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How luxury fashion brand Eliza Christoph is helping women in Africa

Co-founder and creative director of NYC-based luxury fashion brand Eliza Christoph, Liz Njoroge, was born in Nairobi, Kenya but left as a child to live in New York. 

Eliza Christoph borrows from both worlds and is built on Liz’s belief that fashion should be sustainable and that her brand should be rewarding for its artisans and practitioners in Africa.

We borrowed a bit of Liz’s time to learn more about her love affair with fashion and her mission for her growing fashion business.

How was it launching Eliza Christoph during the pandemic?

Liz: We launched sort of during the pandemic, in April 2021, after three years of research and development. The idea to launch Eliza Christoph started in 2018, way before the pandemic, but we began the actual work of finding partners, sampling and sourcing in 2019. When everything and everyone was ready for production in early 2020, the pandemic hit. We halted for a while, but realized how important it was to continue our mission, no matter the circumstances. We knew that artisan women in Kenya needed support during the pandemic more than ever before, so we pushed through and kept going once the government started lifting restrictions. We had faith in the future and were determined to fulfill our mission to launch the brand.

 What was the journey like to get to where you are today?

Liz: Growing up in Kenya was a magical experience for me. I did not know it at the time, because all I wanted to do was to move to the States and live that ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and every 90s American sitcom lifestyle. I would beg my mom to let me go to the States with my grandparents when they visited family here, but she wouldn’t have it. She eventually caved and let me attend a summer camp in North Carolina, and the rest is history.

Even as a little girl in Nairobi I would dress up in the prettiest and most vibrant dresses, to go to church and cultural events. I was always a flower girl at weddings, lavishing in the limelight of wearing cute flower girl dresses. I will never forget all the vibrant colors and authentic patterns I would see on women at events and admire their taste and style.

I was determined to be in fashion from a very young age, but I wasn’t clear on the path I needed to take. After high school in the US and a biology degree, I decided to become a fashion journalist, got my journalism degree, and moved to New York City. I started at Harper’s Bazaar and later moved on to marketing for an e-commerce company, all that time maintaining a fashion blog.

After exiting the e-commerce company, I was lucky to have the opportunity to take some time off to travel the world and ventured back to Kenya in 2018. On that first return, I knew I needed to find a way to make Kenya a regular thing in my life. Kenya had changed so much from when I was there as a child. People now have more access to all the spoils of the West, but they have also managed to keep the Kenyan warmth and altruistic nature. Yet, challenges have persisted that I wanted to help solve, and I knew I needed to do something to give back to my homeland.

On one of our trips to Kenya, I bought some traditional African fabric, designed some dresses, had them made, and brought them back to NYC. Wearing the dresses in New York, I got so much interest and so many positive comments from New Yorkers. That’s when I got the idea of bringing the intricate quality of Kenyan clothes-making and the vibrant prints, common in Kenya and Africa, to the States. But I knew I needed to add my own NYC modernism twist to traditional African prints and silhouettes to make them my own.

How does Eliza Christoph embody the mission of sustainability, ethical luxury, community-building and women’s empowerment?

Liz: When we started working on Eliza Christoph, one of the most important things we wanted to accomplish was to create gorgeous, great quality garments while making a positive impact on people and the environment. We chose partners in Kenya and around the world who shared these principles from start to finish in the whole process.

It was vital for us to support skilled, hardworking Kenyan women artisans for their exceptional work by paying them a fair wage and adding value to their communities. 

Through the Eliza Christoph foundation, we also support a community trust that sponsors young women to enter sewing academies to develop their artisan skills. Equipped with the proper training and mentoring, these women are empowered to find jobs or start businesses to sustain their families and themselves.

Women and girls in Kenya have unlimited and untapped potential. There is a famous saying in Kenya: “If you improve the life of a woman, you improve the life of an entire family.” Unfortunately, women in Kenya often face numerous barriers and constraints that inhibit them from reaching their full potential. Issues like gender-based violence, underrepresentation in decision-making at all levels, less access than men to land ownership, credit, education, job training, and opportunities. We founded our company with the goal of providing women in Kenya with job training, opportunities, fair wages, and benefits.

Since we design our fabric prints, we wanted to bring the finest quality textiles into our pieces while maintaining our sustainability goals. So, for our fabrics, we partnered with one of the leading Italian textile mills that uses innovative technologies that reduce harmful chemicals and CO2, and use less water to manufacture the highest quality fabrics.

How do you want women to feel when they wear your work?

Liz: I want anyone who wears our pieces to effortlessly feel like their best self, to feel seen and heard in a world that objects to women taking up space. When you pick an Eliza Christoph piece to wear for the day, we want you to feel fearless and confident that they can tackle anything, while looking stylish.

What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about Africa?

Liz: There is a misunderstanding that you can not get luxury products made in Africa. Nothing could be further from the truth, because there is luxury everywhere on the continent. 

We are recontextualizing for the world what luxury means. Luxury is not automation, mass-production, or making fabrics that harm the environment. We believe that luxury is handcrafting clothing, one piece at a time, and being keenly aware of the materials used. Goods that are handmade with the utmost attention to every single detail are the real luxuries, and that is where Africa excels.

Africa is full of super-talented, motivated, and educated people. Africans want to, like everyone else in the world, work hard and succeed on their own. What Africans need are skills training and job opportunities to support themselves, their families, and their communities. No African I know wants any handouts, but rather the opportunity to work and the sense of pride that comes from making it on your own. Our goal is to create jobs in Africa so that we can have the same pride and enjoyment of life as everyone else in the world.

What do you envision for the future of Eliza Christoph?

Liz: Our goal is to become one of the first black women owned, global luxury fashion brands. The future of fashion is ethically-made clothing from sustainable materials, designed and made to last season after season. We believe that after decades of the same recycled fashion design ideas inspired by Africa, coming from fashion capitals of the US and Europe, that consumers are hungry for originality and authenticity from Africa. It is essential that we support the communities that sustain us. We are committed to this ethos as a company. We are determined to bring the best Africa has to offer, to the world.

Visit Eliza Christoph online at elizachristoph.com and on IG @eliza_christoph

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