Profile-Sseko Designs & Kara
"It’s my sincere hope that I can spread awareness about it to others so they can make intentional choices that work for themselves and their family."
Lucky me=I got to sit down with Kara over a cup of coffee and learn more about her. In the age of (and I am just as guilty) living our lives online, it's so nice to connect with someone in person. Kara embodies so many roles: wife, mom, businesswoman, entrepreneur, conscious citizen are all wrapped up in this caring, kind individual.
It was great to see her eyes light up when she talked about Seeko Designs as she explained the heart of who they are. She chatted about the company centering around the support of women in African in a sustainable way...how the items she sells contribute to their education/futures in such a direct capacity. Her daughter was contentedly hanging out in her stroller next to the table as she filled me in. It was a beautiful scene: Kara talking about how her work helps women create a more meaningful future for themselves as she fed her own daughter.
I didn't know about the company before I met her so I asked some questions so that we could all get more informed on this important, world-changing company.
Tell me a bit about the heart and mission of Sseko Designs.
Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion company based in Uganda. The women we employ in our workshop get paid a fair wage including health benefits, paid maternity leave, and a matched scholarship to university. We create beautifully handmade leather shoes and handbags, as well as apparel, jewelry, and other accessories. Our workshop is Ugandan owned and operated, and we also are part of a work placement program coordinated by a local non-profit that rescues women from trafficking and other vulnerable situations. These women are typically full-time employees, and their stable, safe work at Sseko enables them to contribute to their family financially, as well as send their children to school. Our college-bound women are from Cornerstone Leadership Academy, the leading college prep school in Uganda. Without employment and the ability to save for tuition, these incredibly bright young women will return home to their village, are often pressured into marriage, and likely never attend college. Sseko’s mission extends beyond East Africa, however. We also empower women right here in the United States by providing them with an opportunity to create their own business. We receive professional development and experience personal growth through an incredible community of women that support and encourage one another.
How did you get connected with the company?
I first heard about Sseko while scrolling through my Facebook news feed. I have a bad habit of scrolling without paying super close attention, but my friend had posted a photo of her event table set up, and her sign caught my attention. The sign featured what I now know are images from our workshop in Uganda, with information on how many women are employed at Sseko and how many girls the company has sent to college. I was in the middle of my third year hustling away in another direct sales company, having completely lost my sense of purpose. I was constantly inventing new ways to make meaning in what I was doing and reassuring myself that it was enough. I knew in that moment that Sseko would be able to fill the gaps and complete what was missing from my current position. I immediately transitioned from my previous company to Sseko, and have found so many incredible opportunities to make a difference in the lives of women all over the world.
What introduced you to sustainable and ethical clothing?
I was honestly introduced to ethical clothing through my work with Sseko. I didn’t know that people (mostly women, and sometimes children) all over the world are treated poorly and paid unfairly (or not at all) to make our clothing. It was only after reflection that I realized how obvious it should be. Once my eyes were opened, I dug into the topic and watched documentaries like The True Cost and read articles and researched companies. I made a commitment to be more intentional about the items I purchased not only for myself, but also for my kids.
What do people need to know about Sseko Designs and the important work they're doing?
The most important thing for people to realize about Sseko, and really all ethical brands, is that we are intentional about everything we do. And we are open and willing to listen and hear your story. The important piece for me in how I represent Sseko is education. As someone who considers herself pretty savvy on world issues, I was disheartened at how much I didn’t know about ethical fashion. It’s my sincere hope that I can spread awareness about it to others so they can make intentional choices that work for themselves and their family. We all have different priorities, but we can still make better choices when the right information and tools are available to us.
What makes you passionate about this company and bringing awareness of it to this community?
I moved to Grand Rapids over 10 years ago as a college student, and I have enjoyed growing up right alongside the city. Sseko and Grand Rapids have a lot in common; we both have a lot to offer the world, and there is more to us than meets the eye. For as small of a city as Grand Rapids is, we already have such an incredible consciousness of sustainability and I believe we can be at the forefront of an ethical fashion revolution. I would love to be part of the rising tide that carries us toward a better future.
What are misconceptions about the company and products like this?
There are so many! Ethical fashion is only for hippies, and it’s not fashionable, trendy, or wearable. And on the opposite spectrum, fashion in general is only for people who love to shop and spend money on expensive clothes, when in fact we ALL wear clothing. Ethical fashion is too expensive. It’s too exhausting or takes too much time and effort to be intentional about clothing purchases beyond what makes us look or feel good. A charity model is the only way to do good in this world, especially as a company.
When you aren’t working what are you up to?
I have 3 little children and a husband that takes up the vast majority of my “free” time. We live on a farm outside of Lowell and you can find us outside playing or me inside cooking. When I have time, I love to work through new recipes I find on Pinterest. I also love to read and try to pick up a new book once a month. This month I am finishing up Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which is excellent!! We also make a commitment to travel somewhere new every year, and this year we are heading to Cuba! Life is an adventure and I try to say yes to it as much as I can.
What are tips that you have for people who aren’t familiar with the company/this type of clothing?
Start small! No matter what kind of lifestyle change you are hoping to make, starting small and taking one step at a time makes it manageable and achievable. When beginning to transition your wardrobe to be more ethical, start with the clothes you already own. Take an inventory of what you wear and don’t wear, and make note of any gaps. When purchasing something new, be sure it fills one of these gaps, and is versatile enough to go with several outfits. Do your research on the company you are purchasing the clothing from to be sure they are treating their employees fairly. I also highly recommend looking at thrift and second hand shops for pre-loved clothing items! I offer group and individual workshops on how to transition to an ethical wardrobe and provide more detailed and guided help one-on-one.
*Kara shares more tips on how to achieve an ethical wardrobe in her step-by-step guide below.
What keeps you motivated as a working mom and entrepreneur?
It’s a tough balance to strike most days, finding time to be a mom, wife, person, and entrepreneur. I often have more ideas than hours in a day! I strive to be present here in my real life, but also create a future and world that I want to live in. I remind myself that there are women and girls all over the world that depend on me to make better choices so they can live a life free of slavery and abuse. I can no longer ignore the role I play just because I am physically separated from their horrors. Instead I recognize the immense power I hold not only in my wallet, but also in my voice. I intend to use my voice to amplify their stories and create community here because if I don’t, who will?
Thanks to Kara for sharing more about Sseko Designs and her heart for the communities they are helping. You can shop their beautiful collection through my link below and make sure to follow along with their company!
INSTAGRAM: @ssekodesigns / @kmhohostyle
I partnered with Kara of Sseko Designs on this post but the content and opinions are my own.