Designers create elegant clothing out of cotton, bridging the gap between smallholder farmers in Africa and consumers throughout the world. In order to reinforce this chain of appreciation and value creation, the initiative worked to develop new collections with numerous young, ambitious couturiers. Here are four examples:
“When the initiative Cotton made in Africa and Tchibo asked me if I wanted to design a collection for them, I didn’t have to think about it for long! It gave me the opportunity to work with a European company and to present the beauty of my country, South Africa, at the same time. By cooperating with Tchibo I have the chance to support trade with Africa, and it gives me the great pleasure to be able to contribute to the success of the Cotton made in Africa initiative.”
The cooperation with Tchibo is Clayton Emile Coutriers’ first international experience. Coutriers added: “It was very exciting to create a collection together with a German company for the European market and thus be able to present how modern and contemporary design of South Africa can look”. The young artist is convinced that South African design culture has good prospects for inspiring international markets.
Coutriers spent his childhood in a rural area of South Africa. The variety of flora and fauna as well as the beauty of the changing seasons have influenced his work. A strong link to nature is clearly visible in all his designs. He is convinced that it is especially important to work responsibly with raw materials, such as using Cotton made in Africa, or to use natural colorants, like beetroot.
Coutrier’s engagement with sustainability and the preservation of nature has already received awards. With his cushion collection “Dance of a Thousand Seasons” in 2009, the young artist won the Green Designers competition set up by Woolworths and the magazine House & Leisure. He studied at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa, where he lives
“Cotton made in Africa supports a lot of Africans in a very direct way. It is a new form of development cooperation—not a donation and not a gift. The people involved have a goal: they want to take control of their own lives. And this initiative helps them to secure their own incomes. Every smallholder farmer is an active part of a trade relationship, and not just a passive recipient of aid. As an African, I know what it means to be just a recipient of aid—financial aid only lasts for a short time, and does not have a sustainable impact. I am pleased to be able to support this initiative with my ‘Native for Cotton made in Africa’ collection, which I designed for OTTO. For me, these garments are a cultural expression of the post-apartheid regime in South Africa, and I am very proud to show by these garments, the creative potentials that exist in Africa.”
“Native”— a brand that is as varied as South Africa
“Native” is the name of the fashion label of South African designer Craig Native. The name “Native” also has a hint of “indigenous”, and that is also part of the background to the brand—it comes from Africa and represents the continent in all its diversity. At the initiative of the Aid by Trade Foundation, Craig Native designed the “Native for Cotton made in Africa” collection for OTTO. The line comprises a varied range of shirts manufactured from Cotton made in Africa. “This collection enables me to show what potential there is in Africa. Anyone who buys a ‘Native’ product also buys a little piece of Africa”, says the designer.
Craig Native comes from the Cape Flats, the townships of Cape Town built for the oppressed coloured population during the apartheid regime. They are still characterised by a varied mix of the African cultures, scenes and lifestyles which grew up in the ghettos. This cultural diversity is also expressed by the “Native” brand: The graphics on the garments are derived from traditional African patterns. Many of the styles are inspired by the Ndebele or Zulu tribes, but the design approach goes beyond that and presents a contemporary image of Africa and its wide range of people. “I have friends from all classes and all walks of life: I know really poor people that live in huts, and also people who have achieved respected positions in society. I give preference to no-one, but embrace them all”, says Craig Native, who is highly conscious of his own roots.
„We are trying in this collection to reflect both modern times, and traditional Africa”
So “Native” does not stand for a single style, but for “lifestyles”: football, glamour, poverty, 80s-style, and 50s-jazz-style are just some of the elements incorporated by the artist in his designs. The blend of traditional and modern, rich and poor, has caused “Native” to be described as the “Robin Hood brand”. Not because they take from the rich to give to the poor, but because they represent the different worlds of Africa whether rich or poor.
“I want to show the people behind the scenes, and to thank them”, says Craig Native, who is concerned, above all else, with the message behind the brand. It is that “South Africa is a real place, which is influenced by globalisation. A highly diverse country.”
“For us as artists, self-realisation has always been an important part of our work. But I think it is possible to achieve self-realisation in any field of activity. My cooperation with PUMA for the PUMA Africa Lifestyle Collection 2010, produced from sustainable cotton from the Cotton made in Africa programme, gives me the opportunity to contribute to the success of an initiative which helps many people to achieve self-realisation in their work, by conducting trade for a better future.”
“Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) is an exciting initiative of the Aid by Trade Foundation that gives smallholder farmers from Africa the opportunity to sell their products on the global market and helps them cultivate the raw material sustainably—an exciting product backstory that makes CmiA fashion special. And CmiA cotton pleasantly surprised me in another way: the quality is great.”
“Fashion is wearable art”, is how Julia Starp describes her craft. The creative focus of this young Hamburg designer is on high fashion for women, primarily business and evening wear. Her fashion label “Julia Starp Modedesign”, founded in 2009, stands for exquisitely detailed fashion that is individual, high quality, and, above all, sustainable. Julia Starp emphasises that: “To me, exclusivity and sustainability are not opposing factors. On the contrary, sustainable fabrics are what complete my creations”. Her fashion-conscious design collections demonstrate how sustainability and fashion can be elegantly combined. She explains: “It is important to me that my clothes can be worn longer than just one season. That is also part of the sustainable philosophy behind my fashion.”
Julia Starp was inspired to produce “sustainable fashion” early in her career, partly to meet the challenge of creating something new with limited resources, and partly from a fascination with knowing where her raw materials came from. She held fast to her dream: “I finished my studies in 2005. At the time, sustainable fashion right down to the raw materials was not really an issue. I was already interested in making my own cloth, though, so I spent day and night at the loom.”
Today, sustainable fashion is no longer an exotic concept, and interest in eco fashion has increased dramatically in recent years. The trend is slowly becoming mainstream, and Julia Starp is sure that “soon we won’t even need to talk about whether something is sustainable. At least that is my hope.”
The JAK Hamburg Fashion Design Academy graduate has designed the eight-piece “ECOREPUBLIC by Julia Starp” line exclusively for OTTO. Because sustainability is central to this collection as well, every piece will be made of organic and Cotton made in Africa cotton. Along with innovative designs, Julia Starp believes sustainable fashion represents particularly beautiful and exciting stories—like those of the African smallholder farmers from Cotton made in Africa—just waiting to be told.
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