While I’ve always been a keen supporter of ethical or sustainable fashion, most of the time the end product doesn’t feel luxurious or desirable. Recently however, I discovered pioneering brand Maiyet which is redefining the category entirely with an innovative business model and beautifully crafted products to match.
Launched in October 2011, the New York based label is the brainchild of renowned human rights layer Paul van Zyl, social entrepreneur Daniel Lubetzky and fashion industry veteran Kristy Caylor. The mission is simple: To create an international luxury brand that also promotes sustainability, self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship in developing economies by celebrating their unique craftsmanship and artisans.
“We are representing the next generation of global craftsmen by recovering valuable crafts that are trapped, at the risk of extinction or hadn’t been cultivated properly in the past 100 years,” says president and co-founder, Kristy Caylor.
While this is already a noble endeavour, it wasn’t quite enough for Caylor, who recently took over as the brand’s creative director. In order for Maiyet to stand on its own they had to create a beautiful product that would resonate with the customer irrespective of the social cause behind it.
“Our products have to be beautiful with a point of view and design integrity. It’s not just about promoting a craft – other people had tried it and it wasn’t a game I wanted to play. I knew inherently if we did not succeed as a brand on our own, the artisans wouldn’t survive either. For me it was not about marketing the cause; the brand needed to succeed first because then the cause would succeed. It’s about giving the customer something handcrafted, rare and unique which is what I think is the definition of luxury,” she says.
As such Maiyet straddles the worlds of social responsibility and high style. The designs, which are unveiled at Paris Fashion Week twice a year, are an ode to modern yet minimalist luxury. The light and airy spring/summer 2014 collection for example includes silk shirtdresses decorated with silver metallic embroideries and paired with handwoven jacquard metallic shorts or miniskirts. Transparent slip dresses and tops featured bird prints while sheer long gowns are worn over silk bras and miniskirts for a modern take on red carpet dressing.
Behind each design however lies a bigger story. Each look embodies a rare and niche craft that has been injected with a fashionable edge, be it block printing from Jaipur, batiks from Indonesia, Shibori hand dyeing from Japan, embroideries from Ahmedabad or handwoven silks from the Indian village of Varanasi.
Maiyet’s designs may re-imagine long lost crafts, but their modern aesthetic has received praise from editors around the world. After just two years it’s stocked by 45 luxe retailers including Barneys New York, and net-a-porter, where it has just launched an exclusive nine piece capsule collection featuring the brand’s iconic hand batik from Indonesia. Highlights include easy-to-wear styles with a modern boho spirit including a classic v-neck dress in shades of red and 1970s inspired long sleeved sheer maxi dress.
There are also accessories including super soft leather bags and pouches made in Lake Como, Italy and cashmere scarves from Mongolia. The jewellery is probably my favourite category thanks to its minimalist yet chic gold plated bangles (made from hand poured brass in Kenya) to the chain link necklace made from black horn.
Interestingly, the designs are created by a team of seven designers that have worked with brands like Celine and Saint Laurent. Each collection begins with an aesthetic direction before the artisans are then commissioned to create the necessary fabrics and materials.
Despite the high price point (tops start at around HK$4,000 and dresses can go up to HK$15,000), the brand has resonated with a younger generation looking for a new meaning of luxury.
With any social endeavour, transparency and authenticity is key although Maiyet encourages customers to discover their story at their own pace. While the brand’s website features educational videos that detail the company’s ethical stance, it’s never used as a marketing tool.
Of course the real reward is seeing the impact Maiyet has on the 12 communities it works with from helping them build their own homes to feeding their families. To ensure that these are executed properly, the brand has entered a strategic partnership with non profit organisation Nest which is dedicated to training and developing the artisan businesses.
Fashion does have a heart after all…