We’re living in an interesting time, one that is both uncertain and exciting. When it comes to fashion, I don’t think there has been a moment that has shown more enthusiasm for a cause than now. Today, there are so many more ethical brands than there were when my business partner, Abrima Erwiah, and I started Studio One Eighty Nine. It’s invigorating to see designers and brands take a deeper look at their manufacturing, sourcing, environmental, and social impact and to make changes for the better.
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There’s also more consumer awareness nowadays, and one way people are demonstrating this is by shopping mindfully. I’ve been a proponent of the conscious consumer movement for the better part of my life, and I’m happy to share a few of the brands I love and think everyone should know about.
1. Studio One Eighty Nine
Studio One Eighty Nine, created by myself and Abrima Erwiah, is a social enterprise based in Accra, Ghana and New York City. Our mission is to use fashion as an agent for social change and turning challenges on the ground into opportunities. We provide employment and access to education through workshops. We also simply give people the space to produce high-quality products for our line and other brands and the opportunity to sell in the open marketplace. We work with artisans to create our private label, Studio One Eighty Nine, which uses traditional techniques such as hand batiking, natural plant based indigo dyes, basket weaving, beading, and more. We work with artisan communities throughout Ghana and source with communities in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Kenya primarily.
Our factory in Accra was established in partnership with the United Nations International Trade Center's Ethical Fashion Initiative. With our network of artisans and manufacturing capabilities, we’re able to help other brands create goods in Africa. And recently, we've opened shops in Accra, New York City, and online, which allows us to showcase the work of various African designers. The first collection was launched on February 14, 2013 in honor of One Billion Rising, a campaign to end violence against women. Studio One Eighty Nine and the Fashion Rising Foundation was born out of a trip with V-Day in February 2011 that took us through Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda to Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the opening of the City of Joy.
KHOKHO is a great example of how artisanal craftsmanship married with high-end design can produce beautiful, ethical handbags. Each bag is hand-woven by locals in Swaziland, using traditional weaving techniques and naturally dyed materials. The company was born after the founder Sapna Shah volunteered for the NEST Professional Fellow program where she collaborated with a women-led business to help elevate their bags for a broader consumer.
3. SARAH'S BAG
These are some of my favorite handbags, and I recently discovered them while traveling in Ghana this summer. The designs are fun and cheeky and will always get attention with embroidered or hand-painted phrases, such as, “Le Freak C’est Chic,” or, “Love to Love You Baby." The style I’m coveting now is the faux Walkman bag for its nostalgic-inducing quality. But what I really love about this brand is their commitment to empowering underprivileged women in Lebanon. They employ over 200 people, some of whom are currently incarcerated, ex-prisoners, or local women in need of jobs. A few of the prisoners have even used the money they earned to overturn wrongful convictions! Like founder Sarah Beydoun, I believe that empowering women empowers communities and everyone should know about and shop these beautiful works of art.
4. INDEGO AFRICA
Lately, I have been trying to incorporate more color into my home and came across this brand while scouring one of my favorite ethical shops, maison-de-mode.com. Indego Africa consists of vibrant hand-woven fabric plateaus, beaded baskets, wooden bowls, accessories, and apparel. The collection is designed in New York City, lending modern silhouettes to an indigenous product created by artisans in Rwanda and Ghana. In addition to providing jobs for over 1,000 women in these countries, Indego Africa operates as a non-profit by investing all their profits into education programs for the artisans.