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Footprints of Change: Peter’s mission to transform textile waste into shoes




Amidst the chaotic whirlwind of fast fashion, where over-consumption runs rampant and environmental harm is commonplace, Peter Kweku Anowie stands as a catalyst for change.

 

As the founder and CEO of Koliko Wear, a sustainable shoe manufacturing start-up, Peter is not just challenging the prevailing fashion model; he's helping to redefine it.

 

Operating at the crossroads of education, empowerment, and sustainable fashion, Peter's mission extends beyond shoes. Through Koliko Wear, he's pioneering a movement that empowers communities while championing environmental stewardship.

 

Peter is the eleventh founder in our series on Africa’s Hidden Gems – a series that amplifies African entrepreneurs who are tackling the continent’s Sustainability challenge with innovative solutions.

 

Peter's journey of community empowerment

 

Peter’s journey to the helm of Koliko Wear is a compelling tale of grassroots entrepreneurship and community-driven change.

 

After his primary and secondary education in Takoradi, he moved north to Sunyani, in the Bono region (mid-West) of Ghana,  to pursue a degree in banking and finance. Peter then spent four years in banking at Amenfiman Rural Bank in Wasa Akropong in the Western Region.

 

During one of his visits back home to Takoradi, he was struck by how many young people, including many of his childhood friends, were  “sitting idle, unemployed, and still in the community”.   Peter felt a compelling urge to “start something” that would make a difference.

 

In 2016, with this strong desire to effect change but with only a modest amount of funds, Peter set off although not quite sure what to do.   

 

Destiny intervened when he reconnected with an old friend who happened to be a skilled shoemaker. This chance encounter gave Peter direction and laid the foundation for what would eventually become Koliko Wear.

 

Initially conceived as a solution to unemployment, Koliko Wear gradually evolved into a platform for sustainable fashion.

 

Turning textile waste into fashion: Koliko Wear's sustainable solution

 

“The initial idea was to make shoes, but not out of waste”, Peter tells me. However, he soon realised the limitations of this approach. Not only was it financially burdensome, but it also lacked the innovation needed to stand out in a crowded market: “we were doing what everyone else was doing”.

 

Feeling compelled to find a more sustainable solution, Peter turned his attention to the pressing issue of textile waste. This shift in focus led him to explore the potential of repurposing discarded materials like used jeans, woollen fabrics, jute sacs, and even car tires.

 

After presenting the idea to the @Ghana Climate Innovation Centre (GCIC) and receiving their support to fine-tune the concept, Koliko Wear found a unique niche in the fashion market. This new approach not only allowed them to address a major environmental challenge, but it also provided a lifeline for struggling entrepreneurs in Ghana's textile sector.

 

Each week, Ghana imports approximately 15 million items of secondhand clothing from countries like the UK, US, and China. These clothes are then sold by the sac to vendors in bustling markets like Kantamanto in Accra one of the world’s largest secondhand clothing markets!.

 

The economics of this trade are stark.  Vendors typically pay between $120-200 per bale of clothing. They sell and upcycle what they can, but about 40% of the contents often ends up as waste. Shockingly, this translates to an estimated 100 tonnes of textile waste being discarded daily, with only a fraction being collected by the city for disposal. The rest languish in illegal dumps, ditches, and drains, posing significant environmental and health risks to communities.

 

“Usually, when you go to Kantamanto, the unsold clothes or the ones that cannot be sold are just left on the ground”, Peter explains.   By purchasing and repurposing these discarded textiles, Koliko Wear not only prevents environmental harm but also supports local traders. “Instead of throwing away these textiles that harm the environment,” Peter emphasises, “we buy them and turn them into something useful”.

 

Today's Koliko Wear

 

Since its inception in 2016, Koliko Wear has steadily grown and evolved.

 

Led by its founders and supported by a small team of advisors, including industry experts like Christian Karnau who leveraged his experience from Hugo Boss to help structure the business during a visit funded by Managers without Borders, Koliko Wear has been guided by a commitment to community empowerment and sustainability.

 

Peter acts as the self-proclaimed “Chief Servant of the Business”, overseeing the day-to-day operations from marketing to administration, and is the creative force behind the shoe designs. The company's factory, located in Takoradi, employs five individuals. Here, each shoe is meticulously handcrafted, from cutting to stitching, with a focus on quality and attention to detail.

 

Koliowears is still a small-scale operation when it comes to manufacturing shoes.  It produces around 10 unique pairs of shoes per day using a combination of manual craftsmanship and a few key machines funded by GCIC.

 

But the company’s impacts are wider and deeper.  It not only prioritises environmental sustainability but also social impact.  Koliko Wear offers free training to anyone interested in learning shoemaking skills.  To date the company has trained approximately 400 individuals, empowering them to start their own businesses and create opportunities for others in their communities.

 

With prices ranging from GHS 180 to GHS 300 (equivalent to $13 - $22), Koliko Wear's shoes offer both affordability and ethical craftsmanship, making them accessible to a wide range of consumers while supporting sustainable practices and community development.

 

Overcoming obstacles

 

However, the journey has not been without its challenges. As Peter reflects, “circular economy businesses are not all that embraced in  modern Africa – even though it has always been a traditional way of living. It is only now that people are beginning to talk about it”. This initial reluctance posed a significant hurdle, especially considering the prevailing mindset towards waste materials in Ghana.

 

To address this challenge, Peter has taken proactive steps to educate Ghanaians about the importance of sustainable fashion. He has actively engaged with various media outlets, including BBC, Voice of America (VOA), CNN, and local radio stations, to raise awareness and advocate for environmentally conscious consumer choices.

 

Scaling up the business has also proven to be a formidable task, particularly in acquiring essential machinery. As Ghana is not a shoemaking hub, Koliko Wear must import much of the machinery they require, leading to logistical and financial challenges. The lack of machinery also impacts the ability to produce standardised shoes efficiently, further complicating efforts to compete with larger brands.

 

Navigating these challenges requires resilience, adaptability, and a steadfast commitment to their mission. As Peter says, he’s had to “stay focused” amidst the trials and tribulations. However, Peter remains undeterred.  Each challenge serves as an opportunity for growth and innovation, driving Peter and his team to find creative solutions.

 

What’s Next

 

As Peter looks to the future, his goal is clear: to establish Koliko Wear as a leading hub for sustainable shoemaking in Africa. Their mission transcends fashion, aiming to combat the significant challenge of textile waste while simultaneously fostering economic empowerment.

 

If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to our Africa's Hidden Gems Newsletter and receive monthly updates on inspiring stories from African visionaries. They are men and women who are making sustainable impacts today and doing their bit to pave the way for a better future for the continent and beyond.

 

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