Work of African artisans debut on the runway at New York Fashion Week

Global Business

An artist collective co-founded by actress Rosario Dawson that seeks to highlight and promote African artisans – mainly from Ghana – just showcased its designs at New York Fashion Week. It was a critical success and a reminder that fashion doesn’t have to be without purpose.

CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.

Studio 189, a Ghana-based artist collective co-created by actress Rosario Dawson and childhood friend Abrima Erwiah, had its New York Fashion Week runway debut.

It was a colorful, diverse and energetic event meant to capture the spirit of Ghana and other parts of Africa—a culture the co-founders experienced firsthand while traveling across the continent in 2011.

One of their goals was changing the narrative about African-made goods.

“When you see that brand – that label “Made in Italy” it doesn’t matter what brand is attached to it. You just automatically think that it’s valuable and it’s important and somehow the narrative and the story has been twisted that if it’s coming from Africa that it’s charity or it’s somehow ‘less-than’ and it should be bargained down. And that makes no sense,” Rosario Dawson, Co-founder of Studio 189 said.

Studio 189 curates African and African-inspired products while promoting sustainability. Its clothing line, called “Fashion Rising,” sources artisan-produced fabrics made of organic cotton grown by small farmers. Many of the textiles are hand painted, using natural dyes and are often hand-loomed. The collective is involved in every part of the supply chain.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America and carmaker Lexus recently rewarded Studio 189 the top prize in their annual fashion initiative 2.0 contest. It’s an $80,000 prize given to a brand that promotes sustainability in the fashion industry in a meaningful way.

Winning that prize was a big deal, co-founder Abrima Erwiah, a former global marketing executive at Bottega Veneta. She now lives and works with the artisans in Ghana, said.

“The artisans can only get to a certain point. You know there’s only a certain point that you can do. At some point, you need access. You need technology. You need to be able to scale. You need to be able to collaborate with other experts that help get you to the next level. And the CFDA sustainable initiative gave us that platform,” Erwiah said.

The United Nations through, its ethical fashion initiative also helped the co-founders develop a factory for its clothing. While its mission may be philanthropic, Dawson said it doesn’t come at the expense of high fashion.

“If you don’t even care about sustainability you don’t have to lose out on anything. It doesn’t have to feel like charity. It shouldn’t feel like charity. This is about really recognizing people’s work and coming to the table and recognizing everybody along the supply chain and the consumer is just as important as the farmer,” Dawson said.

Studio 189 has a store in Accra, Ghana and it recently opened a shop in Manhattan’s trendy Nolita neighborhood. Next February, it will be available at select retailers.