Get to know Roundabout, the gatekeeper-free knowledge source on sustainability and circularity
“Roundabout is dialogue and discovery. We want to bring passion and process back into focus
Zara Odu is uniting Africa’s sustainability visionaries with Roundabout. The digital network offers a space where this growing community can share insights and resources, spark ideas and collaborate. Launched in 2023, it’s already attracted labels such as Post-Imperial, Nkwo, I.AM.ISIGO and Dye Lab and initiatives including Bukomansimbi Organic Tree Farmers Association as well as tech upstarts ADD.apt and Rethread Africa. Conversations have ranged from merino wool felting in South Africa to turning agro waste into fine art. Lagos-based Odu has worked in fashion consultancy for over a decade and now puts her expertise into shaping the industry’s next chapter.
What were some of the challenges that inspired you to establish Roundabout?
The global fashion system has taught African designers to turn their back on what is natural to us, which is doing small batch production done in a conscious way. Meanwhile consumers think of sustainable fashion as luxury and therefore unaffordable. So, how do you design in a way that’s relevant and desirable but that still makes sense for people and the environment? I was having all of these conversations behind the scenes and it was time to bring them into the open so we can find solutions together.
How does Roundabout tackle these issues?
It’s about dialogue and discovery. We want to bring passion and process back into focus. Here are some blueprints of brands across Africa doing exciting work, whether with dying methods or sustainable fibres or technology, that prove that innovation is possible here. The platform is fully accessible and is a place that creates community.
How do you hope to turn talk into action?
We have two projects coming to fruition in 2024 so far. We’re being supported by The Or Foundation to host workshops in Lagos and Accra with the UK’s Zero Waste Design Collective that will teach designers, tailors and upcyclers how to cut and sew without waste. And we’re working with Studio Hilo in Berlin to share some open-source technology around turning waste into yarn.
Some argue that we shouldn’t try to change age-old crafts, others that they’ll die out if we don’t. What is your take?
A lot of the indigo dyers in Kano, northern Nigeria, are now using synthetic dye from China rather than real indigo and the aso oke weavers are using polyester rather than silk, so that’s a problem. For me, innovation is using the natural resources we have to create new crafting opportunities. The raw materials and skills are here, so our artisanship can be elevated and redefined through processes that are cleaner, safer and scalable.
The Global North produces a carbon footprint 100 times larger than the Global South – why should Africans care about western notions of sustainability?
As Africans, we are naturally more sustainable – our processes are more meticulous and what’s produced is more beautiful – but that is not enough because even though we might not have caused these environmental problems, they’ve still tricked down to us. So, let’s go back to the source to find local solutions. We all have a part to play in making change.
What does success look like for Roundabout in future?
We want to continue to educate and to connect with other organisations in a tangible way – more workshops, more opportunities to show and tell. And we want to encourage everyone to share their numbers so we can collect the data we need to encourage investment in the sector. God-willing, we’ll get there through relationship building, collaborations and funding. And I’m excited because we’re well on our way.