian people are the most friendly I ever met!
Q.: I know you have a partner in this project Serena, can you tell us something about her too? She’s my rational counterpart, the part who loves Excel! As we like to say, if I’m the heart of Endelea, Serena is the brain. She has 10 years of experience with digital marketing and media, 5 of which spent managing e-commerce in the luxury fashion industry. We met when we were both working at Furla and we became best friends – because opposites indeed attract. She was the first one I talked to about my trip to Zambia and the idea of using the fabrics for an entreprenurial project, and Endelea was born from our conversations back in 2017. Today in Endelea she manages everything connected to e-commerce, analytics, merchandising and planning.
Q.: What are your future plans? We’re currently working on a new collection that will feature more traditional Tanzanian craftsmanships and the plan is to move in this direction even more in the future. To have less wax fabrics and more authentic, African textiles, giving more visibility to local artisans, designers and producers, but also lowering our environmental impact and having more control on the value chain. The goal is to have collections that are entirely sustainable from both perspectives, the environment and the people; and to broaden our social impact in the country, involving the University and more schools. Maybe even to go beyond the Tanzanian borders — who knows?
Q.: If you could collaborate with a famous brand, who would you like to choose and why? I’d choose Missoni. We love not only their design and style, the colors and the energetic communication, but also Margherita’s personal connection to Africa and the natural inclination of the company toward a socially responsible fashion.
Q.: Where do you take inspiration from? Our creative director Alessandra Modarelli takes inspiration from a lot of different sources, being herself a multiform professional with various experiences in her background. Most of her sources of inspiration come from art and architecture, but we also let Africa play a big role in everything we do and we exchange ideas and brainwaves with our Tanzanian friends and fellow designers.
Q.: The best advice ever received is… Follow your instinct. But also: backup your files every week!
Q.: Which garment represent your brand more? I think now the maxi skirt is the most representative piece of Endelea in 2020. It’s feminine, but also comfortable, practical and bold. It has useful pockets, but also beautiful big flounces. It’s designed for a woman who wants to feel like a princess one moment, but is also able to fix her own car one moment after, still wearing the same skirt.
Q.: Your point of view about sustainable fashion I think now it’s finally the time to make it central in all fashion conversations. Ethics in the fashion industry is becoming a serious thing, and the pandemic is speeding up and broadening an already existing process. 97% of outsourcing in the fashion industry is made in developing countries around the world where the workforce is already very cheap. This means that most of our clothes are made by workers whose rights are very limited or non-existent, and the social impact of fashion is too often characterized by low salaries, excessive working hours and a lack of job security. According to researches, 88% of consumers are not satisfied with what brands are currently doing to improve their social and environmental impact — so as I said, this is the perfect time to make a change and start producing fashion that has a positive impact.
Q.: Can fashion production really help local communities? It can and it will! Or at least, it’s compulsory for every fashion brand to try their best. What we’re doing with Endelea is exactly this. We’re producing less, creating a friendly and safe environment for our workers, granting them health insurance and access to training classes, promoting their professional growth together with their economic stability. We’re exchanging ideas with them, shifting the status quo of fashion and pushing it toward a peer-to-peer system. We’re trying to create an environment that is inclusive and equal, where there is room to grow and contribute for everyone, regardless their gender, age, sexual orientation or religion.
Q.: Are you planning to open a store or having your items sold in some department store? Opening a store is too far in the future for a small brand like us – and the pandemic is hitting retailers hard, making this the worst time to consider it. While it is absolutely in our plans to implement a wholesale strategy that can bring Endelea to be sold in the coolest concept and department stores in Europe, as well as in important online marketplaces.
Q.: What is your mantra? Let’s try. Proviamo. My favorite quote is by writer Kurt Vonnegut — “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
Q.: Three adjectives to descrive your brand Bold. Ethical. Positive.
For more info visit endelea.it