Amidst the whirlwind that was New York Fashion Week – with its buzzy bookends, Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, and Marc Jacobs; its mass-excursion to Ralph Lauren’s famed garage and Bushwick à la #WangFest; and Rihanna’s latest outing for Puma, complete with dirt bikes and mounds of glittery sand – there is one Spring/Summer 2018 presentation that you may have missed. Scheduled amongst the week’s 130-plus other shows and presentations, Studio One Eighty Nine is a brand that is worth reflecting upon.
You will be hard pressed to find buzzy, statement t-shirts - fashion's new favorite form of "action" - on the Studio One Eighty Nine runway. But do not be fooled; that does not mean this brand is devoid of a larger social message.
It is quite the opposite, actually. Studio One Eighty Nine – the brain child of former Bottega Veneta global marketing executive Abrima Erwiah and actress Rosario Dawson – got its start in 2011, following the founders’ trip to Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda, and has since made it its mission to "use the power of collaboration with artisanal communities" and the visibility provided by the fashion industry to incite change.
Officially launched in 2013, Studio One Eight Nine is inspired by the ancestral expertise, spirit and traditions of Africa, but this brand is more than a romanticization of the region’s traditional culture. It puts forth thoroughly modern takes on traditional textiles and techniques in furtherance of Erwiah and Dawson's larger mission for the brand
“We believe in the growth of the African fashion industry, in particular in economies like Nigeria and Ghana," says Erwiah, "which is why we set up Studio One Eighty Nine. It was all about using fashion as an agent for social change and really promoting the creativity that exists on the continent.”
What - exactly - does their use of fashion as a vehicle for change look like, you ask? Well, the brand prides itself on providing economic opportunities to the women of these regions in order to help facilitate their independence. Through the creation of the artisan-produced handmade fashion collection, Studio One Eighty Nine, (and partnerships with the United Nations International Trade Centre, and the UN Ethical Fashion Initiative, Erwiah and Dawson have had a hand in the creation of accessible workshops and training for women and children throughout Ghana, helping women to build sustainable fashion manufacturing and artisanal businesses.
Central to this is also the need to “create the space for our talent to produce high quality work, have the opportunity to receive credit for their own work and source as much as possible in local markets,” says the brand’s founders.
And according to Erwiah, this is just good business, as it neatly meets the demands of a quickly-growing number of sustainably-minded consumers. “We see consumers changing in how they think and shop; they're interested in where things come from, and how they are made. The walls are gone and we are accessing an audience who cares about human issues.”