NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Glamour typically is in short supply in the world of aid and development. But a group of first ladies, diplomats, designers and prominent women gathered during the opening week of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly to recognise the achievements of one of the more gilt-edged projects to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of women and children: Fashion 4 Development or F4D.
Founded three years ago by entrepreneur and philanthropist Evie Evangelou to support the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Every Woman, Every Child initiative, F4D harnesses the power of international fashion brands to promote sustainable economic growth, create jobs, nurture design talent and preserve traditional skills and cultural heritage around the world.
Its motto is: Giving back is the new luxury.
F4D hosted its 3rd Annual First Ladies Luncheon on Thursday, drawing some 360 people to the Pierre Hotel, including Ban Soon-Taek, first lady of the United Nations, Malian First Lady Keita Aminata Maiga and a number of other first ladies. They were joined by Saudi Princesses Ameerah Al Taweel and Basma al Saud, fashion designers Donna Karan and Reem Acra, journalists Tina Brown of Women in the World and editor of The Daily Beast and Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani, head of UNAIDS Michel Sidibe and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus.
In the last year, F4D’s projects included:
- Partnering with the China Beauty Charity Fund and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology to provide scholarships and internships with leading fashion houses for young Chinese designers
- Working with luxury brand Bottega Veneta to bring talented African designers to Italy to study design, business and trade
- Opening a fashion school in Bali, Indonesia, with an investment from beachwear manufacturer Yamamay, where more than 50 people have been employed while learning the art of Balinese embroidery
- Initiating a project with Yoox International in which the e-commerce firm agreed to commission and purchase $100,000 worth of merchandise from young African designers – all of which sold out.
- Partnering with fashion house Moschino to produce a part of its collection in Africa, which generated more than $100,000 for three African design firms
A highlight of the gathering was a catwalk presentation of some of the fashions that are providing jobs and training and, in many cases, preserving traditional designs and crafts such as embroidery and weaving.
For the first time at a F4D event, fashions from Saudi Arabia’s Art of Heritage design and retail firm in Riyadh, an offshoot of the Al Nahda women’s charity, were shown. Working from an archive of 2,500 traditional dresses, the group’s female designers create modern versions of ancient classics, currently employing some 70 poor and disabled women to re-create the elaborate beading and embroideries that distinguish Saudi fashions, Princess Basma told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
There were flowing embroidered caftans in jewel-toned silks and velvets, an elegant one-shouldered djellaba in pale chocolate silk with gold seaming and embroidery, a long white asymmetrical shirt over slim leather pants and, in a nod to the past, an antique crystal-embroidered white wedding gown and veil.
“This is Saudi women wearing Saudi dresses. This is what you see behind the veil,” Princess Basma told the audience.
Chinese-American designer Angel Chang’s fashions are crafted from fabrics made on traditional looms by indigenous Miao and Dong ethnic minorities in China’s Guizhou province. She also offers yak-fibre scarves hand-woven by Tibetan nomads in Gansu province, all in an effort to promote sustainability by relying on traditional methods.
From Sierra Leone, designer Mary-Ann Kai Kai’s label Madam Wokie focuses on traditional prints and patterns produced by local tailors, weavers and dyers. She buys tie-dye materials from local women and has created training programmes for cloth weavers displaced by the recent civil war and for unemployed young people to produce eco-friendly straw bags.