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Culture and Skills

1. Culture as a source of inspiration for fashion

Culture and traditional dress have always been a source of inspiration for the fashion industry. Leading designers like Oswald Boateng (Ghanaian-British) Hussein Chalayan (Turkish Cypriot). Yohji Yamamoto (Japanese) and Ritu Beri (Indian) are known for creating designs which mix the cultural heritage and traditions of their roots, with contemporary Western Society.

Moreover, designers like Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier, Carlos Miele and more recently Matthew Williamson, work with artisanal groups around the world, incorporating traditional techniques into their high end designs.

2. Opportunities to add value for communities and products

Often fashion manufacture which is outsourced to developing countries does little to build on or develop traditional culture and skills. Instead it focuses upon mass produced garments and low cost labour.

As fashion chains go international, it is becoming possible for shoppers to buy almost exactly the same outfit whether they are in a big city in Europe, in Asia, in Africa or in South America. The supply chains for many of these high street chains are concentrated in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, due to lower labour costs. However there is little investment in local capacity, local supply chains and skills development which builds upon traditional skills.

In Bangladesh and India, jamdani weave, kantha and aari embroidery and beadwork of incredible beauty and intricacy are commonplace. Thailand and Cambodia have long traditions of silk development. Guatemala and Mexico are famous for their colourful weaving and embroidery work. In Africa, beadwork and weaving traditions have developed and blossomed for centuries.

The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) recognise the value of preserving and building upon these skills -as an important part of culture, and a way of adding value and unique selling point to products in a competitve market.

Many of the organisations under the umbrella of WFTO specialise in a variety of traditional techniques in textiles, fashion, jewellery and accessories. By working to fair trade standards, these organisations ensure that artists and craftspeople are paid fairly for their work. Because the products produced by these organisations are often intricate and beautifully made, they can command good prices when sold in the UK, Europe or elsewhere. This money goes towards steady incomes for the crafts people as well as resources for their communities.

More information

Useful links

  • The rich culture, diverse traditions and skills of Africa have long been a source of inspiration for the international fashion industry. However, it is rare that the communities from which this inspiration is derived have benefited from the successes of international fashion. Africa Inspires, a programme of the International Trade Centre, responds to this by linking African designers and communities (especially small and informal manufacturers

  • The Costumers Manifesto: Traditional dress from around the world

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