Fashion designer honoured by Forbes uses sewing school to help tackle issue of menstrual poverty in Africa
A fashion designer awarded ‘discovery of the year’ by Forbes for her educational project teaching women who can’t afford education sewing and design, has turned her sights to help fight the issue of menstrual poverty.
Maja Kotala from Chorzów, who set up design school ‘Sewing Together’ in 2018, first in Uganda and then in Kenya, is also now engaging her students in making renewable period pads for women in rural Kenya.
In 2016, a study into Menstrual Poverty in Kenya by consulting firm FSG, found that 65 percent of women and girls cannot afford sanitary pads and that two thirds of women in rural Kenya are forced to engage in sexual encounters in exchange for pads.
For women and girls who seek other means of dealing with the situation, many are forced to rely on unsanitary methods such as using sand, feathers or leaves or exchanging dirty sanitary pads from other girls and very often miss school for the whole duration of their period.
Some estimates suggest that female students miss 20 percent of the school year on average because they are on their period, which is estimated at about 1 million women per month in Kenya alone.
Moved by the scale of the problem, Kotala set about finding Polish companies who would donate their offcuts, partnering with brands Nago, Pan Tu Nie Stal and KOKO World.
Kotala told TFN: "Menstrual poverty is a global issue which can affect any women and girl. I believe that no woman should feel ashamed because of her menstrual cycle and only by working together we can help change that and create equal opportunities for all women and girls around the world."
Based on knowledge and experience from Padding Africa about how to make reusable pads, she set aside time for the students of Sewing Together to sew the pads, which are then delivered to girls in rural communities.
The pads have an inner lining made from bamboo and the outer fabric is cotton, which, with the right care enables the pads to be washed under cold running water after use and reused several times lasting up to a year, making them not only reusable, but also ecological as they are made without plastic.
To draw attention to the issue and help sow more pads to help more women, Kotala set up the 'Przypinamy-Pomagamy' (Pin to Help) campaign, selling beautiful fashion badges, with each one funding a set of pads for one woman, which includes two day pads and one night pad.
Kotala's camapign has already been helped by Polish businesses such as Artal Medale, who produced and donated the badges, which feature original designs created by artist Marta Chmiel.
Polish yoga studio Lido Movement Studio has also partnered on the campaign by selling the badges and offering to give up the proceeds from certain yoga classes to the initiative.
The fight against period poverty is one of many initiatives Kotala is running through Sewing Together, with the main offering being free six-month courses for women in Mombasa, all taught by Kotala on sewing machines she bought herself and with proceeds from the fashion collections produced by girls at the school.
Sewing Together distinguishes itself from other schools were women have to at least pay for materials, making it out of reach for the women Kotala teaches, who can't afford even the smallest expense.
But, partnering with established Kenyan designer Judy Gitonga, once the girls pass Kotala's course, many are able to go and work there and get paid for their work.
Kotala told TFN: “I have two goals for Sewing Together, one is to help as many women as possible, and for that I need funding, and the second is to become an established fashion brand in Europe and to prove to people in Europe, the potential of African women.”
Sewing Together's latest main collection, produced by Kotala and her students is 'La Dolce Vita Mombasa' alongside a sleepwear collection 'Sleep With Me' with plans for an upcycled denim collection in February and a summer collection in April/May 2022.
Having started out in fashion as a catwalk model at the age of 15, Kotala moved to Australia at the age of 18 and was offered the chance to study fashion design at a Sydney Fashion Design School and set up her own brand.
She then moved to Paris to become a brand agent working for some of the world’s biggest brands.
Kotala’s charitable project ‘Sewing Together’ was born after she wanted to find a deeper meaning to her work and give something back to others after the opportunities she had been given in the design world.
To find out more about Sewing Together and the Menstrual Poverty campaign visit: https://www.mkotala.com/reusable-pads.