Monday, 14 May 2012

The Future of Fashion: eco-chic warrior Laura Siegel

Laura Siegel is a lady on an eco-chic mission: ‘To ethically handcraft easy-to-wear, textured designer pieces while enabling artisans in third world countries to continue their uniquely creative skills.’ And in case you don’t already know of her – she’s pretty darn good at it too. 

Intent on making her mark on the fashion industry an ethical one, Siegel’s design philosophies are strongly shaped by the people, journeys and stories that she has encountered whilst on many of her inspired globe-trotting adventures. To this day, she continues to work in harmony with skilled artisans that she met along that long and winding road who have had a significant influence on her soft textile collections.

While on her travels, Laura became besotted by an Indian embroidery technique used by the native women of the nomadic Rabari tribe, who came to the region of Kutch back in the 13th century. However, it was this very technique that was banned by tribe elders only 15 years ago, leaving the Rabari women heartbroken until, as fate would have it, they stumbled upon a loophole in the elders’ decree; which meant that by simply adding an extra appliqué step to their embroidery method they were able to once again pursue the work they love, without violating the law. The very special Rabari embroidery is characterised by explosive colour, and rich textures, combined with elaborate motifs reflecting their beautiful surroundings; and is used to identify communities, and even social statuses. Unsurprisingly, Laura fell head over heels for these ladies and their craft, and began working with many of them to create pieces for her designer collections. This on-going blossoming work relationship with Laura enables these women to support their families, and also gives them a sense of pride, accomplishment, community, and livelihood. Through being a part of something on this scale, they are finally able to feel important, valued, and worthy.

Again from the buzzing-with-talent region of Kutch (India), Laura began working with a local artisan named Ismail Khatri, whose family had been using a 7000 year-old craft called Ajrakh block-printing for a whopping ten generations. All of the designer’s block-printed fabrics are made (using only natural dyes I might add) in collaboration with the Khatri family; and the entire community benefits greatly from this collaboration, as they are still recuperating from an earthquake that devastated the region back in 2001. “The process of working with the artisans really shapes the collections,” Laura explains. “They created their own interpretation for this season’s themes. The result is a collection of the past dreams, future dreams and cultural values of everyone who worked on it.”

Some of you might already be aware of just how damaging the dyeing process is, especially how prevalent it is within the fashion industry, but being the eco-chic warrior she is, Laura only uses a natural dyeing process in her collection. Now granted, this is very labour-intensive, but the huge upside is it doesn’t incorporate any chemical treatments, which ensures the long-term health and safety of the artisans, while also maintaining a chemical-free community water system. Win win. This is where a community of natural dyers located outside the city of Munnar (Kerala) come in. These physically challenged young adults are educated and rehabilitated at a Vocational Training Centre, and take pride and joy in their trade; with the added bonus of being able to use their skills to support their families. 

And last, but by no means least, all of Laura’s knits are created in collaboration with a group of lovely artisans in Bolivia. These women are MI5 trained in handmade production methods for knitting and hand machine knitting. Oh yeaaah. They can pearl jam the night away. So listen up y’all: by wearing a signature Laura Siegel knit piece, YOU (yes, I mean you) are empowering these women and enabling them to create a great life for their nearest and dearest. 

Ace. Now that is what you call a truly great business plan. If I am ever lucky enough to start up my own label, this is how I hope with all my heart it would be. 

Here are a few of my cherry-picked outfits from Laura’s s/s 2012 collection:

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