Thoughts on African “Sustainability” 


One of the seeds that were sown (way back when I was still in undergrad on my law career track) that has bloomed into Sarep + Rose existing today. I saw a CNN Africa special about this particular way of ‘turning trash into cash’ and it forever stuck with me.


To me it was a fascinating example of how we create our own systems and industries in Africa based simply on ways of life that have long existed. What is already happening, largely borne out of more limited resources is lauded as an extra-ordinary effort of “sustainability” abroad.


To be honest for a moment, this is one of the reasons I find it challenging as an African founder to pigeon-hole my company as ‘sustainable’ in the way that the Global North generally understands it to be.


For example, it’s second-nature to many of us to buy dry peanuts, seasonings or oil in old water bottles and re-purposed plastic jars from Dakar, to Monrovia, Accra or Banjul.

To eat grilled corn or fried alloco out of a newspaper or banana leaf in central Abidjan.


Or how a company like J-Palm Liberia has mechanized and accelerated the production of one of our biggest crops in West Africa - Palm Kernels. Not only to create huge efficiencies for small farmers but also to create an additional use - Bath, Body and Hair collections, all from a natural byproduct of how we’ve been making food for ourselves all along.


I consider the very essence of a business in Africa that utilizes local talent and / or materials to be ‘sustainable’. Who would have known almost a decade later, I too would become part of turning the Fish Skin ‘trash into cash’ for Kenyan fishermen. (NOT me!)

Our Maral ‘Fish Skin’ Daily Tote is this Month’s Bag of the Month. Make sure you check it out (and perhaps get a matching pair of Fish Skin sandals if you can!) and have a feel for yourself of what it’s like to have ‘turned trash into cash’ for some of the most creative communities on earth!

- Robin Sirleaf, Founder, Sarep + Rose

May 28, 2023 — Robin Sirleaf

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