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How No Access New York is creating clothing and opportunities in Malawi

“It stretches way beyond the clothing for me. I’m happy that I get to make clothes but at the end of the day I’m trying to tell stories, I want people to know Malawi and become familiar with where I come from.”

Thomas Keys, Founder of No Access New York
Thomas Keys

No Access New York is a clothing brand manufactured and headquartered in Mzuzu, Malawi. Keys founded the brand in 2017, and in its inception was a convergence between where he was raised (Nyack, NY), and where his family is from.

Two homes, yet two distinctly different cultural palaces, even increasingly as the fashion world is concerned.

clothing opportunities malawi
At the tailor’s shop

Within Mzuzu, Keys’ mother’s influence on the city cannot be overstated. In addition to the clothing brand creating tailoring jobs and clothing opportunities that are incrementally increasing, his mother has built Mzuzu International Academy as well as Kwithu CBO, a feeding center.

Their extra fabric makes bags which they use to send to customers. And no Access has produced 500 uniforms for a local secondary school.

Keys had a vision for a clothing brand within sustainable and practical fashion. But even more than that, one that exemplifies and emphasizes community, empowerment, and creative expression.

“When I was going to school at City College, I started interning at Ghost Gallery in Crown Heights. My boss at the time, Steven Alexandr, had recently opened the gallery and I got to see it grow over time. This was a very significant time for me, because I had just gotten my first samples back from Malawi. I was excited, and working at Ghost gave me an opportunity to be around other creatives, and truly learn. I saw firsthand how hard you have to work to make it and run a successful business, and that definitely helped me in the beginning stages of No Access.”

Thomas Keys

A quick trip to Malawi would inspire Keys to create more clothing opportunities

The summer after freshman year of college, Keys went and stayed in Mzuzu.

“I was spending every single day at this tailor shop, from sunup to sundown, just soaking in game and learning, that’s really where it started for me.”

His mom used to be a designer in Malawi, and is still a staple of the community. In Keys words, she inspires him every single day.

That Summer, “she was really just giving me game and preparing me for this opportunity. Once I expressed to her that this was really what I wanted to do, she put me in position to really pursue and strive for this.”

Thomas and his mother

Thomas started meeting the local tailors and picking up the intricacies of the city and its people. It wasn’t his first time there by any means, but in order to create a network and infrastructure to prosper, he needed to understand it all.

In his reconnaissance, as it were, Keys saw a different side of fashion in Malawi than he has in the states and principally New York.

“People in Malawi take pride in what they wear and how they look. Everyday when I’m walking on the street, I see so many different styles and looks that inspire me. Working in the tailor shop gave me a chance to see that firsthand, as people in the community would always stop by at the end of the day to see what we had made, and never hesitate to show love or give advice.”

malawi clothing opportunities
The clothing opportunities in Malawi struck Keys on arrival in 2017

And as a basketball player his whole life, Thomas would play with local construction workers at the one court in the city. This experience would serve as the inspiration for his first design.

No Access New York’s First Design

“I remember my first release was those work suits with the reflective tape.

Thomas Keys
Keys’ first release

Going to Katoto everyday to play basketball was where a lot of inspiration for my first release came from. At the end of the day, everyone would come play ball, and a group of my homies would come straight from working construction all day and play. When they pulled up they always had on their work uniforms. But the way that they’d carry themselves and what it meant to have that suit on… it was something that opened my eyes up to how clothes should be viewed and how clothes should be worn.”

Thomas Keys
malawi basetball players
Mzuzu, Malawi

Keys feels like his designs now come from personal inspiration and more so trying to make practical things in sustainable fashion.

“Nowadays I feel like a lot of designers who truly put the time in get overlooked, because of the hype and trends that constantly plague the fashion industry. I’ve been lucky enough to be around young designers like myself who love the process, and are dedicated to the craft of making clothes.

I spend a lot of of time sourcing fabrics in Malawi, Tanzania, and South Africa. I fell in love with this process, and always make sure each season we come with something different fabric-wise.”

Thomas Keys

Sustainable efforts

No Access uses only locally-sourced fabric, and Keys also remarks that everything they do is sustainable. They don’t waste fabric, and when they ship clothes out, they have dustbags made from excess fabric that carry the clothes. Kwithu CBO receives the excess fabric and turns it into rugs, dolls and bags there.

No Access fabrics

‘Sustainable fashion’ is a buzzword now because it has become trendy and “cool” to operate in that space. But how much is each brand or designer really practicing what they preach?

“I’ve just seen companies really use that term (sustainable fashion) and just run with it and be like ‘yeah this t-shirt was made out of four plastic water bottles.’ And it’s kind of just like ‘bro what the fuck does that even mean?’” ponders Keys.

Keys’ first pop up shop in New York, and subsequent ones, showed him that all different age groups and “types” of people wanted to rock his designs. Malawi showed him the way clothes should be seen and worn, and the pop ups in New York City showed him even more that fashion should be available to everyone.

No Access New York pop-up
Keys and me in NYC at a No Access New York pop-up


“I’m trying to make clothes for everyone, that’s really my main goal.”

Thomas Keys

Keys understands there is more to his designs and business enterprise than clothing opportunities in Malawi and money. People gravitate towards No Access because of the mission and where their support goes. He may charge a certain price, but that money is helping him build a production center, pay tailors, and all the additional altruistic efforts No Access leads.

“To have people feel that they’re a part of the community, that’s what I want. I take pride in where I come from and what I’m doing out here.

To me this is way bigger than the clothes I make. It’s about how can I help my community in Mzuzu, and provide jobs for people in Malawi. I wake up everyday motivated to invest my time and money back in the city that has always been like home to me since a kid. This is truly my passion, and I know my purpose stretches beyond just making clothes.”

Thomas Keys
clothing Production plant in Malawi
Production plant in Malawi

Reinvesting money back into Mzuzu is the mission, and it is currently being acted upon.

The clothing opportunities for tailors in Malawi are not great, because some weeks there could be a lot of business and money coming in, but other weeks there is no business to pay tailors.

pay malawi tailors
No Access New York tailor working on sustainable fashion

Keys came in, and with a respectful hand, offered local tailors full-time jobs with salaries, ensuring these people make more money and have more stable situations than they had before.

No Access is rooted in community, but also empowerment within fashion. Keys wants to not only make clothes, but also produce for other people and organizations. He wants to create comfortable clothing, but also push the boundary between classy and casual. No Access’ upcoming collections reflect this sentiment and vision.


“The way I look at fashion nowadays, overall it’s in a bad place. Being in New York really exposed me to that,” solemnly states Keys.

“You have these companies, they’re not trying to push change, they’re just trying to make money. There’s no excuse for being silent on certain issues. A lot of these major companies, they take straight from the Black youth, rip them off, sell them false dreams, and then chew them up and spit them out, and it just keeps happening.”

Thomas Keys

Still, New York still plays a really big role for Keys. He grew amidst the stale smell of smoke in New York City and the beautiful sight, yet pungent aroma of the Hudson River. There is inspiration in the streets even amidst the uber-political and corporate nature of fashion currently in the city.

Keys in NYC

Keys grew up in Nyack and was one of the only African kids in his town. And his mom instilled in him to always carry a pride in where he came from.

Mzuzu eventually made sense as a place to operate in, with clothing opportunities galore in Malawi with his connections. And it also served as a safe haven for Keys to let his inspiration flow.

The No Access Initiative

Moving forward into 2021, Keys has his eyes set on big picture projects. To start what will become known as the No Access Initiative, he’s focused on a piece of Mzuzu that feels innately personal to him.

The basketball court he plays with the local construction workers on has a lot of room to grow. “I’ve probably ripped like five pairs of kicks on some bullshit.”

He wants to eventually repaint the court, put in bleachers, get new hoops, and build off of that. With the money he sees from collections, he wants No Access to dedicate two to three collections to the No Access Initiative each year.

malawi production plant
Production plant in Malawi

Thinking of the good fortune many of us have had to grow up near stable basketball courts, community centers, art centers, studios, you name it, Keys wants to really give back.

“The thing that matters the most to me throughout all of this is the people out here… do they respect what I’m doing? Do they rock with it? That means more to me than any opinion in the world. And I’ve been embraced.”

Thomas Keys

My friend beamed with the vision of setting up a channel for kids to be inspired and learn. To also create clothing and other opportunities in Malawi for the youth.

“The end goal with the No Access Initiative would be to build a vocational school somewhere down the line. I want to create an environment where the kids feel empowered, and have the proper resources to learn. It’s a dream that constantly runs through my head everyday.”

Thomas Keys

Creative expression

“[People out here] look so much flier, comfortable and happier than people in the states. I really wake up everyday and I’m inspired — that’s why I moved to Malawi.”

Thomas Keys

Keys recounts how there is endless inspiration just from walking outside. Everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves without the overbearing drama of worrying about how that garment fits in with societal standards.

Keys wakes up at 5 am and works until 7 pm. From 10 to 12 at night he works in the shop, fine-tuning designs, cleaning, and thinking about the future. With his mother as a blueprint of hard work, innovation and advocacy, Keys has created a network tailored to giving back. He has created clothing opportunities in Malawi that have an immense impact on the community as a whole.

“If you’re a good person, good things will happen to you. And out here, they know that… word gets around. I only want to keep growing and expanding.

I truly believe that no dream is too big. Now I’m finally realizing that.”

Thomas Keys

These Ecuadorian clothing brands remind us to stay sustainably cozy

Sustainable Ecuadorian clothing brands are giving Americans a chance to re-up on some super cozy drip.

The toxic and harmful behavior that human beings have towards the environment is no longer a question, but a fact. Countless mundane activities, like shopping, is slowly destroying our planet.

Yet, we were able to witness how changes in human behavior have a positive impact on the environment. The ozone layer started to recover; levels of harmful pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide have plummed, at least during the shutdowns.

Proving that saving the environment is, in fact, in our hands. But, environmental benefits would only be temporary unless there are permanent solutions. 

How are Ecuadorian clothing brands embracing the “new normal” for sustainability?

As the world is slowly heading toward a “new normal,” and we embrace the new reality as re-invented, more conscious human beings it is important to change our toxic behaviors, particularly in the way we consume.  

The textile industry is among the highest pollutants in the world. 20% of the water of all freshwater pollution is made by textile treatment and dyeing, and factory boilers that heat the water release nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide — all of which harm the ozone layer. 

So, let’s keep this fall cool. 

Learn about how Ecuador, one of the most environmentally diverse, and beautiful places on earth, has incubated top sustainable brands that are setting an example for the entire fashion industry.

Remu Apparel

After learning about the immense amount of waste that the fashion industry generates, and the catastrophic working conditions that garment workers face,

Remu’s founders saw an opportunity to make a change.

Thus, they created an outwear brand that promises to deliver high-quality, non-toxic, products. Using a circular model, the brand is committed to reduce textile waste and minimize resource depletion.

“If we are not able to find quality textiles to refurbish, we use materials made of natural, organic, or recycled fibers.”

In order to keep their processes as sustainable as possible, Remu’s denim comes from jean donations from customers or fabric scraps.

Then, each of its pieces is handcrafted by seamstresses; using the crafts and skills learned in the rural communities in Ecuador. This is part of Remu’s stand for gender equality; something that is still ingrained in various aspects of Ecuadorian clothing and society.

By providing jobs, economic opportunities, and responsible working conditions for these women, they hope to empower them to take agency of their presents and futures.

Check out Remu’s apparel here.


Further in the Andes, skilled and hard-working indigenous women leave their mark in the Ecuadorian clothing brands industry. 

Allpamamas is a brand dedicated to mother nature with the desire to be fair to her in every step of the way. Its name comes from Kitchwa meaning “mother earth.”

Thus, working collaboratively with indigenous women of the region has allowed them to bring a brand that genuinely represents Latin America’s culture through textiles that are made by people who understand not only the land but its nature and spirit.

Their end goal is to elevate consciousness through fashion.

“Learning about the different artisan techniques, I realized that it is possible to be a well rounded, sustainable brand that is beneficial to the community without losing any commercial opportunity,” said Vanessa Alarcon, Allpamamas co-founder.

Thus, they have successfully followed fair sustainable measures for every single one of their processes.

From working with natural fibers that are biodegradable and natural dies, striving to be as close to zero waste as possible. To provide fair and responsible job opportunities to underrepresented minorities; bringing indigenous women to the contemporary fashion world. An industry that, for long, has been extremely exploitative of its workers. 

Allpamamas is committed to delivering truly transformative clothing that carries the essence and energy from which its products were made.

“It is not just a fashion brand, its a project that transforms both the people we work with and our clients.”

Their latest collection speaks of spirituality and its individual meaning without categorizing believes in specific religions. Thus, each of their creating begins with storytelling that it later brought to narratives printed on their garments.

Check out Allpamamas’ apparel here.

Hera Studio

And perhaps there is no better way to know the quality of the clothes we wear than through its durability. And that is why Hera Studio, another Ecuadorian clothing brand, commits itself to create atemporal pieces that would last a lifetime.

Hera mainly focuses on the material and silhouettes of their garments. They are experts in the craftmanship of natural fibers such as wool, linen, hemp, organic cotton.

And naturally, dye most of their products with beetroot, cochineal, red cabbage, turmeric, logwood, anatto seeds, and avocado seeds.  However, they mostly source vintage textiles from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s in perfect conditions — using the past to make the present even more relevant. 

“We seek to create garments that tell stories through their materials.  And we are always experimenting and exploring new dyes that are not toxic to the planet, for us the colors of nature are the most beautiful.

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But, what makes Hera so authentic and unique is the Ecuadorian clothing brand’s designer, Isabel Perez.

After being architecturally trained, she discovered further ways to balance aesthetics with consciousness through fashion. This made way for Hera to take, into consideration, volume, proportions, forms, and colors. She draws inspiration from architects such as Lina Bo Bardi or Ricardo Bofill.

I don’t even draw the garment. I draw textures and write about the person that will wear that piece.”

Her latest collaboration with Ecuadorian designer, Sara Rekalde, combines both natural dyes and vintage textiles. Inspired by a rusty pink, vintage velvet, the collection conveys fresh and romantic styles with classic designs and promotes ethical fashion.

It is comprised of clean, architectural cuts and oversized volumes representing each of the designer’s styles.

Check out Hera Studio’s apparel here.