Podcast Ep. 74, DYNAMIC POWER DUO ROSARIO DAWSON & ABRIMA ERWIAH
“Everything you do, from what you buy to how you dress, has impact. We believe in the power of collaborating with artisanal communities and rising through fashion. Look good, feel good, and do good – that’s as good as it gets.” - STUDIO 189
EPISODE 74 FEATURES STUDIO 189
This episode is about purpose, co-creation and building a social enterprise with a friend. It's about fashion with a heart, and following your dreams.
Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah are Studio 189, a social enterprise brand based between New York and Ghana that won the CFDA x Lexus Sustainable Fashion Initiative award last year.
The brand works in countries with valuable skills but little infrastructure and limited access to markets, to help build the creative economy of the African fashion industry.
You no doubt know Rosario for her film work - she was discovered aged 15 sitting on her New York stoop by Harmony Korine, who cast her in his cult hit, Kids.
Since then she’s been in major movies from Sin City to Men in Black to Rent. She’s also an activist. In 2004 she co-founded Voto Latino, to encourage young Hispanic and Latino voters to become more politically involved, and she sits on the board of Eve Ensler’s V-Day's One Billion Rising.
Abrima studied business and her career background is in luxury - she used work for Bottega Veneta. A trip with Rosario to Ensler's City of Joy in the Congo cemented her decision to work in social enterprise.
What does it take to build a business like this? How do you overcome the challenges of working in countries where the lights regularly go out, or a day off sick might mean malaria? Are we on the brink of a new era, one characterised by sharing, empathy, purpose? What sort of world do we want to shape for the next generation of women change-makers?
first, THE CLOTHES…(they’re fabulous b.t.w.)
Studio 189 makes slow fashion. They focus on traditional indigo-dyes, mud cloth and kente weaves. Their cotton is GOTS certified organic. Some of it’s recycled. Their batiks are created by hand. Many dyes are natural. The making of these clothes is highly-skilled. Call it fashion art if you want to. We do. Shop here.
At the recent launch of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion in Nairobi, UN goodwill ambassador Nadya Hutagalung wore a Studio 189 outfit. These words are from Studio 189’s Instagram: “The Masquerade Skirt combines the work of artisans from multiple communities including those supported by the UN ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative. It features fabric that has been hand-spun, hand-dyed and hand-woven by multiple communities in Burkina Faso. The fabric is then put on a bus to Accra Ghana where it has to be placed, by hand, and reshaped and reconfigured - piece by piece and patched by hand by our artisans. It’s a long process that’s nothing short of a communal work of art in order to also capture the elegant couture-like shape of this skirt which is, by the way, 16 yards of fabric …We do not throw away any excess fabric. Every piece is re-patched and reused and we take particular attention to honor the fabric when cutting as we know how much work goes into weaving each strip of yarn. This skirt took the collaboration of so many people... so many. And is absolute and true work of art.”
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…
GETTING THE NOD FROM THE CFDA X LEXUS FASHION INITIATIVE This award is focused on sustainability. Studio 189 won in 2018 for “their consistent enthusiasm, passion, and strong vision to redesign the supply chain and further connect consumers to artisans.”
PRESENTING AT NEW YORK FASHION WEEK “It feels like good time for brands like this one,” said Abrima Erwiah, a former luxury executive who held various roles in the global marketing and communications office at Bottega Veneta. “The world is ready. It’s about understanding the supply chain, the people involved. We stand behind a lot of social causes also, stopping violence against women and rape, education initiatives, support of the development of Africa and the diaspora.” Read the full WWD article here.
EVE ENSLER is a playwright, activist and the author of The Vagina Monologues - the feminist play that became a movement. “I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews, which became vagina monologues...At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn't stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one's ever asked them before,” explained Ensler. But the movement she built in the subsequent two decades went way beyond that. V-Day is a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls, which has raised over $100 million in support of the cause.
CITY OF JOY “is a transformational leadership community for women survivors of violence, located in Bukavu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Conceived, owned, and run by local Congolese, the City of Joy has flourished since it first opened its doors in June 2011, healing women from their past trauma through therapy and life skills programming while providing them with the essential ingredients needed to move forward in life – love and community. Serving 90 survivors of gender violence aged 18 to 30 at a time, City of Joy has graduated over 1200 women leaders since it opened in 2011.” Via CityofJoyCongo.org
FAMILY VALUES. Rosario is from a long line of activist women. Her mother was a community activist on NY’s Lower East Side. Her great grandmother was a seamstress who was active in the ILGWU in the city’s Garment District. Read the whole story in Chapter11 of WARDROBE CRISIS.
MUHAMMAD YUNUS is the Nobel Peace Prize winning “banker to the poor”. He established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983, fuelled by the belief that credit is a fundamental human right. His objective was to help poor people escape from poverty by providing loans on terms suitable to them and by teaching them a few sound financial principles so they could help themselves.
From Dr. Yunus’ personal loan of small amounts of money to destitute basket-weavers in Bangladesh in the mid-70s, the Grameen Bank has advanced to the forefront of a burgeoning world movement toward eradicating poverty through micro-lending. Yunus is known as the guru of social business and inspires many in the space - including Lily Cole. Did you listen to her Episode yet? It’s number 46, listen here.
While you’re at it, re-listen to our friend Simone Cipriani’s Episode here. Remember him? He’s the founder of the UN’s Ethical Fashion Initiative.
Clare first met Rosario and Abrima at Milan Fashion Week. If you’re interested in hearing more about how Vogue Italia supports emerging talent, listen to Vogue Talents’ Sara Maino, here. More links…
Watch the full story of how Studio 189 works here:
Find out about One Billion Rising below::
A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
THANK YOU FOR JOINING THE WARDROBE CRISIS CONVERSATION. WE'LL HAVE A NEW EPISODE FOR YOU EVERY WEDNESDAY. CAN YOU HELP US SPREAD THE WORD? WE'D LOVE YOU TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS & LEAVE A REVIEW IN iTUNES.
Until next time,