Monday, 29 October 2012

The IOU Project

Mahatma Ghandi said - Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it’

I don’t know about that... I think I’m still undecided.

Either way, I’m glad The IOU Project’s founders had a eureka moment and decided to pursue it, despite knowing whether it would be successful. 

Take a look:

The IOU Project prides itself as a transparent clothing brand, producing handmade apparel that can be traced from start to finish – documenting how and where it transforms from those initial fabric yarns into a beautiful wearable garment, and ends up in your welcoming hands.

All of the fabrics used to make these garments are hand-woven by very skilled artisans in India, using this age-old culturally historic technique. The fabric is then passed along to small manufacturers in Europe where it is turned into an awesome garment or accessory by HAND (no robot-like machines involved). And depending on what item you purchase, you can look it up on the IOU website and see the very journey that your piece of clothing made! You’re not just getting a shirt or a dress people... you’re getting a story, and you are making the happy ending.

What makes The IOU Project even better is that each textile piece that is woven is unique, so no item that is produced or sold is the same as another. So you end up with something that is truly special, you’ll look FIERCE, and will be making a statement to all those high street herds of sheep out there who enjoy blending in.

Take a closer peek at IOU:

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it’

That's what they say.

Ghandi was no doubt a very wise man, but I’m not sure I agree with him entirely. I think what we do matters. Every single tiny gesture or action is a little piece in the puzzle that slowly slots together and makes up a giant picture of your journey here. But a lot of your pieces are also key to completing other people’s pictures, and without theirs, yours would also remain incomplete. Our actions affect others, in a ripple-like way, for better or worse. Sometimes we see those ripples, and sometimes we don’t; though they still happen. You’re here, in this very moment, for a reason. Don’t ever believe that what you’re doing is insignificant; because I can promise you that you couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter how great or small – what you do matters. And more often than not, it’s the little things that hold the greatest value. You probably don’t realise it, but the act of you just simply being you has probably changed someone’s world somewhere for the better.

Whatever you do will matter to those who believe that it does.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Osei Duro: Honourable Magic

If you knew 10 years from now that you were finally going to meet the love of your life, what on earth would you do between now and then? I think I’d probably waste away those precious days just waiting for that moment to hurry along. And what if you knew that tomorrow would be your last day here? I think that would ruin the fun of tonight. Don’t you? What I mean is that while we all sometimes wish we could predict the future, and be calmed by just a shred of certainty and reassurance that our lives are going to play out like we hope they will, it’s actually strangely comforting muddling along here in the unknown. It somehow takes all the pressure away; frees us, and dares us to dive in head first and create whatever story we’ve always dreamed of; because each of us has nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Plain and simple - life is a mystery... and I think that’s one of the greatest gifts that each of us recieves. 

Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh are two ladies who know better than most of us that you never know where you’re going to end up or what life has in store for you right around the next corner. But that’s what makes it such an epic adventure, right? These talented designers first met during high school, but it wasn’t until Maryanne flew to Ghana that she found herself wanting to stay and design and create a clothing collection. It was then that she envisioned something far bigger and better, but unable to execute her ambitious vision as a one-woman band, she decided to reach out to an old friend – Molly. ‘I asked Molly to join me as a partner when we were at our 10-year high school reunion,’ Maryanne says.

What was initially meant to be a one-off trip, ended up becoming the socially responsible and sustainable fashion label – Osei-Duro. The two ladies work in partnership with the Dzidefo Women’s Cooperative in Ghana, who are local artisans, and together produce collections that are very unique and flattering, with an innovative use of fabrics and prints that I have yet to see anywhere else. It’s hard to pinpoint the style... it’s a mix of cultures (notably Accra – the capital of Ghana – and North America, the two places where the pair split their time between), and integrates ethnic elements with a strong contemporary urban feel.

In stark contrast to what the high street continues to half-heartedly churn out for us on a weekly basis - each finished piece from an Osei-Duro collection represents many hours of creative collaboration between the dynamic design duo and their talented crafters. ‘There is a lot of back and forth as we develop the prints,’ says Molly. ‘We might request an experimental technique that is new to the dyers, or they might suggest a traditional method they think suits a need. We send samples and sketches back and forth with the dyers and the sewers and the cobblers until everyone is satisfied with the results.’

The name, Osei-Duro, translates to "honourable magic" in Akan. I think that sums up the spirit of the label nicely. It’s built upon a friendship, and is supported by a local community working together to collectively produce something special. It’s about people from different parts of the world crossing paths, colliding with one another, something that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if it wasn’t for these incredible ladies. It’s strange when you think of it like that... when you dare to think about how none of it might have existed if Maryanne hadn’t pursued her dream... It’s like everything that happens in our lives on a daily basis, we all make choices to go one way or the other, and are sometimes left wondering whether we made the right decision in that moment. 

I think Maryanne and Molly made a beautiful choice.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Mayamiko Project: Bricks of Hope

50p buys a brick. And every single brick counts. That’s all you need to know.

Well, ok, there is a bit more of a story to tell...

So Mayamiko (the Chichewa word for praise) is a Trust created by a bunch of like-minded creative spirits who decided to use their skills to benefit people in the world who are less fortunate than themselves; and you and me. It’s their special way of giving back and spreading the goodness around in a truly unique way. The main objects of the Trust are to promote sustainable development by the relief of poverty through training and employment opportunities (particularly in Africa), as well as promoting and preserving good health through the provision of funds and a variety of services. 

The Mayamikans (as they like to be known!) are planning to build a new sustainable skills and production centre in Lilongwe, Malawi, as part of The Mayamiko Cotton Project. At present, the disadvantaged women – affected by the HIV pandemic or are carers of HIV orphans - who are trainees and tailors, learn their crafts and work outdoors. The aim of the production centre is to provide a sheltered environment and improved working conditions for these women while they’re hard at work trying to build a future for themselves and their families. The project has already trained groups of women in many different textile processes including weaving, knitting, cutting, sewing, and tailoring, all the way through to finished garments, some of which have been featured in Vogue, Grazia, Cosmopolitan and The Guardian! So it’s clear that this is a life changing opportunity for these women to create a sustainable and flourishing living.

Along with a necessary skills centre, the Mayamikans are hoping to build a nursery where the ladies’ babies and children will be looked after holistically, fed nutritious food and taken care of lovingly; and in the future they hope to build a fashion school where technical and creative talents can be nurtured and developed for sustainability and growth.

Malawi is actually one of the poorest countries in the world, with a life expectancy at birth of just 41 years, and over half of the population live in extreme poverty. However, studies indicate that lifting women out of poverty has amazing effects on reducing the under-5 mortality rate, and that it increases the chances of offspring being healthier and being sent to school and receiving a vital education. Evidence shows that when women have a steady and reliable income, which is what this project aims to achieve, that money mostly goes to the benefit of their children, the family, and the community- and that my friends, is how a ‘virtuous circle’ begins.

Malawi grows cotton that is exported raw for very low prices. Cotton is the fourth biggest export commodity but accounts for next to nothing of the total export value of the country. So the project aims to source some of the precious cotton grown in Malawi, and use it locally to manufacture products with added value for the internal market and for export. 

And guess what? YOU can play a part in realising the Mayamikans dream by buying bricks for the new production centre. Mayamiko have set a target of 200,000 bricks, each brick representing 50p; and don’t underestimate how much every single brick donated helps.

And there’s an added bonus on offer too! There are a number of different gifts that will be sent to you with compliments depending on how generous your donation to the project is. Donating 100 bricks (£50) will get you a Mayamiko cotton drawstring bag and oyster card made by trainees in Malawi; all the way up to if you donate 20,000 bricks (£10,000) a room will be named after you in the Skills and Production Centre, and you’ll become a lifetime patron of Mayamiko, listed on the website. £10,000 is a LOT of dough, so don’t worry, there’s plenty of other unique gifts on offer for smaller and more affordable contributions! Click here to visit the Bricks of Hope project, and make a life changing donation today.

There is a Chichewa saying that goes:

“Phukusi la moyo sasungilana”

I have no idea how to attempt saying it, but this translates literally as “Do not let another keep the valuables of your life” – but what it is really saying is that you need to look after your own destiny. And this is exactly what the Mayamikans are trying to offer to the women of Malawi – the education, skills, and fair wage to be in control of their own destiny in this world. Everyone should have the right to pursue something that they want, and create a life for themselves and their families; a life which they are proud of; a life that is full of meaning and purpose. 

That’s not asking too much, is it?