Monday, 7 June 2010

Being good with the Luciana

Since the start of the summer, Selfridges has been selling the Luciana, a gold clutch bag made from recycled ring pulls. Now, for all its ethical policies – Selfridges doesn’t sell real fur for example – the department store wouldn’t compromise on its reputation for selling sought-after product in favour of simply being “good”. But what Selfridges will do is combine the two, and that’s exactly what it has done here.
The Luciana is made by a Brazilian women’s collective in Bahia and is run by UK charity Bottletop. The aim of the charity is to alleviate poverty but the commercial success of the Luciana shows that it has gone beyond that to nurture creative skills among its members.
Together with the design talent of Cameron Saul, who runs the charity and is the son of the founder of luxury brand Mulberry, the women in the collective are gaining more than the already excellent rewards of a full-time paid job and medical support. They are also helping to drive the fashion side of the business with their own innovations like a design for an earring and a men’s wallet which have been put forward to Saul for production by Luciano dos Santos, the project manager based in Brazil.
“In some cases the women have created the whole design and in others we [the directors] have. But in most cases it’s been a collaboration,” said Saul. “Most of the women were previously unemployed or were earning a living by selling snacks to tourists or as housemaids. Now many of them are saving and have dreams of studying again or learning other trades.”
The collective has empowered its members to believe in their business skills and, as a result, one former member is now a cook in a restaurant.
Saul added: “We are providing training in other craft skills and techniques as we investigate other recycled materials to work with and a traditional weaving craft called Fouchica, which we want to bring to the Western world.”
Combining commercial designs with a good cause could certainly be the way forward for many charities in the current climate in the UK. Anecdotal evidence from my work as a journalist on Drapers shows that many fashion businesses are favouring charity brands over more traditional ethical or organic cotton products as a result of consumer demand.

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