Meet | Artisans of Fashion

The richness and diversity of textile traditions provide sustainable solutions for the fashion industry layered with cultural heritage, authenticity and stories of positive social and environmental impact. Founder & CEO of Artisans of Fashion (AOF), Caroline Poiner is on a mission to find a way to engage with industry and develop new technologies, strategies and processes to create ethical pathways for designers to access these incredible cultural traditions as a key factor in the design process.

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WORDS | PETER NAUGHTON

Interview with Founder & CEO, Caroline Poiner

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“We want to encourage people to embrace the concept of co-creation and respecting the cultural integrity of traditional craft techniques. The artisans sector intersects with issues around the environment, social justice and our global diversity.”

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How would you describe AOF? What is its overall mission?

Our Mission is to build a stronger connection between the fashion industry and traditional Artisan communities helping fashion to become more environmentally and economically sustainable.

We supply ethical access to the fashion industry to partner with Artisans in the development of contemporary textiles design.

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Can you share a little bit about your background? 

I was born and raised in Sydney. I studied my degree in Interior Design at Sydney Institute of Technology. My professional background is in branding and design, however both my parents and grandparents were in the textile industry, importing some of the most luxurious textiles from across Europe and later India & China – many were produced on traditional looms. My mother sewed all of our clothes when I was growing up and throughout my life I have had a love for beautiful textiles and the handcrafted techniques.  

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Talk us through why handloom textiles have such a modern relevance in fashion today? 

From a practical perspective a lot of designers are of a scale that creating a unique textile is impossible with industrialised textile mills. With handloom, flexible minimums provide access to smaller scale production for original designs. 

From a customer and brand perspective, textile traceability and provenance are significant aspects of transparency and we can offer that to the customer as well as some inspiring stories of cultural authenticity and positive social impact by working with these communities.

The artisan archives are vast and provide amazing inspiration for new concepts. We love the journey of innovation to co - create something new as the Artisans are capable of responding to collaborative ideas and re-imagining traditional designs to a new audience. 

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What has changed since you first began this journey?

When I first started this conversation in 2011/12, no one was talking about sustainability or interested in the provenance of the textiles. The times are changing and it’s exponential. There is a movement with some powerful influencers at the forefront and I believe hand-loom will be top of mind for those looking for a deeper, more meaningful approach to the design process and to make an impact both social and environmental. 

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So to that point what makes the Artisan Sector such an important part of the fashion economy?

Like Organic foods  - there is a global appetite for textiles that are created ethically and with provenance that is culturally rich.

Artisan traditions are cultural assets. Artisan sits at the center of the slow fashion movement and has a critical contribution to make to design innovation moving forward.

We are looking to align with key partners to develop strategies and new innovations as well as work with on the ground partners in India so we can improve efficiencies and engage in a more significant way. We are starting to identify the real challenges the artisans face and how to provide effective resources, training and management as required and really give the artisans an opportunity to meet the international market demands in a sustainable way. 

We truly believe there are answers and that it is now a case of making the investment in these incredible resources. There has been a tremendous investment in the development of recycled, biodegradable and renewable fibers; equally an investment in the craft sector is in order.

ROOPA

ROOPA

KIT X

KIT X

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What have been the most exciting collaborations you have managed during your time working in this space? 

It’s exciting when a designer commits to engaging in the artisan process but one I’m very close to is the bandhani artisans in Bhuj. I have been working with this beautiful couple who engage the men and women in the villages in an 80 km radius from Bhuj in this incredible (labor intensive) craft. One of our Sydney designers, Kit X is very passionate about supporting these artisans – we have developed three collections together which has been truly incredible. 

The collaborations with Romance was Born have also been great and have been very well received on the runway and in social media. Interestingly the brocades they have worked with are actually the same used by the Buddhist monks & the royal family of Bhutan. The Dalai Lama is a close friend of the weavers we work with, which is really quite a story in itself. Very appropriate for Anna, who has a genuine interest in Buddhist philosophy.

Right now we are very excited to be exploring the weavers in Assam for a project we are doing with one of Melbourne’s design institutes. The rearing of the silk worms through to the production of exquisite hand spun, naturally dyed hand loomed silk cloth really fascinates me, I can’t wait to see how we can make it relevant to our market and how this all evolves. 

KIT X

KIT X

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What has been the most rewarding aspect of setting up Artisans of Fashion? 

From a humanitarian stand point, knowing the work is making a positive impact on peoples lives is highly rewarding. I love seeing the engagement of the Artisans who are very excited and willing to explore new ideas. I also love the interaction between the designer and the final outcomes. Seeing the collaborations on the runway or on social media give me a great feeling!

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When looking to the future of Artisans of Fashion, what are your plans for 2019? 

The future looks exciting, we have a lot of activity with Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF). March 7th - A breakfast panel to discuss the Artisan Sector with a number of international guests moderated by Clare Press – Sustainability Editor of Vogue Australia and Author of Wardrobe Crisis & Rise & Resist. We also have an amazing Fashion and Textile exhibition at LCI in Collingwood. Both of these events are on the VAMFF program if people are keen to come along.

Moving forward I see the opportunity to explore deeper into the hand-loom and craft sector, explore different sustainable fibres as well as natural dyeing techniques and open up the market for artisans through the international design community as a very real and achievable outcome. 

We are keen to see the system change and to engage the education system as well as the design industry and hopefully Government and non-government investors so that we can make the fundamental shift. 

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Do you have any other comments or insights you would like to share?

Artisan textiles touch a cord within people. AOF can leverage the power of the conscious consumerism to drive new and lasting positive outcomes. We will expand people’s perspectives of handloom innovation in contemporary design. Our aim is to protect this cultural heritage for future generations. We want to encourage people to embrace the concept of co-creation and respecting the cultural integrity of traditional craft techniques. The artisans sector intersects with issues around the environment, social justice and our global diversity.  

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GET INVOLVED AT VAMFF

Join Caroline this Thursday morning, 7th March, at LCI Melbourne, as part of the VAMFF program! Artisans of Fashion will be joined by Clare Press (Vogue Australia’s Sustainability Editor at Large and Wardrobe Crisis Podcaster ) and more for a conversation around - Community, Culture and the Planet.

All imagery provided by Artisans of Fashion.