Back to Africa: Adventures in Cross-Cultural DIY

FOAM Role Model Cloe Lane takes her DIY adventures back to Africa.

Role Model // Cloe Lane // 07/26/12
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Cloe Lane

Two years ago I returned home from a trip to Malawi, Africa. Motivated by the poverty I saw, I decided to take a year off from buying new clothes and challenged myself to be more creative and resourceful with recycled and repurposed clothing [Editor's Note: Please read our "Role Model" feature on Cloe!].

Africa is one of those places you can't just visit once, so when I was invited on a trip to Uganda this summer, how could I say no? After getting my shots, relocating my passport, and figuring out the best way to fit two weeks worth of stuff into a small carry-on bag, I found myself once again boarding a plane headed for Africa.

Uganda is an inspiring place, uncommonly beautiful and lush. Even though the country has received a lot of negative attention for war, HIV/AIDS, and extreme poverty, a lot of good is happening on the local level. Global Support Mission, a community development organization, works to protect the victims of poverty and disease, many of whom are children. Through their efforts, the village of Kaihura has been positively impacted—orphanages have been established, a girl’s vocational school has flourished, and a craft shop, bridal boutique and salon have been restored and are thriving. While in Kaihura I spent most of my time at the vocational school, getting to know the teen girls who've found their home there. Because I love altering and embellishing clothing, I decided to spearhead a D.I.Y. project for the students to enjoy.

Prior to leaving home, I ventured downtown to LA’s Fashion District to stock up on T-shirts, buttons, trimmings, patches, fabric paint and more. One morning during the trip we set up a workshop where the girls were able to take the materials and decorate the shirts, and the results were wonderfully original. Although the girls are trained and very skilled at weaving and sewing, they rarely get the opportunity or have the means to make their own creations. Facing a table laden with craft materials, I realized they were just as happy as any American girl about turning a plain T-shirt into something unique and personal.

Not only did the project inspire the girls, but I left inspired by them and the beauty, rhythm and color of Africa. I have been infusing my own style with more patterns and bolder shades, like the electric African prints, draped and knotted skirts, head wraps and even the monochrome school uniforms of the local children. I discovered that D.I.Y.-style transcends cultural boundaries and I can’t wait to go back!

If you're interested in supporting some of the good work happening in Uganda, Red Earth Trading Co. sells amazing jewelry and leather pieces crafted by African artisans. 100% of the proceeds pour directly back into the projects of Global Support Mission. Their national tour of pop-up shops has just begun, starting right here in Southern California. Check them out on Facebook for more information.


Jul 26, 2012 at 06:26PM Karen McGee

Cloe, this is a great article! The girls at Dorcas Vocational School loved having you there and loved getting to practice their creative side while making these shirts. Encouraged about how inspired YOU are!

If anyone is interested in volunteering with Global Support Mission in Uganda, they can visit our website at or email us at volunteer[AT]globalsupportmission[DOT]com!

Jul 26, 2012 at 06:47PM reisser

Great report. This article restores my hope in the upcoming generation of adults!

Jul 26, 2012 at 08:05PM Dmoyer82

Cloe you are truly an inspiration. Goal setting and sticking to it is a huge accomplishment. I was happy to be apart of your humble vision. I love your style.

Jul 26, 2012 at 08:48PM Chris Sasser

Great work, Cloe. Thank you again for coming to Kaihura and making a difference.

Jul 26, 2012 at 11:54PM kneary

Cloe your love was something that altered and embellished the people of Uganda! Thank you for the gift of your creativity, your uncommon beauty and the inspiration you are to others!

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