EPISODE 56: What does craftsmanship have to do with Sustainability?






Welcome to the fashion unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host, Belinda Humphrey. And my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet, and product.

Hello, and welcome to episode 56 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. I'm excited to talk about today's topic as I think it's one that's often overlooked. But before I get to that, I wanted to do a quick little awkward ask that if you've liked the podcast, I would love it if you shared it with a friend or left a quick rating or review or even hit subscribe. This is the way that apple in particular knows that people are liking it. And it'll be more likely to show it to more people, which means that I get the chance to help more purpose-led businesses and conscious consumers navigate the minefield of sustainability within the fashion space. And yeah, a big thank you to everyone who has listened and keeps listening. I really appreciate it. So with my little salesy request over, let's get onto today's topic - How craftsmanship is connected to sustainability.

I was prompted to talk about this because I've been following a Ukrainian brand for a while, the Gunia Project. I am loving the background, all of their beautiful products, and commitment to craft and fun fact, my mother's side is Ukrainian. She was born here, but I think very commonly children of immigrants were quick to distance themselves from their heritage trying to fit in so  as not to be teased, etc. We didn't really have a big connection to that side, particularly after they died. It sort of didn't really continue on much until recently my two younger sisters started researching the family tree on her side. And so there's been a period of re-discovery, which has been lovely. My sisters have also found out that my grandmother's side is from the Carpathian mountains and this brand from memory works with craftspeople in this area. I felt a really special connection.

Anyway, I digress. I've been really loving the stories that this brand shares on social media and the detail that they're going into. Things like it takes someone six hours to weave a strap for a bag and at what stages the artwork is applied to ceramics and how many times it's fired. The Gunia project says that they're a brand of exceptional things produced on the basis of traditional ethnic cultures. Each collection is a unique combination of design thinking, deep ethnographic research, and an artistic approach to craftsmanship. It was created in 2017 by two women, Natalia Kamenska and Maria Gavrilyuk. I hope I'm saying that right. With a mission to preserve Ukrainian national values and show the world the beauty of Ukraine by highlighting handmade crafts, like decorative paintings, ceramics, wick weaving, and embroidery. And if you watch some of their stories on Instagram, they give you so much history and detail into the makers.

It's a really beautiful behind-the-scenes look that they give. I recently bought a scarf, not sponsored or connected by the way, but when it arrived, firstly, there was no plastic in the packaging, but it had the rolled edging that is done by hand. And it wasn't perfectly even which I loved even more. And it got me thinking about the role that craftsmanship plays in sustainability. I think when it comes to craftsmanship because it's inherently focused on small-scale hand making and its emphasis on local knowledge, the making practices are essentially consistent with sustainability. Things are slow, considered, and thought out, they're at a high level of quality, which until not long ago, was the norm. 

To give a bit of a definition around what craftsmanship is when talking about heritage crafts, The Radcliffe Red List, that's a bit of a mouthful, of endangered crafts defines heritage craft as a practice, which employs manual dexterity and skill and an understanding of traditional materials, design and techniques, and which has been practiced for two or more successive generations.

This was an interesting report from 2017 that I'll put in the show notes again, you'll find that on the website, belindahumphrey.com under the podcast section, but it tables a list of crafts from extinct to currently viable. Interestingly, some of the critically endangered ones are collar making, hat block making, fan making, metal thread making, and piano making. They defined critically endangered as those that may include crafts with a shrinking base of craftspeople, crafts with limited training opportunities, low financial viability, or crafts, where there is no mechanism to pass on the skills and knowledge. 

Now the preservation of craftsmanship is important for two reasons. Firstly, by working with communities to preserve generational craftsmanship knowledge, it's much easier to know the process and providence of an item. It isn't just a skill it's an ever-evolving practice that connects the maker to the community and the land that they live and work on. They're almost the custodians, I guess, in a way of traditional know-how until it's passed on. Secondly, and more obviously when you're working with skilled artisans, you are supporting them and their communities financially. 

Now, aside from the earlier example of the Gunia project, I wanted to give two more examples. The first being Angel Chang's latest collection for spring 2023 in New York, which used no plastics, synthetics, fossil fuels, or electricity, making it zero carbon. The inspiration behind the collection called "Weaving the future with indigenous textiles" focused on artisanal craft. Chang's own ancestral roots trace back to 14 generations of Chinese herbalists, and ethnic minority grandmothers in Fujian Province, rural China shared the same dedication to the craft. She explained the manufacturing process took a minimum of six months from growing the cotton to the final sewing of the garment. She says her design philosophy follows three core tenants, no electricity, all-natural, and locally made. 

It's also made hyper vertically in one location using in-season raw materials and creating local jobs in rural communities. She goes on to say, for being more sustainable, my advice will be to reconnect with nature and learn how clothing was made before the industrial revolution 200 years ago. Clothing has historically been made in a sustainable way and we can revive these traditional practices that are healthier for ourselves and the planet. 

The second example is a local example from an old friend I met when I had my label. Her name is Sophia, a very clever woman who runs La Sierra, and from memory, she didn't come from a fashion background. Her philosophy is very much embedded in celebrating the local indigenous communities and the alpaca textiles that they make in South America. She works directly with the artisans who have the skill to also process a lot locally from growing the Alpacas, collecting the wool, spinning, and knitting or weaving.

I hope the role of craft grows. It's a profession where patience and precision are favoured, overturning a fast profit. I really do think at the moment we need to go backward to go forward. And there's an indescribable quality to a handmade item that you really can feel when you're in its presence. 

Again, if you've got a spare few seconds, I would love it if you could leave a rating or a review on Apple or if a little bit longer, I would love it if you shared it with a friend who you thought might like it. And I'd love to know if you incorporate the role of craft in your business at the moment, or does the research into whether a business is working with traditional craftspeople influence your purchase. You can email me at info@belindahumphrey.com, Or you can also get in touch on Instagram at @belindahumphrey_ or LinkedIn. And as always you'll find the show notes and any links on the website, Belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section under episode 56. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time!

Thanks for listening to the fashion unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch, head over to Belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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