In February 2018, the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange launched at a grand reception at Buckingham Palace during London Fashion Week, showcasing thousands of designs from designers from Africa to the UK.
The initiative was launched by ethical campaigner Livia Firth (founder of sustainability consultancy Eco-Age and wife of Hollywood actor Colin Firth), along with Commonwealth Secretary General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland. The aim of the exchange is for established and emerging fashion talent from across the Commonwealth’s 53 countries to showcase the power and potential of artisan fashion skills to deliver new networks, trade links and highlight sustainability. Following the inaugural exhibition, the collections were showcased during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit. Now, all of the designs, can be viewed thanks to a new collaboration with Google Arts and Culture.
The Google Arts & Culture platform brings over 1,000 artefacts and videos about the beautiful collaborations online, as well as the stories from the designers and artisans who participated in the unique project.
Selected design talent includes major names such as Karen Walker representing New Zealand, Behno representing India, and Burberry and Stella McCartney representing the UK. An edited collection of the looks will also be retailed in September on MATCHESFASHION.COM.
One of the designs now showcased online includes that of Nigerian designer Nkwo Onwuka of ethical and sustainable fashion brand NKWO, exchanged with Avec Amour in making a look titled the ‘Spirit of the Dance’, celebrating their Nigerian and Malawian heritage.
The look was created with organic British wool and embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals. It is made from Aso-oke, a hand-loomed cloth woven by a group of women based in Kogi state in central Nigeria, according to a traditional craft of the Yoruba people. The piece was inspired by a secretive religion indigenous to Malawi, called Nyau. During a special ceremony, attendees wear wooden masks and act out spirits of the dead, in order to communicate with them. Avec Amour’s Angela Fuka Mpando sourced an expert wood carver from Blantyre, the second largest city in Malawi, and home to the country’s commercial industries. Carving is a traditional craft in Malawi, skills being passed from father to son. The carver produced 12 miniature masks that have been sewn into the dress and tiny upcycled mirrored embellishments are scattered over the skirt.
THE DRESS IN THE PALACE…The invitation to represent Nigeria at the #commonwealthfashionexchange was a great opportunity to showcase the creativity and craftsmanship of the country and to present Africa from a different point of view. We used aso-oke,a hand loomed cloth, woven by the Yoruba people of western and south-western Nigeria which is said to date back as far as the 10th century.Our dress was almost entirely handstitched from woven panels of anaphe wild silk and through an innovative construction technique we produced absolutely no textile waste…our very first 100% #zerowaste garment!!!Super excited about that and the endless possibilities… Our exchange country was Malawi and one of the traditional crafts is wood carving.We were fascinated by the Chewa wooden masks that are worn by members of the Nyau cult during a ceremony in which the dancers are said to communicate with the spirits of the dead.This part of the Malawian culture inspired our look which we called `Spirit of The Dance` and we worked with Joel Suya a brilliant wood carver,to produce mini masks which were sewn onto the dress. In addition to being paired with Malawi,we worked with both of the main sponsors of the project – a collaboration with @swarovski and selected by @thewoolmarkcompany to be a part of the wool edit. The exhibition at Buckingham Palace was just phenomenal, curated by Vogue International`s editor at large @hamishbowles …it has now moved to Australia house where it is open to the public till the 6th of March. Huge congratulations and love and thanks to @liviafirth and the wonderful team @eco-age 💚💚💚 #nkwo#nkwo_official#swarovski #thewoolmarkcompany#commonwealthfashionexchange#exhibition#collaboration#fashion#artisan#handmade#tradition#culture#creativity#crafts #sustainablefashion#ethicalfashion#nigeria#malawi
Sierra Leonean designer Eumphemia-Ann Sydney Davies, who exchanged with artisan Big Dread Kente from Ghana and Ousman Toure from the Gambia said, “Sierra Leone is a place largely avoided by the fashion industry although skills and needs are plentiful. I wanted to create a fashion brand that would not only change my life but also the lives of many, by providing education and jobs for local people. This is my dream. I hope I inspire others to follow suit. I hope I will give them confidence, by seeing that it is possible to produce high quality fashion that’s both affordable and ethical.”
See more designs here.