Brand wants to improve life of African women, children

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuto Doya, founder of apparel maker Cloudy

Apparel maker Cloudy has been attracting attention recently with products featuring African prints and vibrant colors together with the company’s positive social message.

The company was established by Yuto Doya, 35, a former securities company employee, to provide job opportunities for African women, and a portion of the firm’s sales goes to educational assistance on the continent.

Doya was inspired to dive into the fashion industry after seeing the conditions of an African slum firsthand during a graduation trip and wanting to do something about the situation.

Yellow, pinks, blues. Cloudy’s T-shirts, pouches and handwoven bags are made from bright and cheerfully colored fabrics and boast stylish, impressive designs. Many products are collaborations with major boutiques or popular brands.

“Rather than people buying our products with the thought of supporting Africans, we’d like [customers] to purchase items because they genuinely want them,” Doya said.

Cloudy’s products are manufactured at its five factories in Ghana using domestically produced material that is crafted by about 500 local women and disabled people.

“Our business is able to continue here thanks to our employees’ handiwork, which is rooted in their local lifestyle and culture,” said Doya, who spends about half the year in Africa and makes a point of communicating regularly with the workers.

Doya plans to expand sales beyond Japan to the United States and Europe and is collaborating on original patterns in hopes of fostering a globally renowned designer from the continent.

Confronting challenges

Doya played football during his college days at Keio University and then landed a job with Goldman Sachs Japan.

However, the university graduation trip ended up changing his life.

Doya stayed with a Maasai family in Kenya on that trip and visited Kibera, a slum in Nairobi. He saw children begging in the streets and living in unsanitary conditions with insufficient toilets. The scene had a profound impact on him, and he felt something must be done. He had come face-to-face with his life’s mission.

Back in Japan, Doya’s first year of work was full of difficulties.

“I couldn’t understand any of the financial terms, I didn’t speak English well, and I couldn’t operate a computer,” he recalled. “I was pretty pitiful.”

But his affection for Africa kept him going.

Doya stood firm with his work at Goldman Sachs, and he made regular donations to African countries.

About a year after joining the company, Doya returned to the Nairobi slum to “confirm my determination.”

In a bid to turn his activities into something more concrete, Doya in 2010 launched Doooooooo, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting education in Africa. His determination to “do something” is reflected in the NPO’s name.

However, after learning that a woman who graduated from a school he helped build ended up working as a prostitute, Doya realized the necessity of creating more employment opportunities for women in Africa as there are too few.

Having a clearer idea of what he wanted to accomplish in Africa, Doya left his job at Goldman Sachs.

He established Cloudy in 2015, taking a hint from the fact that many African women use sewing machines on a daily basis.

Clearing cloudy hearts

Doya had a rocky start.

There was a language gap, and many people did not understand the measurement unit of centimeters. Workers had difficulty duplicating products, even when Doya showed them cloth samples, and 90 out of 100 items were of insufficient quality to be sold. In one case, someone sold off a factory sewing machine to pay for “future living expenses,” they said.

“I was worried and wondered if it would be all right,” Doya said. “But I made a point to spend time with the locals and work together despite being from different cultures and speaking different languages.”

Cloudy products are available online, and part of the proceeds go to the NPO to be used to help build schools and provide school lunches and sanitary products in Ghana and Kenya.

The first directly managed Cloudy store opened in the Shibuya district of Tokyo in October last year. At the store, Doya tells customers about the situation African women and children face.

“It’s not just about products,” Doya said. “I want visitors to the shop to take away an awareness [of people’s situations].”

The name of the brand is meant to express the hope that people in Africa will enjoy life, even on days when there are clouds in their hearts.

“I am happy fighting with them, rather than supporting them,” Doya said of his determination to brighten the hearts of African women and children as he strides forward together with them.