At Pitti Immagine, one of the largest fashion trade shows in Florence, Dame Vivienne Westwood debuted her second Ethical Fashion Africa Collection in partnership with the International Trade Centre. The first, back in February, was a small offering of three tote bags, but for her sophomore effort she came back with a fuller collection of totes, handbags, duffles and key chains. Though she says of Africa, “I’ve never been before, [and] I shall probably never go again … ,” she appears to be getting a lot accomplished in this one shot.
All of the products are created from 100% recycled materials, including old safari tents, roadside advertisement banners and electrical wiring. The bags are handmade in Nairobi, Kenya by the same marginalized people (single mothers, widows, HIV/AIDS victims) who this effort seeks to benefit. The rugged, outdoors vibe of the bags’ original materials shines through in the final design, with canvas tans and browns forming the base for the majority of the bags. Screenprinted logos and text heighten the well-traveled luggage aesthetic.
The bags’ designs still fit perfectly into the Westwood mold; they’d look right at home hanging beside pirate squiggle shirts and alien jackets at her World’s End shop on Kings Road. The bold graphics utilize the designer’s signature iconography: eagles, monkeys, clocks, the slogans “Too Fast To Live, Too Young to Die” and “Let it Rock” as well as her iconic orb emblem, of course. The bags have a fun, pop-ethnic feel and a reasonable price point ($49-$339), given that they’re not factory-produced.
Westwood’s African adventure, embarked with her husband Andreas Kronthaler, is part of their continuing effort to stop climate change and rescue the planet. Save for the plane ride over from the UK, the operation seems fully green, and even more beneficent is the employment of some 7,000 women who would otherwise be jobless. “It’s incredible to think you might save the world through fashion,” the designer muses on the project. Surprisingly enough, in this case, the grand statement might actually have a grain of truth to it.
It’s easy to be critical of these charity fashion enterprises, but given that the World Trade Organization and the United Nations back it, everything seems legit. It’s hard to believe that these bags will save the melting Kilimanjaro, but it’s probably one of the more ethical charity projects the fashion world has seen. “It’s not charity, it’s work,” she confirms. And it’s not just sloganeering t-shirts, either.