I walk into the design studio of Carolina Vélez in Medellín, Colombia. . . totally unprepared for the jaw dropping that is to come.
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.
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.
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.
Jess just appeared. She lives in Nairobi, bought a home in Charleston, and one day, out of the blue, came to visit. Turns out, sitting on our rooftop with coffee in hand, I learn that Jess is working with artisans in Kenya and Ethiopia and when we wondered aloud if she knew of women who could bead a sandal, she quickly linked us to the Maridadi Handcrafts women in Malinda, Kenya, so that now we're dancing in some fancy beaded toe numbers with a lot of hand-love in every stitch.
Our ladies are stopping their work at sundown, Hassana explained, because they can’t see to embroider on black cloth at night. They don't have lights.
These are the same women of the Queen Amina Embroidery Center in Nigeria who made the stunning ali4ibu caftan last spring - richly embroidered on white. You loved it. Who knew that the change of fabric color could throw off their game?