Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Shake the Dust Epitomises the Ideals of Fair Trade & Creative Design

Ahoy there ecofashionistas! I'm writing from the astounding and sweltering Panama Canal on my way from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. My next stop will be the tiny San Blas Islands, where communities rely on the trade of their unique molas textiles. 

Director of Shake the Dust, Kathy Shenoy, lives and breathes creativity, fairness and collaboration. The name was gleaned from one of Kathy's favourite poems by Anis Mojgani. It was my absolute pleasure to chat to her about gorgeous ethical design and the knock-on effects of trading fairly!

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about how Shake the Dust first came about?

I’ve been living and working in a remote valley in Swaziland, (Southern Africa) for the last few years, initially as a product designer for Fair Trade craft and design business and then coordinating an international Arts festival. I met so many people, from rural artisans to top international designers and felt that there is a real need to connect all these talented people in some way. It took me a long time to figure out how that would manifest, and how I would fund it (!) but eventually Shake the Dust was born at the end of 2012. 

The business is a platform for showcasing creative talent and products both in the UK and in developing countries, but with an ethical and developmental edge that forges partnerships

Q. What impact did your time living in Southern Africa’s Kingdom of Swaziland have on the way you live and work today? 

It’s been life changing in many ways. I was supposed to be there for 6 months but stayed for nearly 3 years! Living in a place with a relatively small creative industry gave me an opportunity to explore my creative direction to a degree that would be much harder to accomplish in the competitive UK scene. But what I achieved and the inspiring people I met gave me a lot of confidence to branch out on my own over here. 

Q. How would you describe Shake the Dust’s design aesthetic in 10 words or less?

Eclectic, colourful, contemporary, global designs with soul.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes your label both socially ethical and eco-friendly?

The primary focus of Shake the Dust is to work with partners who share my philosophy for socially responsible business. I want to prove that investing in and developing creative economies can really impact on the lives of those living in poverty. This is particularly true in parts of the world where creativity has always been in abundance but which needs to move with the times to be sustainable. 

We have so much talent in the UK, but in an over-saturated creative industry, emerging designers struggle to find work and bridge the gap to producing product. 

Shake the Dust creates opportunities for collaboration between designers and producers. Designers get to work with new and unique materials and processes; producers get new fresh and contemporary designs to grow a UK market.

The term ‘ethical’, to me, means transparency through the supply chain and clear communication about producer’s good working practices and fair prices. Many of the producers we work with are Fair Trade certified, some are just starting this process or may be more informal artisan-based projects. 

In my experience Fair Trade has different connotations and guidelines in different places, so in all cases, it’s mainly important that I build a very close relationship with them before we introduce their products. 

I worked with many of our current partners for nearly 3 years in Southern Africa. Part of the business is about helping smaller producers to develop ethical guidelines and monitoring systems into their businesses. Our partner Gone Rural employs over 700 rural women, paying fair trade wages for them to work from home and supporting them with clean water supplies, paying school fees and offering mobile health clinics and personal development. Their hand-woven products are sourced from renewable materials such as recycled textile factory waste and native mountain grasses.

In this respect, we also strive to encourage eco-conscious methods and materials - Rosecraft buy their cotton, mohair and merino raw from local organic farms, and all of our Swaziland partners use GOTS certified dyes.

Q. If you could change just one thing about the fashion industry today, what would that be and why?

It's quite a general and large wish(!) but I’d want to see better global ethical standards in the textile and fashion industry- that way there would be no mutual exclusivity between convenience, affordability, fashion and ethics. In my mind there’s no excuse for ethical products to be either naff or too expensive.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the designers and producers you’re currently working with?

At the moment we are launching some more ‘capsule collections’ with a couple more designers and producers. These are collections I select with each partner from their existing product lines or we rework them for our market. The next stage will be to launch collaborative products, which are commissioned and facilitated by Shake the Dust. 

Protea Cushion by Baobab Batik
Currently we have a number of Southern African producers including handwoven luxury knits and weaves by Rosecraft, bold contemporary textiles by Baobab Batik, hand-screen printed bags and home textiles by Mongoose and delicately woven sisal and silver jewellery by Tintsaba

Handmade Heart Pendant by Tintsaba
We’ve also launched a signature collection with Gone Rural - it’s a brave move to more high-end home décor. 

In addition, I’m championing some incredible emerging illustrators at the moment - Alice Pattullo, Josie Shenoy and I'm currently working with the very talented textile designer Kangan Arora to launch a currently top-secret collaboration later this year…

I’m always on the look out for more emerging design talent and will be open to submissions for our ‘emerging designers programme’ very soon - keep an eye on the website and twitter for more info.

Q. Which ethical designers are inspiring you right now?

I can’t wait to see the Made by Node rug collection at the Design Museum. Linking illustrators and designers to fair trade rug-weaver artisans - it’s the kind of idea I wish I’d had first! 

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton from Made by Node
Other People's Rubbish Collection by Heath Nash
Also, anyone who hasn’t checked out South African lighting/product designer Heath Nash needs to! I had the pleasure of working with him on a community-based workshop a couple of years ago and I love that he embraces education about materials and our ideas about waste as much as he enjoys exhibiting at top design fairs.
Q. Do you have a favourite item in-store right now?

The new Gone Rural collection is simply stunning - I will be making a special place in my flat for my own Fluoro zig zag vase. 

I also love the Wonderland lime satchel by Mongoose - it has a colourful surprise inside with a lining made from off-cut bright African print fabric. It’s the perfect size for running around London on the tube.

Q. What does the future hold for Shake the Dust?

We’ll also be exhibiting at Clerkenwell Design Week in May with some exciting new projects to be unveiled. 

You can also connect with Shake the Dust via Facebook and Twitter!