24. Viv La Revo­lu­tion

The Hand of Fashion - - CONTENTS -

She is a vi­tal part­ner to the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive, and a cham­pion of many of the good causes in fash­ion, which in it­self may seem like some­thing of an oxy­moron to some. Vivi­enne West­wood is still the punk, the ac­tivist, the out­sider of fash­ion, but she is def­i­nitely the fash­ion out­sider with heart. Upon the re­lease of her new col­lec­tion of ‘Hand­made with Love’ bags, Michael Whit­taker muses on West­wood’s vi­sion of art and cul­ture as the hope of hu­man­ity.

Vivi­enne West­wood is un­de­ni­ably one of the defin­ing forces of fash­ion. West­wood’s en­dur­ing power stems from her re­fusal to be limited by an elit­ist ex­pec­ta­tion that equates fash­ion with mere aes­thetic ap­peal. Her cease­less ac­tivism has con­stantly as­sailed that cliché. West­wood sees art and cul­ture as the hope of hu­man­ity; as “the an­chor that holds us to­gether as a peo­ple and gives life greater mean­ing.” In her vi­sion­ary style, she is a woman of the peo­ple and in her col­lec­tions she has al­ways spo­ken for, and to the peo­ple, and par­tic­u­larly to the over­looked and the marginalised. She has ever used her suc­cess to ex­pose in­equal­ity, to pro­mote sus­tain­abil­ity and to cel­e­brate the po­ten­tial of all hu­man­ity. West­wood urges us not to be self­ishly stu­pe­fied by what she sees as the “drug of con­sumerism”, and to in­sist upon a lo­cal and global shift in pri­or­i­tiz­ing hu­man rights above self­ish short-sight­ed­ness.

West­wood has put her money where her mouth is, and she is smil­ing at the re­sults. For nine sea­sons now, West­wood has been pro­duc­ing bag col­lec­tions in as­so­ci­a­tion with the EFI. Her em­ploy­ment of African ar­ti­sanal mi­cro-pro­duc­ers, she ar­dently in­sists, “is not char­ity; this is work”. The qual­ity of th­ese bags makes her state­ment res­onate. In­deed, the very in­spi­ra­tion of the bags was a cel­e­bra­tion of the spe­cial­iza­tion of dif­fer­ent ar­ti­san com­mu­ni­ties, which West­wood saw as an op­por­tu­nity to utilise and dis­play the re­source­ful artistry and rich cul­tures of Kenya. The col­lab­o­ra­tive re­sult makes mass­man­u­fac­tured bags, un­think­ingly churned out by com­peti­tors ap­pear soul­less and de­mean­ing in com­par­i­son.

In con­junc­tion with the ITC EFI, West­wood worked with the lo­cal ar­ti­sans to craft mas­ter­works out of re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing re­cy­cled can­vas, reused road­side ban­ners, un­used leather off-cuts, and re­cy­cled brass. In the slums, ar­ti­sans source dis­carded metal and melt it down to make a prod­uct that is of the up­most qual­ity and also makes a dif­fer­ence. To quote Vivi­enne in the video be­low: “It’s in­cred­i­ble to think you can change the world through fash­ion.” Cen­tral to this ethos is that qual­ity goods are only strength­ened by an eth­i­cal in­spi­ra­tion. The col­lec­tion com­prises of both men’s and women’s styles, as well as uni­sex pieces. There are ruck­sacks, totes, patch­work draw­string bags and Maa­sai beaded clutches and key rings. One can feel the “love of Nairobi” in th­ese pieces, both in terms of West­wood’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the place and its peo­ple and cus­toms, and the ar­ti­san’s earnest tal­ents. West­wood is adamant that the fu­ture lies in not wast­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, re­sources and peo­ple. The iconic and pre­scient West­wood de­clares that the de­ci­sive en­act­ing of sus­tain­abil­ity in hu­man and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sources is im­per­a­tive: “We must be­gin to­day – to­mor­row is too late.”

Watch the film: Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Africa Project with Vivi­enne West­wood and team

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