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Swimsuits Aid Africa

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It’s the midst of Paris Fashion Week, and Yodit Eklund is giddy with exhaustion. Her Bantu swimsuit line, made in Africa from vibrant African prints, is a hot commodity on the catwalks. Eklund (Environmental Economics and Policy, ’07) and her brother Yohannes Mekbebe founded Bantu to bring a new mode of economic development, manufacturing, to a continent known more as a supplier of raw materials. “I wanted to start a business in Africa and realized the garment business was a good idea because it needs a lot of hand labor,” Eklund says.

A beach brand made perfect sense. Born to an Ethiopian mother and an American diplomat father, Eklund has lived all over Africa and knows its extraordinary beaches firsthand. From Cape Town to Zanzibar to Mombasa and Casablanca, the continent has a surfeit of sunny sand and killer surf.

Swimsuits are an ideal way to slip African designs into Western clothing, says Eklund. “A dress that’s completely African print is a bit much. But the surface area of a swimsuit is so small. It gives fashionistas the perfect dose of something African.”

Bantu employs some two dozen women in Ethiopia who cut and sew the swimsuits. The cloth itself is patterned with designs based on traditional West African wax cloth textiles. Eklund is thrilled that people have been so interested in products coming from Africa. “I couldn’t have asked for more,” she says.

-Kathleen M. Wong

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