Ibu team member Austin told me one day that his college friend had started making kilim shoes in Turkey. Curiosity drove me to the screen to check it out - loved instantly what I saw. Boston-based Millicent Armstrong is making one of a kind classic smoking slippers out of old kilim rugs and calling the enterprise Artemis Designs. I ordered a pair and wore them everywhere. Comfortable, richly textured, and oh so chic. Wish I could carry these, I thought, knowing you would love them as I do, but since they are not made by women artisans, the notion passed.
Calling from her home outside Santa Fe, Ali MacGraw has a preemptive apology. “They just paved the dirt road I live on,” she says, “and they did something to the...
As Wendy McNeil listened to a presentation about Ibu artisans, she found herself thinking of Antonia. Born in London, Antonia Stogdale spent holidays in Kenya where the last 3 generations of her family were born. When she decided to settle there, a celebrated chef on luxury safaris led by her husband, she also reached out to Maasai women to start a beading project with them making uber-chic clutches and bags. Wendy quietly put me in touch with Antonia, whose bags sell so quickly in Kenya and Europe, they haven’t even found their way to a retail store in the US. Until now.
Those are still my two goals for the work of Ibu: putting money in the hands of women and doing so by elevating their under-appreciated, under-paid skills of hand-crafted beauty.
Last August, Ali and I poured over vintage beads at an Ethnographic Market, captured by the patina of old shells and coins and brilliant blue glass. And then we saw these humble tear-shaped beauties, light and gentle and the hue of spring rain . . . and we were hooked. Job’s Tears.
The first thing I do - after Ali says Yes - is to scour the internet for what signature looks have come to define her life, what dress has become her second skin. I want her collection for Ibu to capture the essence of her iconic style.
They’ve taken an 8 hour train from their home in Sefrou down to Marrakech, carrying a bag so heavy it takes two to inch it along. Amina, fearless and well-traveled, has brought her lovely daughter-in-law, Wafae, who’s never been to the pink city in her 22 years. At 9:00 in the evening, the two travelers, without a sign of weariness, arrive at Jnane Tamsna where I am staying and celebrate our grand reunion over dinner, having such fun that the proprietor, my friend and Ibu Ambassador, Meryanne Loum Martin, comes to join us.
My dear and brilliant friend, Jill Weeks, looks at our popular cuffs one day and wonders aloud, Why not have words woven into them? A month later, we find our way to Magno and Reinel of a Zenu artisan group in northern Colombia, learning about how their cuffs are woven out of caña fleche fiber in ageless symbols which bind their lives together. Can the artisans weave words as well as symbols, we ask?
It started with a tattoo. A line drawn on the torso signified power or totem or clan. Bodies were the first canvas upon which one might make an artful mark, claim an identity. Only later, much later, did clothing take over that job - textiles are often the extension of tattoos, a literal second skin, carrying forward the same symbolic patterns while also offering warmth and modesty.
First I noticed the silver amulets around the necks of friends, then the chunky rings, unusual earrings. When I raved, they sent me again and again to the same source: Jewels.
What’s the difference between a coaster and a cocktail napkin? Not something Cesi thinks about a lot - until ibu commissions hundreds of handwoven cocktail napkins (what do they use these things for???) When I first met Cesi last December, she had traveled many miles through the mountains to present me with piles of her work, already completed.
I leaned out of an open lorry and saw long stretches of cinnamon colored paths winding over the lush mountainside. Dotting the path were brightly colored sarongs swaying on women’s hips, the companion piece of cloth wrapped around their heads, or tied over a shoulder, or billowing like a curtain against the hot African sun.