Three years ago consumers were forced to recognize the potentially devastating impact of irresponsible, cheap fashion manufacturing when the Rana Plaza Complex, a garment manufacturing building collapsed and killed over 1,100 workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Out of the tragedy, Fashion Revolution was formed to educate consumers and how to leverage their purchasing power to demand greater transparency, sustainability, and safety in the fashion industry. Fashion Revolution uses social media and consumer education to promote businesses and brands which are making a difference in the fashion industry, as well as connecting buyers to the individuals who made or helped produce their clothing. Check out Fashion Revolution's website to learn more about how you can add your voice as a conscious consumer.
Supporting artisans and their trade is near and dear to my heart. Several years ago I worked with Maasai trained, HIV positive women beaders in Kenya. Many of these women were former sex workers and knew in order to care for their children they needed to live a healthier lifestyle given their HIV positive status. The challenges they faced in the crafts industry focused on sales to tourists has been further complicated by fewer tourists visiting Kenya due to insecurity from the threat and perceived threat of terrorism. Finding markets outside of Kenya for artisans like these beaders in Kenya is key to the success of artisan based economic activity.
The developing world is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate, meaning many village artisans are trading their craft for the possibility of greater employment opportunities in urban areas. Yet, the living conditions in these cities for the poor are often abysmal and the working conditions for many are just as bad. This is why I am so passionate about artisan entrepreneurship, because if makers create high-quality products and have access to global markets, they can connect to the global economy and harness the power of the market.
While ethical fashion can take on a variety of meanings—to me it’s not only knowing your clothing was produced and made in an ethical way, but the individuals involved in the process, particularly those in the developing world, are able to build a better future. Consumerism is a powerful thing and if utilized properly, it can benefit the buyer and maker in a real way through showcasing beautiful products with meaning, and also helping to transform a seamstress, brass worker or weaver’s life, and ultimately the lives of their family members.
Economic empowerment is a powerful idea because it not only affects an individual’s financial choices, but also leads to engaged and active citizens working for better socio-economic and democratic conditions.
Here are several organizations and platforms providing artisans in the developing world access to western markets, industry and fashion trend forecasting, and skills and leadership training, all in an effort to raise income levels and preserve long-held artisanal techniques.
Dara Artisans is an online marketplace platform with beautifully curated handmade products from around the world. I love how this husband and wife team started Dara as part of an experience in the Middle East after they met with an artist in Syria shortly before the civil war began and he would later be displaced. Dara emerged out of the concern that the changing realities in our world are making traditional crafts a lost art of history. Dara works to preserve such crafts through cultivating economic opportunity. If people can continue to make a living they will continue to develop their skills and pass them down. Dara works with artisans all over the world including Cambodia, India, & Peru.
Here's a buttery nubuck messenger handmade by Meyelo in Kenya featured on Dara Artisans' website. So dreamy!
Proud Mary is the magical global textile vision of Harper Poe. The fact that she works with artisans in places like Mali, which has a long and deep history of arts and crafts but the recent war and continued turmoil means very little business for these artisans, is quite wonderful. I have been following Harper’s designs and work for several years now and I am constantly impressed by her combination of local techniques and a modern functional style.
Why can't all repurposed/upcycled fashion look like these recycled two strap denim sandals made in Lesotho? Cannot wait to get our hands on a pair of these slides! So perfect for breezy summer dresses.
Mikuti holds a very special place is my heart because my dear friend, Erika Freund, founded it. I met Erika in Kenya via Twitter when I was working with artisans in Kenya several years ago. Erika has worked all over East Africa and I continue to be amazed by her determination to create and sustain a fashion forward design company that sources and produces in East Africa.
I am kind of obsessed with this delicate open-heart necklace (part of the Mikuti Alchemic Collection)—both the skills to make it and its aesthetic beauty. Pure perfection! You can find the whole collection at Kaight Shop in Brooklyn, NY or on the website.
I served on the board of Indego Africa when I lived in Washington, DC and still follow Indego-related news quite closely. Their work in Rwanda and now Ghana is really remarkable. I was fortunate to get to help with their first leadership academy, where I contributed a section in the finance curriculum taught to the women in the program. I really love how Indego invests in its artisans—to develop a real business acumen they can use to branch out and start businesses on their own. It has been really cool to see Indego grow over the past couple of years, and their recent expansion to Ghana only sweetens the pie.
Have you been looking for the perfect summer beach tote? This one from Indego is adorable & practical, plus it supports leadership training in Rwanda and Ghana.
To The Market
While I manage To The Market’s blog and editorial content, even if I wasn’t doing that To The Market would be on this list! To The Market’s founder Jane Mosbacher Morris has been a good friend and mentor, but more importantly her vision for global artisan entrepreneurship is truly inspiring because Jane’s intentional focus on working with survivors of conflict, genocide, natural disasters, extreme poverty, terrorism, and human trafficking. These Partnerships means To The Market works with some of the most vulnerable people in the world. To The Market’s platform also allows for maximum exposure and as Jane says she’s not trying to reinvent the wheel but allow for greater market access for the groups already working with artisans. So many organizations are doing wonderful things on the ground in developing countries—To The Market gives them another outlet to expand their sales and ultimately create more opportunity for local artisans.
This is my fave item from one of To The Market's newest local partners, Connected in Hope. This beautiful leather tote is handcrafted in Ethiopia:
Rose & Fitzgerald
I have a serious love for African inspired designs and artisanship. Maybe it’s because my first foray into artisanal products was in Kenya, but I think it’s my love of African ingenuity. Rose & Fitzgerald embodies this; their story starts with wanting to create products for their newly adopted home in Kampala and led to starting a business after working with Ugandan artisans. I seriously love this story, and I can relate. To a certain extent it’s how SIKU style got started in Jordan or how I came to know some seamstresses in Voi, Kenya. While living in Voi I first needed a skirt made for a wedding I was attending and the next thing you know I was contracting these same seamstresses to sew gift bags made from wax cloth for another social enterprise project I was working on. While the products speak for themselves, the jobs and value added to the Ugandan economy is just as meaningful.
I love this half moon bangle, an updated take on a classic fashion staple: