Abby Alley is a Chicago-based design brand that creates fashion collections in East Africa. Abby Alley partners with skilled artisans in Kenya and Tanzania to produce ethical products made out of materials they are proud of. Shop their collection, and learn more about their passion to create quality products for women.
What drove you to start your business?
The idea for this business came to be shortly after I returned home from volunteering as a teacher in Tanzania in 2014. I was at a crossroads in my career and was coming off of some difficult circumstances when a passion for East Africa and fair trade started developing in my heart. I knew that economic empowerment was a big piece of the puzzle to ending poverty and because of my relationships in East Africa, I decided to take a chance and make a career change.
Who are your employees or your artisans?
We work with artisans in Kenya and Tanzania. In Kenya, our partners are in Nairobi as well as outside the city in a Maasai village, while our partners in Tanzania are in Moshi, near Mt. Kilimanjaro.
How did you find them?
One of the groups actually found me on Instagram and we met when I was in Arusha, Tanzania. After seeing their work, I knew this would be a great partnership. That group is now the makers of nearly all of our bags. I was connected to the other groups I work with my friends in the area.
What do they mean to you?
My relationships with our partners is something I am so grateful for. I can’t explain how enriched my life is for knowing them as people and friends, first and foremost. It is so easy to see our differences from the outside, but there is so much common ground across cultures, and it is beautiful to see the world through their perspectives. I learn so much from working with them. On the business side, they make my vision come to life. I literally could not do it without them! I am so proud of the quality of their work and love having the opportunity to share our story with our customers.
What made you decide to start producing ethically?
This wasn’t even an option for me. Treating people fairly and as equals in partnership is non-negotiable. Products themselves are not what matters at the end of the day. People are what matters and that will always be the most important aspect of our business.
What impact has your business had on your community?
What was the most difficult part of starting and running your business? I think the most difficult part of starting a business is getting people to know you exist. There are so many brands out there and getting our product in front of people who share our passion for fashion and social responsibility has not been easy!
What has been the most rewarding outcome of your business?
It has been incredibly rewarding to help open people’s eyes to the beauty of East African culture. Building bridges to foster connectivity across cultures is very important to me. Also, as someone who has loved fashion my whole life, it has been incredibly rewarding to see my designs come to life and loved by our customers.
What is your company’s mission?
Our mission is twofold. We are passionate about creating exceptional products for the exceptional women who are courageously writing their own stories while also giving back to initiatives in East Africa providing access to education, basic needs, and jobs.