Namujju wins award for innovation in transparent masks

By Phionah Nassanga

By Benjamin Jumbé

Located near Maya Road in Mpigi District, Kimuli Fashionability is a designer fashion house that employs people with disabilities.
This is where people recycle trash, mostly plastics, into trendy African clothes.
The fashion house is housed in one of the residential houses in the Busembe area, off Maya Town; it was divided into three sections; the garage serving as a workshop and part of the living room serving as a store for finished products.

The remaining part of the house is where 25-year-old Juliet Namujju resides. As I entered this dwelling house, heaps and heaps of rubbish greeted me.
It was this trash that won Namujju the 2021 Commonwealth Secretary General’s Sustainable Development Innovation Award on October 7. It was a trophy and 14.7 million Shs (£ 3,000) in prize money.
Namujju leads a team that uses various wastes from landfills, construction sites and homes collected by young people.

These are trained and deployed at a Social Innovation Academy waste collection center in Mpigi, before being transported to their offices in Maya for cleaning and recycling.
From bags of sugar, bags of cement, and sachets of milk, they were able to process and recycle durable clothing and accessories such as raincoats, shopping bags, laptop bags and bags. pencil bags, among others. “When I look at the waste, I see something beautiful, like a flower”, she explains the genesis of the name of her brand, Kimuli meaning flower.

Inspiration
Raised by her grandmother who was a tailor, Namujju spent most of her time making toys and sewing toy clothes from cutouts. Watching her grandmother load an upper thread and a lower thread into her machine made her curious and she couldn’t wait for the day when she was in charge of the machine.

Nineteen years later, Namujju is the mastermind behind Kimuli Fashionability, working with a team of 25 people, the majority of whom have disabilities such as hearing impairments.
“When my father was involved in a traffic accident that cut his legs off, he was fired and no employer seemed to believe in his abilities. It has become my driving force to change the mindset of people towards people with disabilities, ”she reveals her inspiration for creating a fashion house.
Namujju believes that people with disabilities can overcome all obstacles if they get help.

Transparent masks
When the lockdown was first relaxed in May last year, Namujju returned to the workshop with her team. They identified a need. About half of its employees have hearing disabilities, which means the masks on the market were not in their favor because they prevented them from reading lips.
“Whenever we had to communicate with hearing impaired people, we had to remove our masks. But we were worried about having Covid-19, ”she says.
Namujju says she sat down with her team and devised ways to make innovative face masks to meet the needs of her team members with disabilities. Today, hearing impaired people are happy to be able to communicate without having to remove their masks.

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One of Kimuli Fashionability’s employees, Rose Nakangu, through a sign language interpreter, says that with this transparent mask, she can easily speak, sign and clearly see facial expressions.
She adds that whenever she’s in a crowded space, she doesn’t have to remove her mask to read lips and facial expressions. The new masks are fitted with a transparent material made from used polyethylene waste. They not only provide comfort for the hearing impaired, but also facilitate communication by allowing them to lip read every time we speak.

She says that since they started production of the transparent masks after the Covid-19 outbreak, they have sold around 3,000 pieces. Many of them are donated locally and the rest of the masks are exported.
Namujju believes that since wearing face masks has become the new norm, as part of efforts to contain the deadly virus, its innovation will make life easier for people with disabilities.

Strong points
It was this innovation that gave Namujju the opportunity to exhibit and auction a Kimuli rain jacket made from recycled plastic sugar bags at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
At the 2019 Global Greenpreneur Award winners in Korea, Namujju was selected as a speaker and panelist to present recycled fashion in Germany at the Bild Korrekturen Fashion Conference.

Namujju won the Ugandan Ye-Community Award 2018, became a member of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEEP) program and her rain coats were presented as the first finalists of the African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship (AWIEF) awards in 2018.
The global event, which brought together the Ugandan Young Employers of the Year, challenged policymakers to invest more in environmental sustainability and inclusion.

The reward
This year, Namujju was nominated with 15 winners of the Commonwealth Secretary General’s Sustainability Innovation Awards, where each received a £ 3,000 trophy. Besides the award, she had the opportunity to develop her innovation in collaboration with partners and mentors across Commonwealth countries.
“This award gives my team visibility and credibility in reputable Commonwealth networks,” she says. By 2025, Namujju plans to train 600 people with disabilities as trainers of trainers in their communities to achieve the 2030 target of 70% reduction in plastic waste disposal.

Challenges and social networks
Namujju says that while outsiders take hold of his designs, it is difficult to persuade Ugandans that the items they throw away can be reborn into desirable and fashionable items. However, she is optimistic that the local market has yet to appreciate innovations recycled from waste.
“We always have the challenge of changing people’s perception of plastic waste, many see it as waste to be burned or disposed of in the environment. “
People on the outside wear these jackets. We want 90% of Ugandans to wear these jackets, these masks, because we are working to reduce the disposal of plastic waste in our country, ”she said.

After graduating from high school in 2014, Namujju decided to join St Elizabeth’s Professional Institute, Mengo, where she completed a six-month training course in fashion and design. After completing her course, she was advised to join the Social Innovation Academy, Mpigi district.
“This institute trains disadvantaged young people to become job creators and social entrepreneurs capable of turning challenges into solutions. It was here that I developed the idea of ​​turning plastic waste into fashion labels, ”she explains.
The institute gave him a sewing machine and start-up capital of Shs 50,000. Today, Namujju owns more than 10 sewing machines and has around 25 trainees.

The future of fashion
Numujju explains that sustainability has now become synonymous with fashion and that eco-friendly fashion is the way to go.
“It’s important to reassess our purpose and what we can give to the world with our creativity. The opportunities lie in the resources at our disposal and it is our duty to make the most of them.
You don’t have to spend money on new materials to make products, you can make something out of dead materials like bags of sugar that everyone thinks is junk. It is high time to take a look at Eco fashion because it is unique and protects the environment.
“African designers have to be innovative and resourceful when it comes to creating collections,” she says.

Process and market
Cement bags are collected at different sites and landfills such as Kitezi. Once the waste has been collected, it is washed, dried and then packaged. From the district of Mpigi, these are transported to a production center based in Maya. This is where they mix it with African fabric. It is cut into small patterns depending on the product ordered by customers. The cutouts are then sewn into the recycled waste.
Namujju believes that raising awareness and celebrity support for eco-friendly fashion products would go a long way in boosting the local market. The introduction of any sustainable fashion product to the market through a celebrity triggers the purchase by customers.
Sustainable fashion products are considered fashionable. The principles of reduction, reuse and recycling can be applied to eco-fashion products, mainly clothing. Instead of buying new products every season, you can modify an old one to create something new or mix and match the products bought earlier to create an interesting combination. The help of a stylist can be requested.


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