24. Viv La Revolution
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