Stella Jean is the pioneer of ethical fashion, long before it became the new standard in the fashion industry. Moreover, Jean doesn’t shy away from controversy or important causes. She has been a fierce spokesperson bringing awareness of racial inequalities in the Italian fashion system to the fore, pushing the industry to answer tough questions and to bring about effective change. In her practice as a fashion designer, her commitment to celebrating multiculturalism and the creative contribution of minorities and marginalized communities in her collections goes back a long way. Her label was actually born out of her desire to pay homage to her Haitian-Italian roots. For autumn-winter 2021, she partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Through its Women’s Committee, she teamed up with the Mountain Partnership Products initiative (MPP), which provides technical and financial support to small communities of producers and artisans in remote rural and mountain areas around the world. Jean was introduced to the work of Kyrgyz women from Barskoon, a settlement at 1,750 meters elevation in the northeast of Kyrgyzstan. The area is known for inlaid felt carpets and wall hangings traditionally handcrafted by women, using techniques passed down from generations. “When I saw all that beauty, the richness of the colors, the symbology, the history behind this culture, I was blown away,” Jean told Vogue on a Zoom call from her home in Rome. “These women are custodians of a naturally circular economy, totally equitable, and with the lowest environmental impact.” Jean connected remotely with the Topchu artisanal collective there with MPP’s support. Working with a local designer based in Bishkek, she came up with a capsule collection of five pieces featuring Kyrgyz embroidery in felt work. Jean chose simple shapes that can be easily replicated; artisans in Italy cut the patterns and sent them to Kyrgyzstan, where they were embroidered by the Topchu women. Once embroidered, the pieces were sent back to Italy to be assembled. “From next season, the collective can work on the patterns as they wish, creating new items that can be sold and bear profit,” she explained. “The patterns are not mine; I don’t own them. And the beautiful felted decorations have only been loaned to us – they’re theirs. The Kyrgyz women can source textiles locally, producing independently from outside partnerships. We’re not their saviors. We just have to accompany them, and then let them go find their own path. I think this a healthy, participatory way to look at globalization.” Jean integrated the Topchu collaboration into her collection beautifully, while also continuing to support a network of women artisans in the Umbria region, who made specially commissioned pieces, like a fabulous fringed wool poncho handcrafted with imaginative 3D ornamentations. For their part, the Kyrgyz artisans worked on simple wardrobe staples, energizing them with their vibrant decorations in saturated colors. The capsule comprises five looks: A sweeping hooded cape and a slim city coat in Prince of Wales checks were both embroidered with colorful motifs of birds and flowers in a mountainous landscape, and an oversized striped cotton shirt was decorated with long-legged herons. The pièces de résistance were two gorgeous skirts – one fitted, the other cut in a trapeze shape- both embroidered all over with the Shyrdak motifs traditionally handcrafted on felt carpets. “Their symbology is ancient,” said Jean. “It brings prosperity and good luck. Those skirts, they’re almost like walking amulets.”
‘Jimaguas’ means twins in Cuba. Sayana and Claudia, Spain-based twin sisters who happen to be designers, define Gimaguas not just a clothing brand, but as their personal story. Both of them love to travel the world in search of unique, well-made handcraft. The label was born in 2016, while studying fashion (Sayana) and finance (Claudia) in London (this way, a perfect bounding of experiences took place). Every capsule collection is created in close co-operation with artisans from around the globe: Jaipur, Madagascar, Laos and Mexico, just some examples. Despite the fact that Gimaguas is an online retailer, Sayana and Claudia like to give a more personal approach to every collection through pop-ups in Barcelona, Madrid, London or New York. This way the designers can present one-of-a-kind products and all the stories behind them in the most intimate of ways. What Gimaguas feels like? A continuous selection of unique goods that evoke the twins’ love for summer, travelling, walking barefoot and collecting treasures from hidden paradises. At the moment, the label sells wool crossbody bags with floral embroideries, wool ponchos and cardigans (all hand-made in Mexico), duvet jackets made by women in Karuna Social Programme in Nepal and easy, vintage-y jewellery that will bright up any look. Nearly every piece is low in stock, if not already sold out (and they were “dropped” just a few days ago!). Gimaguas proves that ethical fashion can be both affordable and beautiful. Discover more right here.
Meet Chopova Lowena, one of the most fascinating, emerging brands in London. Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena‘s Central Saint Martins MA graduate collection began with them looking at Bulgaria’s mountain dwellers, particularly the women, and the way they dressed. There, they found all the contrasting elements they felt so intrigued with, like intricate handmade folk costumes worn with secondhand western sneakers and sunglasses. The same spirit of new and old, rare and mainstream, was reflected in their autumn-winter 2018 look-book shot by Charlotte Wales (with whom the designers worked on Kukeri – Chopova Lowena, a photographic portfolio focusing on Bulgarian culture and the traditional fur-clad masked Kukeri).The label is already known for its harmonious juxtapositions, subtly combining modernity and nostalgia, luxury and kitsch, craftsmanship and humour. Skin-tight layers of brightly printed mesh are paired with their signature Bulgarian pleats in wool and nylon. Big, punk-ish belts double as mini-skirts underneath delicate harnesses made from metal hardware – very Vivienne-Westwood-gone-ethnic. Chopova Lowena has an anthropological approach to design, observing traditional customs and revisiting them through a contemporary lens. Their design ethos stems from a desire to work with niche and forgotten techniques, and to collaborate with craftsmen in small Eastern European and English communities. By working with artisans, they aim to preserve disappearing crafts – that is quite a t to praise in today’s fashion industry. Take a look at the designers’ works, from 2017 and 2018, below.
Chopova Lowena’s latest offering is actually a mini-collection of three, hand-knitted sweaters. With this project, which launched on their website just now, the Emma and Laura “sought to take this one step further by attempting to create knitwear with the sole purpose of highlighting the manufacturing processes behind it”, as Another puts it. The process behind the sweaters spanned across borders. The works began with wool from Yorkshire mills, which was then knitted into the pieces by three skilled craftswomen from a village in Bulgaria’s remote mountain region. The knits look more than lovely – it’s visible that they’re warm and will serve for years, years to come.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Photos by Charlotte Wales and Laura Lowena.
Finally managed to visit Zazi Vintage in its Mitte showroom in Berlin (Max-Beer-Straße 31)! In case you’ve missed the post I’ve written a while ago on this incredible initiative, here’s your Monday read!
So, you will thank me later for telling you about Zazi Vintage. Although Jeanne Zizi Margot de Kroon‘s label is based in Berlin, the Dutch entrepreneur has a global vision to share. She quitted modelling industry after her great disillusion with the fashion world’s unethical approach towards sweat-shop production and decided to oppose chain stores’ and big companies’ continous exploitation of female workers. With the founder’s focus on sustainability and women empowerment, Zazi Vintage respects and embraces traditional clothe-making, using rejected fabrics and old materials. The brand’s seasonless pieces are made by local women from distant places, like Tajikistan or Afghanistan. From the most intricately embroidered Suzani coats from Tajikistan to Ikat woven dresses made by Saheli women, these pieces aren’t just precious and one-of-a-kind additions to a wardrobe. Zazi Vintage, with support of Institute for Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development, helps girls fund education and continue their incredible work.
Learn more about Zazi Vintage on their site – click here. By the way, those coats with shearling lining are here to keep you warm the entire winter season.
While the fashion industry struggles with overproduction and its self-destructive pace, the New York-based designer Emily Adams Bode goes against the flow. Her label, Bode, is mostly fabricated from vintage textiles: antique table linens, patchwork quilts, grain sacks – the list can go on. But don’t think her work comes out as looking overly D.I.Y. or crafty-arty. We’re speaking of button-up shirts with romantic pussy-bows, delightful coats and striped boxy trousers, treated with the finest dyes.
Her spring-summer 2019 collection is a beautiful nod to India. Part of it was produced from khadi, a handwoven cloth, produced by Indian craftsmen. But there are as well incredible Bengalese embroideries all over the shirting; a t-shirt with a flag of India print that has a cool, vintage-y vibe; pastel-blue short shorts; a rugby jacket in the brightest shade of orange; loosely fit suits. It’s like Wes Anderson’s ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ cast wardrobe, available in real life. But coming back to Bode and it’s phenomenon, it’s incredible how the label stays true to ethical and sustainable way of doing things (noting that Bode is based in the Big Apple, where everything should be ‘now and here’ lately). “We’re still largely focused on vintage textiles,” Emily says, “and then we work to find something that is reproducible from them. We have mills and producers in India, actually. And, when buyers come, they shop on the rack, and say, ‘How close can you get to this piece?’ Some want each piece exactly the same, and others want only one of a kind. We’re calibrating it, but it’s working.” One more thing: even though Bode presents her clothes on men, all of the pieces can be as well worn by female fans of the brand.