With designers such as Stella McCartney and Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni teaming up with indigenous artisans, high-fashion handcrafted wares with a social consciousness have become more common in the luxury market.
Championing this cause, Chicago-based Piece & Co. has worked for the last three years to expand designers’ access to the fabrics and techniques of female artisans in developing countries. Its mission is to help end global poverty by creating sustainable employment for the women. To date, the business has created about 8,000 job opportunities in 21 countries, according to CEO and founder Kathleen Wright, who previously worked as director of sales and marketing for nonprofit company Nest, which also assists female artisans.
“Our model is built like a typical supplier,” says Wright. “We come to the designers with artisan techniques [such as ikat, tie-dye, embroidery and batik printing] and a textile collection each season, and they can customize them however they want to fit into their own collections. I started the company with artisan groups in India and Guatemala, but I found that the clients I want to work with want to source from Guatemala one season, Indonesia the next and Vietnam the following season. So we built on that concept. I always say we are making the world smaller, and I really do believe that’s true.”
Piece & Co. has created products with fashion brands such as Rachel Roy, Cynthia Rowley, Toms Shoes and Madewell. Now it has joined forces with Nordstrom, another company that has built social responsibility into its business plan, to launch its largest effort yet— a 32-piece capsule collection of apparel and handbags ($59.95-$495) by Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg, Alice & Olivia, the Honest Co., Rebecca Minkoff, Current/Elliott and Theory. The Nordstrom + Piece & Co. line, which launched on Monday, is available exclusively at select Nordstrom stores and its website.
“This is the first time we have had a real platform to tell the story about how brands can collaborate with us and have a massive impact on women in the developing world, while still doing business as usual,” says Wright. “I think that sometimes when people think of an artisan product, they think of something really crafty-looking, but when you look at these products, they transcend that completely. It’s been so eye-opening for me to see what these designers can do with traditional artisan techniques. Their visions, plus the craft that we bring to the table, makes something very beautiful and powerful at the same time.”
Burch, who supports female entrepreneurs through her Tory Burch Foundation, sourced handmade painted cotton canvas fabric from the Republic of Zambia and also used geometric embroidery on a linen tunic and skirt; Diane von Furstenberg created wrap dresses and a scarf with hand-printed batik fabrics from India; and Rebecca Minkoff’s vibrant tapestry bags are made with an ancient loom weaving technique from Vietnam.
“I talk to the [artisans] and say, ‘How has this impacted your life?,’” says Wright. “One woman said, ‘Every day since I’ve had this order, I’ve been able to send my kids to school with lunch and as a mom, these have been some of the happiest months of my life.’ Taking that burden off moms, so they know where their next meal is going to come from, allows them to start thinking of other things in their life like how they are going to keep their kids in school all the way through secondary education. It’s really exciting.”