Rebecca van Bergen, Founder and Executive Director, Nest
Category: Clean Luxury
An Op-Ed by Rebecca van Bergen on innovating the future of global craftsmanship in fashion.
For the past ten years, we (Nest) have been working alongside artisans globally to help them grow their businesses in the highly competitive industries of fashion and home. As you might imagine, the culture and pace in rural areas of India, Peru, Indonesia, or Kenya differs significantly from that of say New York City, where a rapid turnover of production and consumption, focus on commerce, and sometimes ruthless demand for perfection are potent forces. It can be very difficult for artisan businesses to bridge this market divide, and yet, there is a desire and reason to do so. For artisans based in developing economies, exporting to global markets presents an opportunity for business growth and the ability to provide greater income to women.
One of the ways that we can help artisans to overcome these barriers is through use of high level training and mentorship. We launched Nest’s Employee Engagement Program to bridge the skills and education gap between artisans in emerging economies and professionals with the power to transfer their knowledge to those who need it most. We have seen tremendous success working alongside brand and foundation partners like Swarovski and Kering Foundation to engage their employees in providing project-based guidance to artisans globally.
“The culture and pace in rural areas of India, Peru, Indonesia, or Kenya differs significantly from that of say New York City, where a rapid turnover of production and consumption, focus on commerce, and sometimes ruthless demand for perfection are potent forces.”
Just recently, at the Swarovski headquarters in New York, Swarovski employees spent a morning compiling product and marketing feedback for an artisan business that Nest is helping in Syria. In the face of war and struggle, the business, Damascus Concept, is giving jobs to displaced women who are now making beautiful beaded bracelets. But they are cut off from contemporary fashion media and trend forecasting resources, so to receive targeted brand feedback from knowledgeable and experienced Swarovski employees, brings them tremendous value that will translate to greater sales opportunities and increased earnings for women who desperately need it.
Sometimes these projects take place on the ground alongside artisan businesses. Last spring, in partnership with Kering Foundation, three Kering employees traveled to Guatemala and Indonesia for two-week artisan mentorship projects curated by Nest. Hailing from Saint Laurent, Kering and Kering Foundation these volunteers assisted artisans in creating digital marketing strategies and optimizing production efficiencies—in turn, gaining new perspectives on the fashion supply chain.
“As we look to the future of fashion, it would be easy to imagine that automated, digital, smart-everything will stamp out the place for the handmade, but Nest sees evidence of a countermovement: a return to heritage, authenticity, and inherent value.”
We also know that training, while valuable, means nothing unless it translates to increased market access: these businesses need orders to provide jobs and living wages to the artisans they employ. Through our Transparent Sourcing program, Nest functions as a matchmaker between a network of nearly 400 artisan businesses across more than 50 countries and fashion and home brands. We have helped bring handloomed silks from Varanasi, India to collections for Maiyet and The Row; handwoven cotton from Kenya to The Elder Statesman; and hand embroidery from Peru to a limited edition FEED Bag. Because we believe that sustainable economic growth for artisans is predicated on transparency, we match brands and designers directly with artisan vendors instead of keeping artisan businesses hidden from them. To help ensure that artisan vendors are not solely reliant on one brand for orders season over season, we also do not require exclusively agreements that inhibit an artisan business’ ability to grow. This commitment to transparency and deliberate vendor sharing sets Nest apart from others in the industry.
Such partnerships between artisans and brands are helping the entire industry to become more inclusive of global artisan workers who number in the tens of millions. As we look to the future of fashion, it would be easy to imagine that automated, digital, smart-everything will stamp out the place for the handmade, but Nest sees evidence of a countermovement: a return to heritage, authenticity, and inherent value. At a recent talk we held at the 3.1 Phillip Lim store with Nest Advisory Board member and Phillip Lim CEO and Co-founder, Wen Zhou, we discussed the rising consumer interest in craftsmanship and the role we can all play in asking more questions about where and how our clothing was made. And having come off spending the past several months mentoring CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative designers like Nicholas K, Prabal Gurung, and Zero + Maria Cornejo, in building more sustainable supply chains and business models, we see every reason to be optimistic about the future of craft in fashion.