"Pole Pole" is slowly...
...in Swahili and is an African philosophy of life. We produce in Mwanza (Tanzania 🇹🇿) and in Accra (Ghana 🇬🇭) in small sewing factories. We aspire to organic and sustainable production, although sub-Saharan Africa still lacks the infrastructure for this. Now it is slowly changing, and we are developing together with all those involved in the project 🏻🏿. Pole Pole.
🌈 We dream of colorful Poland. It's not just about colorful clothes, but African energy, joy and openness that we want to share with you. Regardless of your shape, appearance, orientation or origin.
🙋🏿♀️ Africans working with us say that the most important thing for them is stable work as a source of income, but also a chance to develop the community on their terms. That is why we establish permanent cooperation with local sewing companies and pay rates thanks to which their businesses develop and families raise the standard of living.
♻️ We are as ecological as we can: we recycle, we use every piece of material we have left, we repair, we choose natural materials that do not litter 🌍.
Hey, this is Michał. Let's start from the beginning! After graduation, I flew to Tanzania to visit my missionary aunt and conduct creativity workshops for children from the small village of Buturu. Walking around the local market, I found a colorful cotton material that reminded me of the emblem of Gdynia - the city I come from. I bought it, took it to local tailors and after a few days I put on a made-to-measure shirt and pants. Then a sudden confidence came over me, and a question arose...
Why don't we have it in Poland yet?
I finished a tailoring course in Poland, and Dorota, after almost 3 years in Australia, left her university and her job... and we flew together to paint a kindergarten to Buturu in Tanzania. In the meantime, we decided to combine our creative powers and designed the first Pole Pole collection.
I went to the markets and bought the most beautiful colorful fabrics and established cooperation with village tailors, communicating scraps of Swahili, English and gestures.
At the beginning of August 2019, sitting in a tree house in Zanzibar, we launched an online store. Already on the first day we had 63 orders!
We transported the goods in our backpacks to Poland and during 4 months we sold everything we brought! It was already clear that Poles are open to colorful clothes from subsaharan Africa. However, we put a lot of work into the project, and on a small scale it was not profitable so that we could go back and continue it.
So we decided to earn money to restart the business in a different way!
We spent most of the year in Australia making money. I delivered food on an electric bike, and Dorota was a housekeeper. In the meantime, we bought a campervan, went on a journey around Australia and spent the biggest lockdowns in it 🚐.
At the end of the year, we returned to Tanzania with savings and started producing a larger collection, investing Australian savings. We were supposed to stay for six months and find new producers. It was difficult when the textile market in the country is still in its infancy, and we still had misunderstandings due to different languages and cultures. When I asked one tailor to sew a jacket for a height of 170 cm, he started sewing it 170 cm long. After putting it on, it scrubbed on the ground 😂. In his defense, he said that in Europe designers have all sorts of crazy ideas! Another time I ordered 6 pairs of pants with pockets... and the seamstress sewed these pockets PERFECTLY ON THE KNEES 🤣.
We eventually managed to find someone who spoke English!
In January, through Instagram, I met Innocent - an entrepreneur from Mwanza, Tanzania, who has an interesting story. First, he created a mobile library for children without access to books, then he noticed that due to the lack of electricity, they could not read in the dark, so he created cheap backpacks with light bulbs powered by solar panels sewn into the backpacks... and now runs the Soma sewing workshop, where he pays his employees twice as much as a competitor in Tanzania, and provides accommodation and meals.
From the first meeting, we felt that we have similar values that guide us in life. He took me to a little sewing shop and then we went to the field where he said:
'This is where my new sewing factory will be.'
It was a dream. That day I commissioned him to produce 800 products. It turned out that his dream was about to come true...
In April, we reopened our store after a year and a half break. We had over 900 orders on the first day! 85% of the products have disappeared from the store! It took us almost two weeks just to pack and ship them.
It was a big problem for us to maintain high quality of production, so I lived close to Innocent's sewing factory for a few months and supervised the production on an ongoing basis.
In July, friends from the Czarna Zebra Film Studio accompanied us during the production of the collection in Mwanza and made a documentary about it. It was then that Pole Pole made a contribution so that Innocent could start building the sewing factory of his dreams.
We flew to Ghana to look for new factories that could sew for Pole Pole. We visited 7 sewing of them and chose one with which we felt a bond with: New Havenn. The owner is Afua (center), who returned to Ghana with her husband after long years of emigration in the Netherlands. And the name came to her in a dream.
"I saw everything clearly," she says. "The sign said New Havenn 2.0."
Esther (on the right), who has over 20 years of experience in this art, has been dyeing fabrics using the traditional method of batik.
In the meantime, we continue our cooperation with Soma in Tanzania. Innocent completed the construction of the sewing factory of his dreams and moved into it with his team!
There are still only two of us in Poland: Dorota focuses on designing new collections, and I (Michał) remain the owner and responsible for brand development, social media and operational matters.
Wasula (photo) - an expat from Sri Lanka, and currently one of the largest textile market experts on the continent, helps us in the production of new collections in Ghana. He trains our subcontractors, and also helps to manage quality and deadlines (because in Africa time is a relative term), and he simply facilitates our cooperation by introducing international standards to Ghana. This is an important step for us as we aspire to sustainable mass production.
We have also moved the warehouse close to Warsaw to a friendly fulfillment center so that your parcels and returns are handled more efficiently. Additionally, we can now work from Ghana, Tanzania or even Australia in Dorota's case without interrupting our business!
For this year, we are preparing organizational changes at Pole Pole: we are hiring new people, we are organizing the way of designing the collection. By the way, we are looking for a Product Developer to cooperate in the B2B model. If that's you, let us know and we'll send more details in an email :). hello[at]polepole.africa
Pole Pole Homies
She designed the Mini Dodo dress, which is already worn by over 1,000 Polish women! Now we are working on a joint collection that will be created in Ghana.
Together in Tanzania, we created Gdzioggery pants, the process of which he immortalized in this video on Youtube.
In cooperation, we have created Globcaki - backpacks made of recycled Tanzanian cement bags. Kaja also recorded a film about Innocent.