48. Karen Walker

The Hand of Fashion - - CONTENTS - Karen Walker

In early 2014, New Zealand-based de­signer Karen Walker be­came the sec­ond Aus­tralasian de­signer to part­ner with the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive after sass & bide. Thou­sands of eyewear pouches were cre­ated with Kenyan ar­ti­sans to house Karen Walker Eyewear in the global re­tail mar­ket. Grant Fell asks Karen about her part­ner­ship with the ITC EFI; what it means to her, how it works and where is it go­ing. He also talks with Karen Walker ac­ces­sories de­signer Jade Leigh Kelly who trav­elled to Kenya dur­ing pro­duc­tion of the pouches to shoot the highly ‘Vis­i­ble’ cam­paign with Derek Hen­der­son and the ar­ti­sans at Waithaka. Pho­tos: Derek Hen­der­son and ITC EFI

Grant Fell: Karen, when did you first learn of the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive? Karen Walker: We’ve been fol­low­ing the EFI and its work since it launched in 2009 and in 2012 we worked with them to cre­ate a bag that was sold through­out Myer stores in Aus­tralia. We were thrilled with how the bag looked and so fol­low­ing on from that, in mid 2013, when Si­mone Cipri­ani and I were both speak­ing at the Be­spoke con­fer­ence at the Syd­ney Opera House we dis­cussed the idea of work­ing with his team in this big­ger way. What was it about the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive and their work that ap­pealed to you? We al­ways look for how we can chal­lenge the way things are done, from the prod­uct de­sign to the way a prod­uct is pro­duced and mar­keted. This project has given us an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a new kind of prod­uct (our wear­able pouches that come with ev­ery pair of new sea­son eyewear) that was not pos­si­ble with our tra­di­tional chan­nels. The EFI un­der­stand the lux­ury mar­ket and they un­der­stand that de­sign­ers and cus­tomers are look­ing for unique points of dif­fer­ence all the time. It also al­lowed us to col­lab­o­rate from the point of prod­uct de­sign right through to part­ner­ing with the com­mu­nity on the images. This al­lowed us to cre­ate vis­i­bil­ity for the com­mu­nity and the EFI. The most im­por­tant thing though is the fact that the project’s al­lowed us and our cus­tomers to make a dif­fer­ence. Ad­di­tion­ally, be­cause the EFI is part of the UN, we had ab­so­lute trust that there would be hon­esty and trans­parency through­out the project and it’s been thrilling to see the re­ports around the im­pact that this project has had on the com­mu­nity. The idea of giv­ing peo­ple a way out of poverty through fair pay and dig­ni­fied work is what ini­tially drew us to the idea and why we’re go­ing to con­tinue to work with the EFI from now on. Be­fore part­ner­ing with them did you re­search them, their model and how you would fit in – a lit­tle due-dili­gence as it were? Yes, we did a lot of re­search about them and asked a lot of ques­tions. We had a long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with one of the peo­ple on the EFI team so had a lot of trust in them be­cause of that and also, of course, the fact that Myer were work­ing with them and had done all their due-dili­gence also gave us a great deal of con­fi­dence. Plus, the fact that they’re un­der the um­brella of the UN gave us great con­fi­dence. When did you first meet or com­mu­ni­cate with Si­mone Cipri­ani? I first met Si­mone when we were both on the bill at the Be­spoke Con­fer­ence in Syd­ney in mid 2013. I was im­me­di­ately spell­bound. He’s an in­cred­i­ble man and a won­der­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tor. Tell us about the ini­tial stages of the Karen Walker Eyewear Vis­i­ble project, how did you get it un­der way in a de­sign and cre­ative sense? The eyewear de­sign process be­gan be­fore the cam­paign but we worked on the pouches with the EFI. Simplicity was very im­por­tant, keep­ing in mind a short turn­around time and what skills and ma­te­ri­als were most avail­able within the com­mu­nity we were work­ing with. In ad­di­tion, we re­leased more com­plex and de­tailed pouches that were also cre­ated by the EFI’s ar­ti­sans, fea­tur­ing bead­ing and tas­sel­ing by the Maa­sai ar­ti­sans, that peo­ple may pur­chase in ad­di­tion to the sim­ple one in­cluded with

Win­nie Wan­gari, pro­duc­tion su­per­vi­sor at Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Africa shot for Karen Walker Eyewear cam­paign by Derek Hen­der­son

ev­ery pair bought. As a de­signer part­ner to the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive how does the business side of it work? How do you pro­vide work for the ar­ti­sans? The EFI con­nects de­sign­ers with some of the world’s most marginalised ar­ti­sans. In ev­ery­thing it does, the Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive de­vel­ops lo­cal cre­ativ­ity, fosters pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male em­ploy­ment and em­pow­er­ment, pro­motes gen­der equal­ity to re­duce ex­treme poverty and in­creases the ex­port ca­pac­i­ties of the re­gions in which it op­er­ates. The Karen Walker part­ner­ship with the EFI has had a real and mea­sur­able im­pact on com­mu­nity groups of ar­ti­sans in Kenya. For ex­am­ple, the Im­pact As­sess­ment re­port from the United Na­tions’ In­ter­na­tional Trade Cen­tre re­vealed that to date, the work cre­ated for Karen Walker has al­lowed 153 pre­vi­ously un­skilled peo­ple to gain skills. To com­plete the or­ders, the ar­ti­sans in­volved took part in var­i­ous train­ings on business prac­tices, cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships and qual­ity con­trol. Th­ese train­ings yield a wider im­pact in terms of build­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit and an in­crease in con­fi­dence, pride and sat­is­fac­tion lev­els within the com­mu­nity. The work for Karen Walker has al­lowed the in­come for most work­ers to in­crease by over 40%. The in­come earned was also used to support ed­u­ca­tion and con­trib­uted to­wards sus­tain­ing de­cent liv­ing en­vi­ron­ments and ac­cess to health ser­vices. De­spite 3.6% in­fla­tion, 38% of the pop­u­la­tion sur­veyed in­di­cated they were able to save. 62% of the ar­ti­sans in­volved ad­vised that the in­come from the work cre­ated for Karen Walker pro­vided a means to ad­dress press­ing house­hold needs such as ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing, health and nu­tri­tion. How dif­fer­ent was this re­la­tion­ship from your ex­ist­ing sup­plier re­la­tion­ships? It’s not very dif­fer­ent re­ally. We still start with find­ing out what skills and ma­te­ri­als the sup­plier is best able to pro­vide and then we de­sign with that in mind. De­signs are cre­ated in our de­sign room and CADs (Com­puter Aided De­signs) emailed. Sam­ples are cre­ated and pho­tos emailed then prod­uct couri­ered to us, com­ments made, counter-sam­ples seen and signed off. The same process we work to with all our sup­pli­ers, but just work­ing with dif­fer­ent skills, ma­te­ri­als and out of a dif­fer­ent place. Do you know how many ar­ti­sans in to­tal were work­ing on your project? 170. You chose to build a cam­paign around this project, send­ing Karen Walker’s Jade Leigh Kelly and pho­tog­ra­pher Derek Hen­der­son to Kenya to shoot your prod­uct on the peo­ple of the re­gion. The cam­paign was highly ‘vis­i­ble’ for both Karen Walker and the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive, did that process bring you closer to the project over­all? We wanted to ex­pand on the project by pre­sent­ing not only the pouches cre­ated for us, but also some­thing more in­ti­mate - a glimpse into the world that the work is com­ing from. The peo­ple we pho­tographed in­cluded ma­chin­ists, cut­ters, tai­lors, bead­ers, pro­duc­tion man­agers and metal work­ers as well as mem­bers of the Maa­sai group who cre­ate the more elab­o­rate bead­ing work. None of them are pro­fes­sional mod­els. Karen Walker Eyewear has al­ways had an op­ti­mistic out­look and has al­ways been about stand­ing out from the crowd. This cam­paign cap­tures both this in­nate op­ti­mism and love of max­i­mum-im­pact in the images them­selves and also the way in which they di­rect our at­ten­tion to this part of the world and the work be­ing done there. In short, the images

“The work for Karen Walker has al­lowed the in­come for most work­ers to in­crease by over 40%. The in­come earned was also used to support ed­u­ca­tion and con­trib­uted to­wards sus­tain­ing de­cent liv­ing en­vi­ron­ments and ac­cess to health ser­vices”

help to bring vis­i­bil­ity to this place, th­ese peo­ple and the work of the Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive. Ex­plain how the pouches cre­ated by the ar­ti­sans, the work as such, was ap­plied to the Karen Walker brand. Where did they go? The sim­ple, screen-printed pouches come with ev­ery pair of Karen Walker Eyewear from the Sum­mer 2014 sea­son and, in ad­di­tion, more elab­o­rate and em­bel­lished ver­sions were avail­able to buy sep­a­rately. Have you had feed­back from cus­tomers about the pouches? The feed­back has been over­whelm­ing. Peo­ple have ap­pre­ci­ated what the project’s all about and love the prod­uct. They also re­ally love the images. I know you have a few other projects on the boil with the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive, can you tell us about them yet? We’re con­tin­u­ing to work with them on other prod­ucts but work­ing with the same team and the same skills and ma­te­ri­als – new de­signs though. We’re ex­pect­ing to get the next story into mar­ket mid 2015 fol­lowed by another story late 2015. In a few words, de­scribe your re­la­tion­ship to date with Si­mone, Chloé and the ITC EFI. We have a rule that we only work with peo­ple we’d want to have din­ner with and I’ve had many din­ners with this team – Tokyo, New York, Syd­ney, and more. They’re won­der­ful peo­ple whom I re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing in my life.

Grant Fell: When did you first learn of the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive? Jade Leigh Kelly: Prior to work­ing with the EFI, I had been a fan of the work they were do­ing with other de­sign­ers over the past five years. Had you been to Africa be­fore fly­ing in to over­see the cam­paign shoot with Derek? No. I hadn’t been to Africa be­fore but it had al­ways been on the list of places I’d love to go. As a child I was fas­ci­nated with Africa, its an­i­mals and land­scape so this trip was truly a dream come true. Tell us about the first day, did you land in Nairobi and then drive to Waithaka? We landed in Nairobi late af­ter­noon to what felt like a makeshift air­port due to the re­cent fire they’d had. As we left the air­port build­ing we walked into the hot dusty haze where our lovely driver Cyrus greeted us with a big smile.

The drive from the air­port to the ho­tel took over an hour; there were so many cars and lots of road­work go­ing on so we were idle in traf­fic for a lot of the time. It was prob­a­bly one of the most in­ter­est­ing traf­fic jams I have been stuck in. Peo­ple were walk­ing through the cars and up to win­dows try­ing to sell all kinds of things, from nuts and leather bags to neck­laces and tow­els. We did well to re­sist but then we came across one young boy who had the most adorable face and was very per­sis­tent with his plea for us to buy from him. Our driver Cyrus ad­vised us not to buy any­thing as it en­cour­ages par­ents to send their chil­dren out to work rather than school, but rightly or wrongly we crum­bled. We bought a bag of nuts. Was Chloe or some­one from the ITC EFI there or per­haps some­one from the Hub there to help with things like trans­la­tion? Most of the peo­ple we were work­ing with spoke some level of English so we didn’t re­ally need much trans­lat­ing. It was only when we went to visit the Maa­sai bead­ers at their many­atta (set­tle­ment) that we needed some as­sis­tance talk­ing with Kap­poka and Ra­son who are the el­ders in our cam­paign. The kids were more that happy to help, they were fas­ci­nated with talk­ing to us. Chloé from the EFI and Cyrus our driver was with us the en­tire trip so we al­ways had as­sis­tance with trans­la­tion. What did you eat? The food was great and all very fa­mil­iar, lots of fresh fruit and veges. De­scribe your first meet­ing with the ar­ti­sans? I first met the ar­ti­sans work­ing on our prod­uct dur­ing our tour of the EFI ar­ti­san Hub. Ar­riv­ing at the hub, there was a lot to take in, peo­ple out and about work­ing on dif­fer­ent things and lots of art and mu­rals on the sides of the build­ings. Jeremy and Lisa from the EFI, who we had been work­ing closely with on the Karen Walker pouches, greeted us at the doors of the hub and showed us around the work­shops. Derek and I were wel­comed by song; all the work­ers stood and sang a wel­come. It was amaz­ing! We weren’t ex­pect­ing it and it felt like a joy­ful cel­e­bra­tion that we were there. They did the same when we left, with a song thank­ing us for pro­vid­ing them with work. There was a real sense of pride and grat­i­tude about the work that they do. I en­joyed get­ting to know some of the ar­ti­sans more closely. Win­nie, a su­per­vi­sor of em­broi­der­ers at the hub (and also one of the stars of our eyewear cam­paign) has worked with the EFI since 2009 and has been able to send her brother to school and im­prove liv­ing con­di­tions for her fam­ily. The other women also ex­pressed how work­ing with the EFI has helped them gain more con­fi­dence and new skills. Did you spend time with them while they were ac­tu­ally mak­ing the pouches, did you check their pro­duc­tion set-up? Yes, I got to see how all the work comes to­gether and meet many of the ar­ti­sans work­ing on our or­der. I was im­pressed with the set-up - they had dif­fer­ent ar­eas for var­i­ous parts of the pro­duc­tion, from ma­chine sewing, hand paint­ing, screen-print­ing to press­ing and pack­ing. It was

“Derek and I were wel­comed by song; all the work­ers stood and sang a wel­come. It was amaz­ing! We weren’t ex­pect­ing it and it felt like a joy­ful cel­e­bra­tion that we were there”

such a plea­sure to meet and talk to the ar­ti­sans work­ing on our pouches. They take such care and pride in their craft. Not all as­pects of sam­pling and pro­duc­tion are done at the EFI Hub. The EFI do a great job of tak­ing work to the com­mu­nity. For ex­am­ple, the bead­ing on our more in­tri­cate pouches were done by the Maa­sai bead­ers at their many­atta be­fore the goods head back to the hub for fin­ish­ing. Did they like hav­ing their pho­tos taken in the KWE sun­nies? I loved how keen the ar­ti­sans were to be in­cluded in our cam­paign. They were some of the best tal­ent we’ve worked with. Some were shyer than oth­ers but they were amaz­ing and had a great time be­ing pho­tographed by Derek. I think this re­ally shows through in our cam­paign images. I heard your truck got stuck in the mud, can you tell us about that? Oh the van! It cer­tainly did bring un­ex­pected twists and turns to the ad­ven­ture. We ac­tu­ally broke down twice. The first time was when we were driv­ing to one of the metal work­shops where a group of ar­ti­sans were be­ing trained. The work­shop was on a farm so we had to drive through fields but it had been pour­ing with rain the last few days so the land had turned to sludge. Our driver was a pro, I couldn’t be­lieve we got as far as we did in our rick­ety old van in such messy and bumpy con­di­tions, but, alas, our luck ran out and we be­gan to slip and slide un­til we got stuck in the mud. Luck­ily all th­ese men just ap­peared from what felt like nowhere, some young, some old and some bare­foot. They be­gan to push, rock and shake the van un­til we be­came un­stuck! After the res­cue, our he­roes asked what we were do­ing and were then keen to try on the sunglasses so we took a few snaps. It ac­tu­ally turned out to be one of my high­lights of the trip, they were re­ally funny and loved play­ing up for the cam­era. The sec­ond time we broke down was in Nairobi Na­tional Park when we were try­ing to find our way out as it was get­ting near to clos­ing time. We had to cross a part of the road that had pretty much turned into a river due to the rains, we got through it and then the van conked out! There was no one around and it was start­ing to get dark. The last liv­ing thing we saw was a mas­sive buf­falo, which was just around the cor­ner, I found the whole sit­u­a­tion hi­lar­i­ous, I just couldn’t be­lieve what was hap­pen­ing. We had no op­tion but to get out of the van and push in the pour­ing rain. Cyrus and Derek were try­ing to start the van up whilst push­ing from the front and Chloe and I were at the back giv­ing it all we had be­tween fits of laugh­ter. It wasn’t un­til we’d picked up some pace and were run­ning with the van that it ac­tu­ally started. We did a big cheer and a merry dance, got in and got out!! What is your last­ing mem­ory of the trip, what was spe­cial about it? I found the trip very emo­tional and in­spir­ing. I left with such a mas­sive sense of pride that we were a part of this amaz­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion that’s mak­ing such an im­prove­ment to the lives of so many.

Velma, mar­ket­ing

as­sis­tant, pho­tographed

for the Karen Walker Eyewear cam­paign by Derek Hen­der­son

Op­po­site: Ev­ery eyewear pouch was screen-printed by hand. Here, dry­ing printed can­vas at Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Africa at the Godown Arts Cen­tre, Nairobi. Above: Karen Walker’s Jade Leigh Kelly get­ting some help from the lo­cals

Screen printed Karen Walker rab­bit lo­gos dry­ing in Nairobi

Screen print­ing is a labour-in­ten­sive ac­tiv­ity, en­tirely man­ual, which pro­vides much needed work to the ar­ti­san com­mu­ni­ties in­volved in the project.

Top: Michael Ochola Owino work­ing the screen-print­ing set-up at Waithaka. Above: Elis­a­beth Awuor Otambo dry­ing the fab­ric that will be­come Karen Walker Eyewear pouches

Watch the film: Karen Walker Vis­i­ble Eyewear cam­paign

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