How are UMOJA sneakers made?

Temps de lecture : 6 minutes

Under what conditions, by whom and with what materials?

Fashion Revolution Week is an opportunity for us to describe our production chain, from cotton to lace, glue and dyeing, as accurately and transparently as possible.
Beyond transparency, the objective is also to take you into the cotton fields and artisanal workshops which are temples of age-old know-how.

To the origins of the adventure

During a trip we discovered the richness of several skills between Africa and Europe. These encounters at the heart of ancestral craft techniques guided us towards UMÒJA’s entrepreneurial adventure.
We go directly where the know-how is, where passionate and optimistic women and men perpetuate a traditional know-how, naturally ecological, singular and sustainable, cultural heritage of humanity.

Village in the region of Koupéla (centre-east) Burkina Faso

We do business by taking into account the people in the production chain. These people, crushed by a sprawling textile industry, are very often forgotten, even though they are the very heart of all companies.

What's in the UMÒJA sneakers?

1- Cotton grown without artificial fertilizers or insecticides by family farming communities.

The cotton we use is cultivated in Burkina Faso only in season and in a reasoned way by small independent producers: rainwater naturally irrigates the fields.
For about 50 years, the Sawadogo family has been producing cotton in the traditional way on the 6 hectares of the concession located about 100 km from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina-Faso. On site, no motorized tools or use of synthetic phytosanitary inputs are used. While cotton cultivation is now being pilloried due to the massive use of water from artificial irrigation, some producers continue to produce in collaboration with the elements of nature at their disposal. The yields are there, “we can’t even sell all our production”, said Idrissa, the patriarch of the family. This is surprising in a Sahelian country that is radically affected by climate change.

Cotton field of the Sawadogo family

It is also a varied production. In order to preserve the quality of the soil and the biodiversity of the ecosystem, cotton is produced 6 months of the year. Thus, the fields of the Sawadogo family are also used to grow food, both for the autonomy of the families and for economic independence. Tamarind, mangoes and shea butter also grow on these fields. The harvested cotton meets the criteria of organic farming but does not have certification for the moment. The certifications being expensive, it is today a luxury that our partners cannot afford. We will come back in a future article on the issue of organic certification.

From right to left, the families Delma, Sawadogo and Dieuveil cofounder Umòja

2- The transformation of cotton into fabric: an artisanal spinning mill.

Once the cotton is harvested, it is processed.
In a constant effort to reduce our environmental impact, we have opted for purely artisanal processing. As soon as it leaves the field, the cotton is directly ginned, carded and then spun by hand by the spinners at the Adaja centre.

Artisanal spinning of yarn in the Adaja centre

All this process carried out by the craftswomen of the Adaja weaving centre is handcrafted without bleaching or petrochemical derivatives.
Contrary to industrial production, this artisanal process of transformation of the fibre into thread is low in energy consumption, using neither water nor chemical inputs.

3- Yarn dyeing: an exclusively vegetable dye based on bark, clay, roots, plants.

The cotton once woven is dyed at the Adaja centre in Burkina Faso.
The dyeing process varies according to the textile. It is in this process that the creativity and know-how of the craftsmen is expressed.

Artisanal dyeing factory of the Adaja centre

Dyeing is carried out only from natural plant resources: bark, root, clay, leaves, mud. Each colour is unique with nuances dictated by the seasons and the weather. This singular treatment is the heart of our project: to value these naturally ecological skills and the people who bring them to life.

4- Weaving: the transformation of the yarn into a semi-finished product

Weaving is the core business of the Adaja centre. Rich with a fifty year old know-how, the weavers work the cotton threads with precision and dexterity to make fabrics with an exceptional touch. They master the weaving process to perfection, using hand-made threads to create a wide variety of fabrics.

Weaving of cotton yarn

5- Shoe assembly in Portugal, the expertise of a semi-craftsman’s workshop on a human scale.

The assembly of the finished product is carried out in Portugal: the European temple of footwear. We thus combine two exceptional traditional skills: weaving from sub-Saharan Africa and shoe making from Portugal.
We have chosen to rely on the expertise and know-how of a semi-artisanal workshop in Porto. Jorge, Domingos and Fernando have been with us since our beginnings.

Adelia in the shoe workshop

Portugal offers us both quality know-how and the advantage of sourcing locally the essential elements for the manufacture of a sneaker: eyelets, laces, glue, soles. A way of guaranteeing the traceability of the materials used in our shoes.

Our transparency reveals our actions, not our speeches.
SloWeAre and Une Autre Mode Est Possible: two labels that guarantee the conformity between our actions in the field and what we communicate.

In the age of greenwashing, it becomes difficult for the consumer to distinguish between what reveals discourse, projections, intentions and actions.
We have therefore turned to French labels that raise consumer awareness, lobby public authorities and support the fashion industry to transform it.
Thus, we have obtained two certifications that attest to the quality of our productions, and above all to the conformity of our actions in the field with what we communicate:

Translated with (free version)

  • SloWeAre issues its label after a strict audit of the environmental quality of the materials and the manufacturing conditions of the product.
  • Une Autre Mode Est Possible guarantees social, economic and environmental innovation, the valorisation of know-how and materials.

A fair price?

From the very beginning of this adventure, we made the choice and took the risk of going directly into contact with these women, men and also the material. A perilous exercise in an industry as nebulous as textiles and, more broadly, footwear. We have thus gone to where the raw product is cultivated, the semi-finished material is transformed and the finished product is made. Knowing the materials and how they are produced. To understand the people who produce and let them determine the selling prices of their materials so that together we can move in the same direction. All the prices of our raw materials are freely set by our partners.

What is a fair or equitable price? At the moment we do not have a definition.

From left to right, Lancine co-founder Umòja, Domingos, Helder, Jorge

Because behind the scenes there are Elienaï, Idrissa, Elisabeth, Lizeta, Adelia, Maria, Jorge, Domingos, Pedro, Helder, Fernando.

We can’t name them all, but a brand is not just a logo, a product or founders, it is above all an orchestra where each member plays his own score and should deserve consideration.

Much remains to be done and we are aware of this. Our initiative is at the moment just a drop in the bucket.

In detailing our manufacturing process, we share what drives us: the valorization of traditional know-how, the innovation of plant materials, the transparency of an inclusive and equitable economic model. Today at a crossroads, the fashion industry should be more human, inclusive and responsible. The actors in this chain all have great stories to tell us.

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