By Chere Di Boscio
New York Fashion Week this season was packed with the usual American fashion stars: Marc Jacobs, Betsy Johnson, Alexander Wang and the lot. But few of these brands can be covered here in Eluxe, as sadly, we don’t consider them ethical or eco friendly.
Luckily, there are two big brands that fit that bill: Maiyet and Edun. We’d even say they’re two of the finest New York has to offer!
Infusing artisanal traditions with sophisticated New York style, Maiyet is a reflection of the humanism of its founders: South African lawyer and post-apartheid reconciliation figure Paul van Zyl, and Kristy Caylor, a Californian passionate about humanitarian causes.
The brand’s USP is its forging of partnerships with artisans from countries as diverse as India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mongolia and Peru, resulting in chic and unique collections shown on the runways of Paris since 2011. Recently, Maiyet hired its first ever creative director, Declan Kearney, a former design director at Alexander Wang and Jason Wu, who has now declared Maiyet to be a New York brand.
Maiyet recently opened its first store in New York’s Soho, and unveiled its spring/summer collection at New York Fashion Week in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. It was a show full of ethical elegance: layered knits and soft falling silks infused with ethnic touches from Bolivia, Mongolia and Africa.
The brand isn’t necessarily aimed at the eco-warrior or hippy chick–its worldly elegance is for the well travelled urban sophisticate with a conscience. You could say Maiyet is sustainable by stealth.
Because she believed that most eco-fashion looked like ‘granola,’ Ali Hewson, wife of rock star Bono, launched Edun to make ethical fashion chic. Africa seemed an obvious starting point to produce the label, not least because the continent had once boasted so many cotton farmers, but also because Hewson wanted to bring stable work and skills to those in need.
Edun’s clothing was well designed, but it seemed Hewson’s ambitions were too much for the labour force she selected–they simply couldn’t learn tailoring fast enough to meet European standards and fill production orders so quickly. Edun’s profits suffered, and in 2007, the brand was bailed out by shareholders, then dropped off the radar. But when LVMH bought a 49% stake in 2009, Edun got the boost it badly needed.
Hewson hired Danielle Sherman to transform the label from a jeans and T-shirt company to a fully fledged fashion powerhouse with an emphasis on laid-back luxury. Today, the brand is stocked at the likes of Net-A-Porter.com and Matchesfashion.com and bought by customers who find the fact that the clothing was made in Madagascar by a team of local women almost incidental.
For this collection, Sherman says she was inspired by the central African Kuba people, known as ‘people of the cloth’ because of their textiles. Invitees to the catwalk show in New York were mesmerized by Kuba drums keeping the beat as models marched down the runway in thick cropped wool suits embellished with fringes and macramé fringing made in the Madagascar factory, a navy blue cardigan with twisted piping inspired by the hems on traditional Kuba dresses; and minimalist maxi dresses and jumpsuits punctuated by thick shoulder straps, reminiscent of electrical tape. Also new this season were bags, hand-crafted in South Africa in neat, square, messenger shapes.