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These ethical fashion brands with an artisanal touch display incredible craftsmanship
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 inspirational ethical fashion brands below are good examples of what this looks like.
8 Ethical Fashion Brands with an Artisanal Touch
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 exquisite scarves, clutches, dresses and jewellery showcase artisanal 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.
Kayu’s accessories are handmade using indigenous techniques that have been passed down through the generations in Malaysia. This ‘Kamber’ bag is made from organic cotton-voile decorated with a charming hand-blocked botanical print. It’s topped with hexagonal handles, which are carved from recycled wood.
Inspired to preserve and cultivate the traditional crafts that surrounded her as a child, Jamie Lim launched California-based bag brand Kayu. Often taking days to complete, each style is made entirely by hand in limited quantities by artisans in the Philippines. We love the playful use of embroidery.
Kayu works with artisan workshops in the Philippines and Malaysia to create its bags using traditional loom and handweaving techniques.
It’s great when friends have a lot in common! Pals Dana Alikhani and Tatiana Santo Domingo share a passion for travel, fashion and fair labour practices, and decided to merge their interests into one project: the Muzungu Sisters label, in 2011. The two women chose the name ‘Muzungu’ because it means ‘traveller’ in Swahili, so no surprise that the brand’s eclectic offerings give off a well-travelled vibe that’s perfect for inspiring your own wanderlust.
3. Bibi Hanum
Sustainable fashion designer 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, and 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 the label offers include quirky home accessories like throws, cushion covers and wall hangings, and 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 big name brands have badly exploited 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 always ensures a fair, steady wage is paid.
Their vibrant handwoven wool bags include a variety of Aztec and tribal designs that truly reflect the heritage of the region, and if you’re looking for an ethical fashion brands with an artisanal touch that doesn’t cost a small fortune, this is the one for you – bags start at $49.
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 it 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 ethical jewelry collection below was designed by Adèle Dejak, and was 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.
VOZ means ‘voice’ in Spanish, and this sustainable luxury brand aims to give a voice to indigenous women around the world. Of all the ethical fashion brands with an artisanal touch, this one well be our favourite due to the high quality of both their materials and designs.
Founded in 2012 by Jasmine Aarons, VOZ empowers artisans creatively, culturally and of course, economically, through a collaborative business model that highlights and supports traditional textile making arts. The brand’s main education centre is located in Chile, where they work with fairly waged Mapuche women to create stunning ponchos, blouses, trousers and other garments from natural, sustainable materials.
Model-turned-designer Liya Kebede is proud of her Ethiopian roots, and wanted to find a way to not only showcase the talent of her people, but to help them develop economically, too. So she founded a fair trade fashion brand called LemLem as a way to preserve the centuries-old weaving techniques of her native land and simultaneously create jobs for local artisans.
Today, the brand incorporates locally sourced, non GMO cotton to create floaty dresses and stylish kaftans that have won the hearts of the likes of Leandra Medine and Eva Chen, as well as countless ethical fashionistas.
Main image: Mochi
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