Hello Interweb, it’s been a while since I last wrote. Life has been a bit chaotic to say the least and I think we can all agree that time has, and continues to travel at the speed of light. Seriously, where has this year gone? While I never intended on my offline hiatus to be quite this long, real life has been pretty demanding and with work and personal obligations always taking first priority, I’ve had little energy and mental capacity to create blog content. Inspiration and motivation had been severely lacking up until last week, when I partook in the latest catalogue shoot for a new brand on my radar, Shwe.
Founded by Julia Buttery, a Fashion Marketing graduate from Brazil, Shwe is an afrocentric contemporary fashion label that creates ethical, sustainable and high quality garments made exclusively from 100% cotton Shweshwe. This is a brand that is passionate not only about their product but also the hands that make it; established in 2015, Shwe was launched in partnership with three organisations that support low-income citizens, most of which are women based in the city of Durban. By working closely with groups such as The Association for the Aged (TAFTA) which supports Durban’s elderly residents and The Fashion Department at Durban University of Technology, Shwe aims to (re)create the social exchanges between producer and consumer. ‘’ We want to open up a conversation with the extraordinary people who made such items. The clothes themselves are their ‘books’ – the embodied artefacts of women’s stories in Durban, South Africa.’’
In a world where fast-fashion has polluted both our environment and our relationship with clothing, Shwe has slowed down the process by prioritising connections over profit, maintaining a transparent supply chain and developing and nurturing a very close relationship with all of the women involved in the production. ‘’We live in a time where nearly everything is disposable and carries an almost weightless history. In reality we know there are real people with real challenges, behind the making of everything we use.’’
Shwe is the result of the immersion of unique skills and crafts belonging to the many individuals who form part of The Wearable Library cooperative. I had the luxury of adorning a few designs and the love for the art is clearly evident not only in the quality of the garments, but in the sheer amount of enthusiasm and fervour that radiated out of everyone in the team. It was a beautiful cohesion of creatives and apparel and I’m so thrilled to have been a part of it. Spending the day frolicking about in bright colours with even brighter personalities was enough to get me excited about this blog again. And I’ve even developed a new found love for Shweshwe! It’s hard not to admire the unconventional designs that Shwe is experimenting with, such as the jumpsuit with wrap bodice that you would swear is actually a two-piece, or the multi functional street wear inspired jumper that can be worn either as a blouse or outerwear. I’ll let the images below conclude my thoughts.
We want to open up a conversation with the extraordinary people who made such items. The clothes themselves are their ‘books’ – the embodied artefacts of women’s stories in Durban, South Africa.’’
The Wearable Library is inspired by knitting, crochet circles and sewing groups which are typically social and safe spaces for learning and storytelling”
Shwe consists of a dynamic team of about 60 women, all from different walks of life, bringing with them unique and integral skills that elevate the style and construction of each item, but what sets this apart is the individual stories, perspectives and experiences that these women bring to the table. It’s a symbiotic synergy of old and young, new and old, traditional and modern, resulting in a diverse range of eccentric and eclectic clothes that cater to every body type.
An example of this is the quirky additions of intricate knit and crocheted hand work done by the grannies of TAFTA. At first it might seem like a bizarre combination, but knitted elements are added to garments in the form of sleeves, backs of jackets, or tassel details on the arms of kimonos. This is really a lost art, tacit skills that Shwe aims to popularise again. In exchange for their work, they gain a purpose; beyond remuneration.
A MINDFUL PROCESS
We live in a time where nearly everything is disposable and carries an almost weightless history. In reality we know there are real people with real challenges, behind the making of everything we use.’’
Every bit of the production process happens locally; from the fabric sourcing to the pattern making to the sewing. Julia works alongside in-house designer, Simone Bufé, and together they manage everything from source to retail.
Having worked for the likes of Roberto Cavalli and WGSN, Julia uses her trend-forecasting experience to stay ahead of trends and keep Shwe fashion-forward.
Since its launch, Shwe has been featured in articles in Vogue Italy, Elle Arabia, Elle Brazil, Elle Netherlands, Marie Claire, as well as a thirty minute SABC documentary to mention a few. Their overseas sales have been their main focus, but they see great opportunity for expansion in South Africa and Africa at large, starting with their first pop-up shop taking place tomorrow (29 June) at At The Gallery in Musgrave centre between 9 and 5. For more information, head to their website, and give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram.0