How to Integrate Indigenous Cultures into Modern Fashion

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The following guest post, How to Integrate Indigenous Cultures into Modern Fashion is written by Danica, Founder of ethical fashion brand Wild Tussah.

 :: Wild Tussah ::
How to Integrate Indigenous Cultures into Modern Fashion
When it comes to sustainable and ethical fashion, conscious consumers all around the world can't seem to get enough of new, innovative ways to ensure that the clothes and accessories they spend good money on don't contribute to the exploitation of sweatshop workers - or to the destruction of the environment.

Apart from the financial support and fair treatment that modern companies are expected to offer their workers, it is also vital to help them conserve their cultural identity and their traditions, and to show respect towards their way of life.

This is why the integration of authentic ethnic elements into modern sustainable fashion is so important; it doesn't just offer a valuable source of income to people who so desperately need one, it also celebrates and appreciates indigenous cultures and their traditional handicrafts for the art form they actually are.

:: Wild Tussah Weavers ::

I know from first-hand experience that there are a few ways you must work with and integrate cultures into your design so that you end up with happy artisans and happy consumers. My 10 months of living in Vietnam, working directly with the ethnic communities and designing a sustainable handbag line, Wild Tussah, has taught me this.

:: Wild Tussah Cham Weaving Workshop ::

If you are interested in making your own clothes and accessories by working with local artisans, or would like to learn about the process behind ethical designing that happens on location, this is where you will find the inside scoop!

Choosing an ethnic culture
There are a few things to consider before attempting to create modern fashion with ethnic elements. Some questions you need to ask are:
• What specific skills do you need to source?
• What artisanal products would you like to bring to an international market?
• Will the artisans you work with be able to keep up with capacity needs?
• Will you be able to do their skills justice, to pay them a fair wage and still end up with a profitable product?
• Are these artisans comfortable working with foreigners?

:: Mrs Diem using a Loom ::

While your initial love for a culture or location might drive you to design, you have to think on a practical level before starting if you are going to create successfully.

Sourcing the artisans and their skills
The process of finding and selecting the best group of people to partner with involves a lot of research, so let's face it; having a reliable assistant on board who speaks the national language is a must! I really couldn’t have created a handbag line at the speed that I did without my Admin Assistant, KhuĂȘ.

From my experience, most local information online is not in English, and depending on the country, most people do not speak English. I found that having KhuĂȘ there to translate was invaluable and enabled me to build a relationship with my suppliers.

The initial research process will go something like this if you are on location:

1. Find information on the ethnic group, their skills and traditions.
2. Locate their local shop where they trade or where the closest artisan village is that you can visit.
3. Call beforehand to schedule a meeting time and let them know why you are coming.
4. Speak to the person you’ll be working with once you get there either directly or through a translator about partnership opportunities.
5. Organize time to spend with the artisans and learn about their making process and local traditions.

Delving into the artisan’s culture is extremely important, so allowing yourself time to research and visit their village is crucial. You’ll be able to understand how people live in these communities, and check out the artisans' working conditions. Make sure you take notes on any aspect you think you could help improve in the future should the partnership be successful. Seeing with your own eyes how your products are actually going to be made will help you pay your workers fairly.

:: Wild Tussah visits Cham Kindergarten ::

If you aren’t able to be in the country where your artisans live, you can find other alternatives to sourcing handicrafts. There are online businesses that do the hard work for you; they source the handicrafts themselves and act as a liaison between you and the artisan.

Culture preservation
The next part to this process is to work on the design specifications and create something that will preserve your artisans’ traditions. Culture clash is a major faux pas, so keep in mind the way their handicrafts traditionally look, the tools they use and the way they work. All are building blocks to creating the culture you have come to love and want to preserve. You might think that an old loom, for example, needs to be replaced with a new one, but that isn’t the case if they traditionally use these old looms. What part of the culture are you preserving; the skill; the process of creating; the actual handicraft product; or all of the above?

:: Loom Weights ::

Giving credit
After creating, you can now show your design to the world, and... give credit to your artisans! Giving them a voice; it brings more meaning and depth to your product. They are the reason you started in the first place, so share with the rest of us those who inspired you. When the person wearing your clothing or accessories understands that it took the maker months to complete, they can see more beauty in the piece and the value of it.

I find this part to be the most enjoyable because I get to share amazing stories from real people, and prove that my design has purpose and it is changing lives.

My question to you is, what part of the creation process do you think is the most important when you are integrating indigenous cultures into modern fashion? And which do you think is or would be the hardest?

For more information about women’s empowerment, sustainable fashion, culture preservation, weaving, eco-tourism and anything Vietnam-related, check out Wild Tussah’s blog. To see our handbags, which incorporate Lu and Cham weaves, visit our online shop.

:: Wild Tussah Handbags ::

About Danica
:: Danica Ratte - Wild Tussah ::

Danica Ratte is a travel addict who grew up and went to university in the US; moved to Australia for 3.5 years; and now resides in Vietnam, living out her dreams of designing consciously. She was inspired to start her sustainable handbag line after a life changing 5-week trip through South East Asia. Danica was blown away by local ethnic weavers’ skills and their excitement to teach others about it. After she found out that these weave cultures were endangered of going extinct, she decided she had to work with the artisans directly to help preserve their traditions. Now she asks this question every day: “Do you know where your bags come from?”

1 comment:

Helena A. said...

Well done Girl!
That is the way to help preserve the cultures of this world!
Kisses from Portugal!

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