Bora Wear Alleviates Poverty in Africa

Many corporations partake in corporate responsibility; a select few such as TOMS and 1 For You and 1 To Give make it their mission to be socially responsible. Now, we have Bora Wear.

Bora Wear is an innovative, socially-conscious apparel company making strides to alleviate poverty and economic strife in Africa. Based on a month-to-month design model, Founder and CEO Mugo Muna designs while he enlists St. Martha’s Ministry to provide seamstress jobs for HIV+ women and implement his creations in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya.

According to the Economist, Kibera is considered Africa’s biggest slum. Though exact population numbers are disputed, from a stuffy 100,000-200,000 range to over half a million to an unimaginable 1 million people, the infrastructure, medical, and educational need cannot be disputed.

This certainty prompted the Cornell graduate, a native of Kenya, to move back to Africa. Though it was home, the transition and design process wasn’t always easy; from staying clear of “shady” attendants in the fabric store to hunting down an M.I.A tailor, Muna has delivered vibrant African print shirts for men and bypassed charity models to contribute to economic stability in the Kibera slums of Nairobi.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with this risk taker on his path less traveled. Read on to hear how Muna ditched the traditional route and ventured into fashion in Kenya.

SLM: You graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Economics. Why did you decide to venture into fashion?

 Mugo Muna: I interned at different jobs trying to figure out what I would do after graduation. Unfortunately, the experiences were mediocre at best. Entering these institutions, I already had this conception of what I would be doing. I thought I would be out in the rural areas impacting the people who needed it most. I thought I would have my eyes opened to a world that I had never seen. Instead, I ended up in offices staring at computer screens and being bored to tears.  So I quickly realized that the fiction I sold myself did not match the reality. Next I thought; since I couldn’t find a job that I liked, why not create one?

I had always loved wax print fabric. Any time I visited Kenya I made an effort to get a couple of shirts made for myself. In conjunction with this love, in my developmental economics course, we talked about how a woman is more likely to spend her earnings on her family’s welfare than on herself. So the fashion venture became a marriage of the clothes and the mission of impacting people in a meaningful and interesting way.

SLM: Why did you decide to move to and create Bora Wear in Kenya?

Mugo Muna: I was told once that you either act or accept. That is you either act to change the current situation or you sit back and accept the world for what it is. Given all the privilege I have enjoyed, I refuse to just let the world remain the way it is and will do my best to improve it. Because of this mindset, I was always going to move back to Kenya. The bigger question was what I was going to do. I grew up in Kenya and knew that I wanted to make a difference in some way. Kenya, itself, is not going to improve if people don’t make a concerted effort to empower those impoverished people.

SLM: Your business model is structured on providing exclusive, monthly prints. How do you decide on which prints to select and styles to create?

Mugo Muna: It’s strange walking into some of the places where they sell these fabrics. I can’t really call them stores. You walk into a room that is filled from floor to ceiling with bright, vibrant fabric, and you have to figure out a way to shift through all these options and not walk out with everything you see. I usually walk into my favorite place for fabric and just look around until I fall in love with a print. Sometimes you see one and once you unfold it, it really isn’t as exciting as you thought. Sometimes you miss the fact that there was a defect during the printing and you only find out when you have gotten home. There really isn’t a set amount of time when it comes to selecting the monthly prints; sometimes it’s minutes sometimes longer.

SLM: Bora Wear partners with St. Martha’s Ministry to train your seamstresses. How did you begin your relationship with St. Martha’s Ministry?

 Mugo Muna: It’s easy to find people who can sew in Nairobi. It’s harder to find people who are reliable and trustworthy. I met a tailor who would tell you that your item would be ready in a week’s time. When you showed up at his door a week later, he would lock the door, turn off the light, and refuse to answer your calls.

I didn’t know anyone in Kibera, so I got introduced to a couple of different groups. St. Martha’s Ministry was the third group that I tried working with in Kibera. They finished the clothes on time, as promised, and they are overall great people to work with on Bora Wear.

SLM: Currently, Bora Wear sells print shirts for men. Where do you plan on taking your product? Do you see a collection in your future?

 Mugo Muna: There definitely isn’t any shortage of ideas. Right now, we are just focused on the monthly designs and working out the kinks in the system. Ideally, we would want to dress people from head to toe in Bora Wear, but that is definitely a while away.

Yes, a collection is definitely something we will work towards.

SLM: What is your advice to Sweet Lemon readers looking to start their own company or clothing line?

 Mugo Muna: Just go for it! Don’t regret that you didn’t give it a shot. Also, get in front of customers as much as you can. There is nothing as humbling as being rejected directly to your face.

SLM: Finish the statement, “when life gives you lemons…”

Mugo Muna: I suggest you demand a full refund.

Demand a refund and buy Bora Wear? Or you can just shop Bora Wear’s men’s print collection here! For updates, follow the brand on !



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