My Cart

Close

Ibu Stories

    The House of Wandering Silk

    The House of Wandering Silk
    An Aussie who's lived in London, Osaka, now Berlin, and works out of Delhi, Katherine Neumann is a traveling fool, topping 70 countries visited and more in her daydreams.  Wherever she goes, Katherine turns her roving eye to the local hand crafted textiles and the artisans creating them. Having worked in non-profits trying to improve the lives of women in poverty and witnessing their failure again and again, she had another idea.

    Higher

    Higher

    Listen!  There is something happening among the women of Northern Kenya.  Something powerful. 

    Recently, 1300 women of Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, and other tribes - have been exercising their incredible beading skills to not just earn a living - but to change their lives.  And not just their lives, but 7800 family members, still living their pastoral, semi-nomadic lifestyle.  They've sent 3500 children to school.  They've protected their lands so that 1000 more elephants now graze there, and they've radically reduced the destructive practice of making charcoal by cutting down trees. That's some powerful stuff.

    The Cloud of Unknowing

    The Cloud of Unknowing

    As the pandemic surges into the heart of summer, I feel some days as though I am walking through a cloud.  Nothing is clear.  No-one is certain.  No path is plain to see.

    It makes me think of a text I once studied, anonymously penned in the late 1300s, called The Cloud of Unknowing.  The author traced the mystic's path: giving up - rather painfully giving up - all that we believe about ourselves and the world around us, in order to receive a glimpse of our true being, our true place in the world.

    Dressing the Littlest Weebu

    Dressing the Littlest Weebu
    When I think about the little ones born into this cleft in time; this rupture severing what was before and what will be after, nevermore the same . . . I see in their faces a kind of brave new world.  A future that is being born. Here's how women around the world are honoring them - these future Ibu. These tiny Wee-bu. These faces of hope and change. 

    Love, Kenya

    Love, Kenya
    Meeting a few Maasai women in Kenya, Chrissie Lam thinks their beading skills are brilliant and asks them to make a bracelet holding one powerful word:  LOVE.  Chrissie is traveling around the world with a vague but powerful desire to do somethingand not knowing what, exactly.  She's left her job in corporate fashion and opened to life.  Now, this bracelet wraps her wrist. 

    What Are We Masking

    What Are We Masking

    It's the symbol of our time - the whole crushing chaos of COVID distilled into a few thin layers of cotton. Overnight, fashion sprang on this new social canvas; because fashion is all about manufacturing identity, and what signifier is more in your face than a mask?  But what, I am wondering, does it signify?. Is It a social firewall or a thoughtful gesture?

    Depends on why you wear it, says Liz Bucar quoted in the Washington Post. If you are wearing a mask to protect yourself from others, you are forming a habit of fear. Every time you put a mask on, every time you see someone else wearing one, you will reinforce this fear. 

    At Home In The World

    At Home In The World
    I lean back into the cushions on my sofa one recent evening at home, after many, many recent evenings at home, and still find solace nesting there. My mind drifts to the places holding me  . . . cushions made from the textures of Burkina Faso, the intricate designs of China, Laos, Japan, the weave of Ghana.  I nibble from a pottery bowl fired in Morocco, use a napkin handwoven in Mexico on a table carved in Cameroon.  A Yoruba chief from Nigeria, a gift to my parents from the chief himself, watches over me.

    Wearing is Caring

    Wearing is Caring

    Did you know that there are 75 million garment workers in the world, and almost all of them earn far below the average income of their country? 
    In China, garment workers make 20% of the national average wage.  
    In Bangladesh, where poverty is rampant, 65%.  
    In the United States, 51%.* 

    And across the board, 75% of these garment workers are women. 

    What Matters

    What Matters
    This week, on Social Media, I have joined the world in blacking out. Muting our constant chatter.  Listening to the dark. For these are dark times, and there is much we need to hear about what really matters. 

    Meet Pali

    Meet Pali
    She was married at the age of ten.  And while she tended goat herds for her father, waiting to be sent to her husband's home at 16, her husband died.  Pali was a widow at 14.

    Spinning Your Own Story

    Spinning Your Own Story
    Maybe you like to take a spin on your bike; or occasionally you've had to put your own spin on a total blooper; or you like to spin a yarn over a laid-back dinner? You know, however you spin, what you are actually doing is taking something of your own stuff (your energy, imagination, history) and reeling it out in the world. 

    The Slow of Time

    The Slow of Time
    What is it about this ritual washing in the sea that is so moving?  That women in a small town in Turkey not only hand-loom their organic cotton into the sweeping grace of cloth, but that they then bathe it in the salty waters of the Black Sea and spread it to dry on the quartz sands of Sile beach, as they and their mothers' mothers have done for 150 years?

    Antonia's Kitchen

    Antonia's Kitchen
    I don't really know anyone else who cooks nonpareil meals with native organic plants, medicinal herbs, and top drawer culinary training ... by headlamp ... in a tent ... in the bush.  But Antonia Stogdale does, when not teaching at the Bush Cookery School she founded, or hosting guests at her Lodge, or leading safaris all over Kenya with her husband. 

    Native to this Land

    Native to this Land
    People often ask if we work with artisan groups in the US, which gives me a chance to explain that the primary aim of Ibu, from the beginning, has been to provide a market for women who otherwise would not have one. 

    Don't Stop Me Now

    Don't Stop Me Now
    Nigeria. 
    Crisp white damask,  rich nutmeg embroidery, + highly skilled women  = a knock-out new Ibu dress.

    The Giving Tree

    The Giving Tree
    Two summers ago, while sniffing around for inspiration in an encyclopedic book of ancient textiles, (one of my favorite pastimes), I come across a man's jacket that makes me stop. And then stop some more.  Straight up the back is a Tree of Life as I've never seen before, the archetype of a soul rooted in the earth, branching toward the heavens, and bearing fruit here and now.  And the fruit! Though centuries old and living in a museum, the orbs are utterly modern.  I close my eyes.  I'm wearing a whole dress, top to bottom, with this tree of life articulating my spine, reminding me why I am here. I already love it.

    When Everything Changes

    When Everything Changes
    It began with a child's dress - a tiny red and green affair covered in coins to deflect evil spirits; embroidery and tassels to entice the good.  At Ibu, we translated this timeless inspiration into a piece for our time, and for an enthusiastic group of women in Pakistan who wanted the challenge. Many samples and iterations later, many months of work down the road, we are proud to introduce a dress that sings with history, pride, color, life. We're in love with everything about it. 

    Home (But Not) Alone

    Home (But Not) Alone

    Less than three weeks ago, an esteemed English professor/poet laureate staying in my home pulled out his flip phone (no kidding), and pondered how to Zoom his new online classes.  

    Look at us now.  Henry is sailing through his Zoom maneuvers; my niece Emily is streaming her Sunday morning service to an at-home congregation; my accountant is educating me via a webinar; Elton John and friends play for us from their homes;  artisans the world over are checking in via What's App, friends on email and text; phone conferences play out at my home on the hour; grandparents celebrate their little ones on Facetime  . . . I mean, the longer we are isolated, the more creative we get in banding together.

    When the Sky Falls

    When the Sky Falls
    When the sky falls, the tsunami hits, the pandemic spreads . . . some will run in circles.  Chicken Little will squawk, horde, gnash teeth, forecast gloom. 

    And then there are some, in the midst of life's strange calamities, who will rise into their full stature, and with fear, but not trembling, find a way through.

    The Ache for Home

    The Ache for Home
    My son is my home.  My daughter is my horizon;  so my father confided to his friend.  I've always ached to travel and experience the world and even at the time Dad mused on this  (before mobile phones or even email) I was deep into the MidEast and Africa with a backpack, dropping postcards in the mail like a trail of crumbs.

    A Goddess in Your Garden

    A Goddess in Your Garden
    As I enter some fun parties this week, friends gently lift their elbow for a tap instead of our usual cheek kiss - a nod to the coronavirus weaving its worldwide web.  I marvel at how powerful is this invisible force at work, causing us to quarantine, isolate, close schools, cancel events, crash markets, and fear contact with one another.  And stop bear hugs in their tracks.  Alas.  

    A Festival of the First Five

    A Festival of the First Five

    Even I'm a sucker for Amazon next day delivery. Retail is dead, they say. Madison Avenue is a mausoleum of the marketplace. Shopping is now a finger-click, and poof! - your next TV is waiting at your door. 

    Five years ago, the writing is on the wall. I open Ibu online, knowing the real market is rocketing into hyperspace. A team of five is working in my house - at the dinning table, the sewing room, the office, the kitchen - but know one else can see with their own eyes the handcrafted beauty pouring in from all over the world, which is, I think, a shame. 

    Moroccan Buttons of Sefrou

    Moroccan Buttons of Sefrou

    How do you make a button?  The loop-de-loop kind of intricate things that march down a Moroccan djellaba by the dozens like a proud brigade?  

    Ask any of the twelve Ibu allies who traveled to the city of buttons to learn how.  Sefrou, Morocco is where women know how to start with a tiny piece of paper and needle and whip up a chic little button, no problem; but teaching an American crew was another story altogether!

    Faces of Ibu - Cathie Black

    Faces of Ibu - Cathie Black

    Cathie Black begins her book, Basic Black, talking about the importance of Drive. Persistence. Passion. A fearless forward motion in a woman that doesn't stop when set back. 

    I'd say she is describing herself. This woman who became the first to head up Marketing for a ground-breaking upstart called Ms. Magazine when women's issues were hardly at the forefront of public discourse - this woman threw herself into an almost impossible job and didn't give up. I'd call that Drive. 

    Light and Airy Embroidered Tunics from India

    Light and Airy Embroidered Tunics from India

    Maria spends her days sitting in the courtyard of her home in the rural village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, Mexico, weaving on the ancient backstrap loom. She ties the loom to a post and secures the strap around her waist, sits down on the stone ground, and begins her craft. Each hand-woven garment requires two weeks of preparation and spinning, and another 3 months or 400 hours of weaving. The pieces created are nothing less than a language of love. When asked if Maria enjoys this type of work, she proudly says this is not work to me, this is my way of life.

    Accessories Woven by Mayan Descendants

    Accessories Woven by Mayan Descendants
    Christobalina Colaj Mux worked twelve hours a day, six days a week sewing clothes and still couldn't support her seven children and husband who lost his arm and a job. She now stands before a small group of women along with her sister who has invited her to this gathering - together the women are forming a cooperative, promising steady work weaving in the traditional ways she loves, a living wage, as well as free education and skills training. She's excited; she's nervous - is it too good to be true?

    A Process of Indigo Batik

    A Process of Indigo Batik
    I see deep, oceanic indigo. I see ancient markings born of mythology, folklore, the origins of life.  Again, as always, I am swept into this current of blue, the soul of it swimming in layers of history and practice.

    And then I look up and see Sarah - herself head to toe in indigo, presiding over this beauty with a knowledgeable face, and I think: That's someone I want to know.

    Weavings from The Zenu Tribe

    Weavings from The Zenu Tribe
    In November of last year, 80 members of the Zenu community in northern Colombia gathered for the first time to participate in an afternoon of Artisan Olympic Games.  Traveling from remote areas, men, women and children showcased their prowess in ancient pre-Colombian craft, competing in speed and skill.  Everyone won, I'm happy to say, and received a reward of supplies from the Ibu Foundation:  needles, thread, scissors, sizing tape; 36 pairs of reading glasses and 16 mobile phones were also distributed, along with a training session on how to use the phones to photograph their product for multiple retailers, as well as contact each other despite the distances that separate them.

    Paperstone Baubles from Kenya

    Paperstone Baubles from Kenya
    A housekeeper in Nairobi, Ruth Jepchirchir finds herself without a job when the American family for whom she works suddenly returns home.  The same day, she meets Henriette Oldoff from the Netherlands, who asks if she might be interested in making products out of paper and mud?  Yes begins a 9 year partnership making beauty out of waste.  Soon they are inviting other women to join Ruth in her home, shredding paper, molding the earth, shaping beads, and stringing them into swish, smart jewelry.

    A Vision of 2020

    A Vision of 2020

    What a handsome number, 2020.  Balanced. Strong. Sturdy. And clear, as in perfect vision.  

    Generous, too, throwing us a bonus day. I must admit, this leap year makes me want to leap - not just into a new year, but a new decade. 

    What illuminates this whole coming year is the celebration of women and our 100th year anniversary, in this country, of obtaining the right to vote.  It is enough to make me pause.  I mean, it is also the 25th anniversary of my life with my husband, which means that women have been voting only 4 times as long as I have been swimming in this happiness.  Incredible.

    Hand-Beaded Iris Clutch from Haiti

    Hand-Beaded Iris Clutch from Haiti
    Our 98 year old Ibu Ambassador, Iris Apfel, sits next to me at our trunk show in Palm Beach and admires my clutch.  An Ibu clutch, of course, embellished with a face.  We ought to do a clutch with your face on it, I say casually.  I think that's a great idea, she agrees, and calls me a few months later wondering what has happened with the clutch idea?

    Delicate Orchid Jewelry from Colombia

    Delicate Orchid Jewelry from Colombia

    Did you know an orchid can live 100 years?!  (No one told mine, who grace my kitchen for a few fleeting weeks, max.)  And this - orchids are 100 million year old, collectively speaking; fossils spill that secret. I had no idea. 

    What I did know is that deep in the three mountains ranges of Colombia, hundreds of varieties run wild and free. 

    To Gather Together

    To Gather Together
    My father organized his voluminous slide collection (remember slides?) into categories of People, Places, Work.  On Thanksgiving, we would look forward to a slide show after dinner, and never, ever did we as children, young or old, ask to see his record of Places or Work.  Of course not.  What matters is always . . .the people we have been and have become.

    Why Not Be Turned Into Fire?

    Why Not Be Turned Into Fire?
    We pushed off, heading to the center of the earth. The temple in the middle of the sacred Narmada River, it is believed, aligns with the Northern Star on an axis that goes straight to the heart of our planet. Hindu pilgrims come to the site, walking for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days without taking scissors to their hair, without food or shelter, but for the grace of strangers. Ashes of loved ones are scattered here into the river's flow. . . . . And we had a bit of business of our own.

    On The Road: India

    On The Road: India
    It's only my second day in India and I'm crawling out of bed at 6;00 in the morning to go to the Flower Market; I could not bear to miss out on this much color.  Men in white dhotis carry massive bundles of marigolds, bound for temple garlands, and rose petals to brighten fountains everywhere.  There's a buzz in the quiet waking air, as though the flowers themselves are humming, about to break into song.

    On The Road with Ibu

    On The Road with Ibu
    I've come to Morocco with a dozen friends, old and new, who want to meet Ibu artisans, get a personal introduction to their work, and support that work through the new non-profit arm of the Ibu Movement, WeAreIbu.org. Our days with women here have us on our knees, so generous is their hospitality, so real and palpable the connections, so wide open are their homes and hearts. Our Ibu Foundation Director carries those stories to tell, and will tell them soon. 

    Leather Chain Mail from Colombia

    Leather Chain Mail from Colombia
    During a sabbatical year in Germany, my family would often descend to the Ratskeller below Göttingen's medieval Town Hall. I was five years old, and not really allowed in the beer cellar, but my father would rear back and say, in his most distinguished German, Ich bin ein Professor, and the host would mumble and usher us to a table despite the slant against children in such places, so elevated was the academic life of this university town. 

    Hand-woven Alpaca from Peru

    Hand-woven Alpaca from Peru
    Born in Peru, a girl named America grows up wanting to help women, especially mothers, particularly widows. It's a dream of hers, pure and simple; and more than that, her life's work. She partners with a world-traveled designer, once she comes of age, and begins to search out women - in her city of Lima and in the Peruvian highlands - whose skills can lift them out of poverty, if only they can find a way to market their work, and materials to use.

    Seven Years with Jamie

    Seven Years with Jamie
    Seven years ago, a shy young woman knocked on my door, interviewing for work as a seamstress. For months, we met after her regular job hours to design jackets together from my stash of artisanal fabric...

    The Madina Coat

    The Madina Coat
    Madina pulls out some Uzbek pastries to munch on, and tea, lots of tea.  I pull out a packet with pattern and stencil and a dream of a coat.

    First Executive Director of Ibu Foundation

    First Executive Director of Ibu Foundation
    In meeting Hannah Blatt, I am struck by her quick intellect, strong voice, compassionate presence, good humor, and an unbending will toward the good. 

    Leather Craftsmanship from Colombia

    Leather Craftsmanship from Colombia
    I think of how often you tell me that you love a vest.  I think of how I used to wear vestments, in another life, another line of work; and how I want to offer women garments, vestments, that allow their lives to feel powerful, centered, sane.

    A Modern Refreshed Kantha Stitch

    A Modern Refreshed Kantha Stitch
    Kamla doesn't know how to read or write, but she has perfected her signature stitch, a row of tiny markings planted like seeds in a field...

    Indigo Prints from El Salvador

    Indigo Prints from El Salvador
    We get Monica, in El Salvador, learning that her indigo dresses for Ibu are our best seller and that women are demanding more - would her group accomplish a new design? And to no-one's surprise, we see she aced this one, too, with circles as bright as the sun.

    Silk Traditions from Bangladesh

    Silk Traditions from Bangladesh
    160 years ago, in what is now Bangladesh, indigo planters put local peasants in a chokehold by leasing farmland with sky-high interest rates that led to insurmountable debt passed down from one generation to the next with no recourse; until, at last, the famous Indigo Revolt, led by peaceful peasants, began to turn the situation around. 

    Isa Catto- Artist and Friend

    Isa Catto- Artist and Friend
    The rooftop pulsates with a music I do not know; Moroccan men in djellabas serenade under moonlight while strangers find their way toward new friends.  A stunning blonde greets me, both of us a part of a week-long jamboree of American Artists for Diversity hosted in Marrakech by our mutual friend, Meryanne.

    Hand-Woven Caftans from India

    Hand-Woven Caftans from India
    Devon Fisher started Pondicherie after many years of working with philanthropic organizations dedicated to women's empowerment and gender equality.

    Hand Loomed Cotton Washed in the Black Sea

    Hand Loomed Cotton Washed in the Black Sea

    Here in Sile, a women's community honors a 150-year-old craft tradition,
    hand-looming organic cotton, washing it in the saline water of the Black Sea, and spreading out their cloth to dry on the quartz sands of their beach. 

    A New Block Printing From India

    A New Block Printing From India
    Like block-printing in India - a very clear-cut affair executed with precision.  But along comes Bhoomi Dani out of Design School and she gives all of that order some spontaneity.

    Macrame from Colombia

    Macrame from Colombia

    I walk into the design studio of Carolina Vélez in Medellín, Colombia. . . totally unprepared for the jaw dropping that is to come.

Hello You!

Join our mailing list

x