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    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.

    Kantha Stitching from Bangladesh

    Kantha Stitching from Bangladesh
    When I see the crumpled face of our production manager, Jamie, I know we've hit a brick wall. Around her are piles of scarlet tunics hemorrhaging all over our studio. A large shipment we've awaited for two years has arrived.

    Woven Bags Made by Syrian Refugees

    Woven Bags Made by Syrian Refugees
    She didn't have to, but she did. Rania Kinge went back to her homeland of Syria, despite her thriving career in Switzerland, despite her family of diplomats which allowed her access to the US, her perfect English, her endless possible lives. Rania returned to the place she came by because of the six and a half million people displaced by war in the proud country she calls home.

    Gold Flora Jewelry

    Gold Flora Jewelry

    Her lover gave her a splendid orchid blossom. It splurged; it faded. Still cherishing, she tucked it in a drawer. A month later, forgetting, she opened and found the blossom still there - dried but alive with memory. A jeweler, she dreamt of turning it into gold. She consulted teachers, experts; no one could tell her how to perform this alchemy. So she set out - by trying and trying again - to find her own way. 

    Hand Painted Dress from India

    Hand Painted Dress from India
    When a man knocked on her door, Anita Reddy invited him in and offered him food, thinking him a beggar. Though starving, he refused, offering her instead one of his hand-painted textiles, and told of how kalamkari artisans like himself were being crushed by middle men exploiting their skills for very little pay. Organize! she thought.

    Susan's Trip to Medellin, Colombia

    Susan's Trip to Medellin, Colombia
    Juan Sebastián walked into the Ibu Pop-up Shop in Palm Beach, having driven from Miami for this reason alone, to look and see for himself what Ibu is about. I work with artisans in Colombia, he said gently with an accent and with such humility and excitement that I had to lean in to get the story. You must come. And he said it with a kind of quiet conviction such that I knew my bags were already packed.  

    Hand Embroidered Cocktail Napkins from Rwanda

    Hand Embroidered Cocktail Napkins from Rwanda
    In the daily work of Ibu, I sometimes see the heavy arm of war sweep over our projects. Our production team faces questions like how to get materials to stranded artisans in Gaza, and how to get design training safely to the women in South Sudan. We've had products buried under the rubble of a suicide bomb in the Kabul airport. 

    Handwoven Ikat from Uzbekistan

    Handwoven Ikat from Uzbekistan
    Entering a small pink room without windows, I can hardly find a place to stand - large tables fill the whole of it and on them is an ocean of green leaves and rolling white foam. No, wait, those are silk worms surfing over the green waves, munching with such enthusiasm they are almost drunk with nutrients; some are heading to sleep to weave their dream of silk.

    Beading by the Maasai Tribe in Kenya

    Beading by the Maasai Tribe in Kenya
    Shauna Mistretta was no novice. She'd been working in Africa for years to expand markets for women. But in 2010, when she agreed to help a group of 200 Maasai women beaders at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, she didn't know that her life was about to change. She didn't know that their one room thatched roof school would grow to an 8 classroom educational center with over 600 children. She didn't know that female genital mutilation, the accepted rite of passage when she began, would be completely eradicated, and the wounding that accompanies it.

    Indigo Dyes in El Salvador

    Indigo Dyes in El Salvador
    As one who gravitates toward a spectrum of warmth: the light of gold and fiery red and hot fuchsia, I battle with blue. Blue recedes, even as your eye tries to take it in; coy, that way, and complicated. Hard to get to know, if you ask me. And yet, we in the west say overwhelmingly that blue is our favorite color. So, I return to blue again and again to try and understand this elusive shade which doesn't so much evoke a certain feeling but rather stills them all.

    Traditional Felting in Kyrgyzstan

    Traditional Felting in Kyrgyzstan
    I'm pouring through piles of remnants, samples, scraps . . . treasure hunting. I pull out a long strip of something I have never seen before - felted squares on gauzy silk and pull it around me like a robe. It's dramatic and sweeping and glamorous . . . it is instant love. This is what I didn't know I was coming for, and found.  

    Embroiderers in Pakistan

    Embroiderers in Pakistan
    In the courtyard of Tasleem Bibi's home, women huddle around stretched white linen to keep alive the fine embroidery that is their Punjab heritage . . . and their only hope of livelihood. Azra, Aleeza, Sobia, Kalsom, and Usma; Naheed, Nadia, Munaza, Shumaila and Sumera; Rabia, Khatija and Rafia all shown here, are working on a dress for Ibu. They are among 2700 women in Pakistan registered with Project Rang, though many more want to work should work be found.

    Iris Apfel Supports Ibu's Mission

    Iris Apfel Supports Ibu's Mission
    She scoured European villages for weavers - Old World Weavers - and with her husband founded a company by that name. Iris Apfel loves textiles in a deep-down scholarly way. With a sharply discerning eye, she knows the pure quality of old world techniques and designs - and gave her life to preserving them, such that nine presidents of the United States came to Iris to reproduce significant historic textiles for the White House.

    Introducing the Ibu Foundation

    Introducing the Ibu Foundation

    I'm sitting down with Chantha Nguon to discuss designs for our World Dress collection, having admired for years her work with luscious silk. Chantha is a strong, petite woman with a handsome face and eyes that hold a harrowing history. Born in culturally rich Cambodia, Chantha escaped the Khmer Rouge regime when she was nine, living in war-torn Saigon and later for 10 years without family in a Thai refugee camp. When she at last returned to her home in Cambodia, the culture had been extinguished; the women in her village knew nothing of their heritage, nor of hope.

     

     

    A Look Ahead to our March 8th Fashion Show

    A Look Ahead to our March 8th Fashion Show
    Standing behind the curtains during an Audubon Runway Show last week, I am the silent eye in the midst of a storm. Fifteen young women stampede into the dressing room, hot off the runway, frantically throwing off their clothes to allow a well-orchestrated Ibu team to dress them again in trousers and jacket, wrap scarves and style turbans, chunk on cuffs, slip on shoes, clip on earrings; pile on necklaces, change the lip color and throw the hair into a wild top knot - all in 60 seconds or less - and then head my way for a final check.

    Meet the Faces of Ibu

    Meet the Faces of Ibu

    Each week, I celebrate here women of uncommon strength; artisans crafting a new world; Ibu on the move. But there is another kind of Ibu in this movement: women of influence and accomplishment among us who are reaching out to elevate women worldwide.

     

     

    The New Ibu Foundation

    The New Ibu Foundation
    Five years ago, I began to walk into a vision of Ibu. What I wanted was a movement, women around the world clasping one another by the arm, disrupting poverty and shaking down prejudice that censored their incadescent imaginations and together rising into a new self-respect. All this by putting money in the hands of women for the fine skills they carry in their bones - and for which they have rarely been paid.

    Spring 2019 Collection

    Spring 2019 Collection
    Every four years, the best weavers from16 city-states came together with the skills and fibers of their region to weave a new dress for Athena. From the Acropolis, she watched over the weaving and the wars of ancient Greece; this peplos was a stunning thing carried through the streets in a high festival, promoting peace among diverse peoples. Peace through a fine new dress, I'm saying, and by way of the women who wove it.

    Hand Beaded Earrings from South Africa

    Hand Beaded Earrings from South Africa
    Over cocktails in a friend's garden, I am trying to talk with brilliant Jennifer Griffin, national security correspondent for Fox News in DC, but as our conversation roams over global and women's issues of great significance, I hate to admit I'm seriously distracted by her earrings. Not because they're distracting, but because they are so fresh, so chic, so original - metallic beaded things that looked like they might take off in flight. When we finally take a breath, I jump on the chance.  

    World Famous Mountaineer Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita

    World Famous Mountaineer Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita
    Growing up in the shadow of Mount Everest, Pasang wanted to be a mountaineer from an early age, though she had never really heard of another woman doing so. She loved the mountains, that was all. Her parents died by the time she was 15, leaving a 6 year old sister for her to raise. She decided, somehow, in those circumstances, nothing is impossible.

    Hand-Made Jewelry by Brooke Jaron

    Hand-Made Jewelry by Brooke Jaron
    An old silver talisman, rubbed smooth by hands and time . . . that's all I see. It's as though nothing else exists for a brief moment except this rare treasure around a woman's neck, whispering to me. The woman and I have never met; she is gently perusing Ibu inventory in New York at a trunk show last year. The necklace finally introduced us.  

    Nepal's Noble Fibre

    Nepal's Noble Fibre
    Thin air, tattered prayer flags, lonesome wind. Snow leopards, tea houses with yak butter. Temples at 17,000 feet. When I think of the Annapurna mountains of Nepal, I think first of trekkers hoisting backpacks, swinging bridges, random avalanches, cold spectacular. I think maybe I'd like to be one of those trekkers one day.

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