Self-described "children of Africa," Alice Heusser and Olivia Kennaway were fashion designers of the brand Lalesso, a luxury African fashion and lifestyle brand, until August 2018 when they closed the label. The business model is transparent, sustainable and relies on ethical production facilities in Kenya and South Africa.
Kennaway grew up in Kenya and attended boarding school in Dublin before moving to Cape Town to study fashion design — where she met Heusser, who was born in England and moved to South Africa at the age of 7. At university, the duo were inspired by the colourful East African khanga cloth in rich, vibrant prints and they formed Lalesso after travelling to the remote island of Lamu, where coastal Swahili women wore the khanga cloth.
Their native land’s widespread poverty also compelled the pair to incorporate fair trade practises and provide skills training and jobs to the local women. In 2009, Heusser and Kennaway launched SOKO, an independent production unit that supports local talent and crafts. Besides Lalesso, a variety of other clothing brands utilise SOKO’s production capabilities.
Taking note of local creative artisans and talents, Lalesso included various aspects of traditional craft and beading into the apparel, such as beaded bracelets, carved coconut buttons and metalwork. Lalesso had also been produced in South Africa as well, in part as a move to protect the country’s garment industry, which had been threatened by manufacturers moving out of the country.
Climate change and environmental concerns are also top of mind for Heusser and Kennaway. To that end, they have taken steps to become, according to the company, one of the world’s only ‘zero-carbon’ fashion brands.