By Neesha Gill
Once upon a time in fashion, the making of clothing was a labour-intensive process that involved specialised workers cutting patterns, sewing, and putting buttons onto garments. Because it took so long to create fabrics and piece together clothes, they were considered quite a precious commodity. The average person would have only a few items in their wardrobe, and would mend whatever ripped or showed wear. Items were passed down through families and refashioned for fit and style to new owners. And of course no one would ever dream of throwing clothing away after a few wears, even the wealthy!
Industrial production changed all that, and also homogenised the handiwork that once made all clothes and accessories so unique–their embroidery, embellishments, prints and dyes for example. Today, even if an accessory or piece of clothing seems to be ‘made by hand’, chances are it’s actually machine made, and there are thousands of replicas in the market.
There’s been a backlash to this cookie-cutter approach to fashion, and an increasing number of niche brands are now working with talented artisans more than ever, with the specific goal of not only creating something as individual as the wearer, but also to revive lost traditions, and provide artisans with a steady income.
These 8 inspirational ethical fashion brands are good examples of this.
One of the higher-end fashion brands, Maiyet wholly encompasses ethical values whilst remaining on the cutting edge of style. The label hopes to encourage and support the next generation of craftsmen from places such as India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mongolia and Peru by employing them to use the skills that have been passed down through the generations. Their scarves, clutches, dresses and jewellery showcase embroidery, woodwork, silk-screening and beading, the latter of which can be seen on these shoes below. Each bead is delicately hand-applied by their fairly paid artisan partners in the Maharashtra region of India.
2. Quazi Design
Initially set up to create much need employment in the region, Quazi Design was created in 2009 in Swaziland, southern Africa. Their products are still made by local women in their workshops in the industrial area of Mbabane, the capital city of Swaziland. In return for making colourful, beautiful jewellery from rolled up scraps of paper, local stones and fabric remnants, these talented women receive a steady, living wage.
This brand was co-created by two hard-working Egyptian sisters, Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf. Unsurprisingly, the name they chose for their company, ‘Okhtein’ simply means ‘sisters’ in Arabic. Their vision was to draw attention to Egyptian artisanship, as they found a gap in the market for hand-made luxury accessories produced in Egypt. The result of their endeavor is a range of quirky bags including hand-woven straw clutches and handbags made out of brass metal.
3. Bibi Hanum
Bibi Hanum specialises in creating women’s clothing using handwoven textiles called ikat. These traditional fabrics have been made by artisans in the Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan, for centuries. Typically, they include tribal-like prints in 3-5 colours, and the fabric is cut into loose fitting, almost kaftan-like dresses, jackets and gowns. Other products include home accessories and accessories such as bags, scarves and clutches.
Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s most famous regions for artisanal production, and Manos Zapotecas incorporates the centuries old traditions and outstanding artistry of the Zapotec people who are native to this area. While many brands exploit the native weavers, embroiderers and leather workers in the region, paying them very little for their work then going on to sell the fashion they create at ridiculous prices, Manos Zapotecas ensures a fair, steady wage is paid. Their vibrant handwoven wool bags include a variety of Aztec and tribal designs.
We love this brand because it travels the world seeking out the best artisanal traditions, then ensures the skilled hands who create the bags, jumpers and jewellery that Abury sells are fairly waged. While the brand may be most famous for its Moroccan Berber bags (they sell antique bags and help teach modern Berbers the ancient craft of making them), they have recently branched out into Ecuadorian knits, and jewellery from bijou designers.
This collection by Adèle Dejak is inspired by African shapes, textures and traditional techniques. The Kenyan made, cutting-edge pieces sit perfectly between artefact and high fashion statement designs.
From Palestine to India, Thailand to Uzbekistan, Mochi seeks out the very best craftsmanship from every corner of the globe. Thanks to the colourful fabrics that define the brand, one-off embellishments, and a certain worldly hippy chic connotation that comes with wearing these pieces, Mochi has become a favourite with Boho fashionistas around the world.
7. LAM & co
Light, feminine designs transform the traditional craft of crochet into modern, wearable pieces. The Zimbabwean crochet workers behind the brand pay exquisite attention to detail, and it is the details that make these items so special. Available to buy online at Birdsong, the exquisite pieces made by LAM & Co. use the labour power of over 120 women living in the high density township of Harare, or in extremely rural and undeveloped areas. They are paid a living wage, and are able to work from home so their can fit their jobs around childcare
No machines are involved in the creation of these pieces—all of this bespoke knitwear (which is available online at Birdsong, here) is handmade by grannies in London. These talented knitters meet on a Thursday afternoon for a chat and a cup of tea while their passion for knitting transcends into cosy handmade pieces. The ladies do this more for fun than cash, and donate profits from their scarves to their day centre, allowing them to welcome in more of London’s older people. The centre is a lifeline, hosting all kinds of activities from Tai Chi to line-dancing, film nights to scrabble.