‘Stitch Witchery’ – Embroidering Social Change in Fashion

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The fashion industry has, in recent years, been criticized for promoting a narrow perception of female beauty writes Alex Morris, Founder & Director of Luxury beachwear and resort wear label GLOMAD. A culture of exclusivity pervades, invoking insecurities and a sense of lack, fortifying the ”you can’t sit with us” hashtag mentality.

A much more interesting story is fashion as a vehicle for authenticity, female solidarity and social inclusion. Fashion has great power to mobilize social movements. Political ideologies were born from trailblazers such as Katherine Hamnett, giving a new platform to political protest with Statement Tees and Vivienne Westwood’s unsettling of a nation through her Punk Fashion Terrorism Assault on Thatcher’s England.

Fashion’s capacity to unite rather than divide, to be a force for social change and female empowerment is something to shout about. A friendship born from a casual conversation in an Ibizan market about beautifully bohemian bejewelled sandals, women giving each other a virtual high five in the street in mutual appreciation of each other’s style savvy attire; These moments of beauty, of kinship, are a fire of inspiration, that colour our worlds with fun, vibrancy and universality.

A supernova of female empowerment is blazing brightly through the Middle East thanks to Sarah Beydoun, founder of Sarah’s Bag. Sarah’s story is as unusual and inspirational as the luxury accessories produced by her coterie of artisans. Born and bred in Beirut, Sarah was prompted to start her business by a research project in the final year of her sociology degree, collaborating with Dar Al Amal, an NGO that rehabilitates women in prison.

In a perfect marriage of her strong fashion sensibility and her quest to empower underprivileged, stigmatized women, Sarah’s Bag, now a successful international accessories business and social enterprise was born in 2011. Two hundred women, mostly female ex-prisoners have been trained as highly skilled artisans in embroidery and crochet. Once their training is complete they are encouraged to pass on their skills to other local women, sending out a wave of positive social change and much needed employment opportunities.

The brand is stocked globally, at Liberty and Matches to name a few, and has a big celebrity following. The designs are aesthetically bedazzling and impactful, showcasing a unique combination of Middle Eastern pop culture and ancient craftsmanship. Female Middle Eastern empowerment spread far and wide around the globe, clutched lovingly by glamazons strutting along the Boulevard Saint Germain or sashaying along the beaches of Ipanema; It’s an inspiring business model that can be a benchmark for a new era of positive luxury.

Another brand that combine a social mission with strong design credentials is Bottletop, originating from Kenya. They create groundbreaking handbag designs from upcycled bottletops and ring pulls in Brazil. They hit the big time when they embarked on a collaboration with Mulberry, moving on to work with DKNY and partnering with the UN on a collection. Their main product is made in Salvador creating opportunities for women in one of Brazil’s poorest communities.

‘Stitch-Witchery’ certainly seems to be the buzzword ‘du jour’. Arguably, the increased interest in traditional craftsmanship is a defiant stance in the face of the unrelenting speed of the technological age that we live in. Embroidery is having a moment; Gucci’s maximalist renaissance masterminded by Alessandro Michele nonchalantly fuses ornate heritage with a new aesthetic. Such intricate craft techniques have also taken centre stage at Valentino, Oscar de la Renta and Lanvin. From the lofty heights of the world of couture through to the young self-taught instagram star, New York based Parisienne Marie Sophie Lockhart, whose tongue in cheek designs have garnered celebrity commissions and space on the rails of Browns in London, ‘Stitch-Witchery’ is casting a beautiful spell.

Next time you are planning a new handbag acquisition, you have the opportunity to become a key protagonist in this new story, by investing not only in a stealth purchase for life, but investing in the improvement of women’s lives all over the world.

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