SUSTAINABLE HAUTE COUTURE IN THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST

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Akwaaba from Ghana!  Today I would like to highlight one Batiks for Life’s customers, Dara Ambriz, the owner of Hopeless + Cause Atelier (link), a sustainable fashion design business.  As Dara explains, she is “hopelessly in love with designing one of a kind haute couture” and believes in supporting causes that improve the lives of others through her business.

I met Dara at a Wednesday morning entrepreneur networking event in Albuquerque, New Mexico in one of those moments of synchronicity.  As I was sharing with her about Batiks for Life (www.batiksforlife.com) and our mission here in Ghana, she told me she’d been planning a fashion show around the theme of Greek mythology and wanted to use batik for some of her designs.  She explained that her mother had taught her the art of batik when she was a child, and she remembered how it captured the themes of joy and tragedy so exemplified by Greek myth.  “Batik cloth makes me think of the capriciousness of life – storms and calm, love and hate, peace and conflict – the drama of existence.  So I decided to call my batik line ‘Caprice’.”  Dara sends me the color palette she wants to use, and I take it to the batik artisans we contract with.  Within a week they’ve created a fabric “canvas” that Dara can use to design a fashion work of art!

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Hopeless + Cause Atelier isn’t Dara’s first endeavor in the world of sustainable fashion.  Dara has always had a love for fashion but didn’t quite understand the implications of fast fashion until she ventured into the world of retail. Being the partner in an independent retailer, she learned the value of bringing ethically-produced clothing (aka slow fashion) and other fashion items from small designers. She also personally shopped for evening apparel from designers in New York and Los Angeles for her customers in Albuquerque.  Working with fashion designers on the coasts planted a seed in her mind – why not bring the world of high fashion home?  “I always loved to design clothes, since childhood.  During slow times at the shop, I’d sketch.  Then I thought, why not create beautiful apparel right here?  Why should we have to go to the coasts to get high fashion?”

Dara especially enjoys creating custom garments for special events, something she hopes to continue doing as the business grows.  “I’m hoping to have a few lines that can be carried in stores as ready-to-wear items.  Of course, I’ll be sourcing ethical means of manufacturing!”

Dara’s feminine and romantic Caprice cocktail dress.

Above, Dara’s feminine and romantic “Caprice” cocktail dress.

Being in retail, with a focus on slow and sustainable fashion, had its frustrations. “Big box stores were around the corner that focused on mass production and cheap fashion. Fashion has changed in ways where it’s no longer an investment, instead you wear it once and throw it way. I wanted people to understand the implications of supporting the fast fashion industry and offer an alternative in clothing that was beautiful, ethically made, and something they could enjoy for a long time.  It’s a learning curve for people to turn away from disposable fashion.”

Above, the “Catherine” dress, a collaboration with a local graphic designer, Meri Fox-Szauter.

Above, the “Catherine” dress, a collaboration with a local graphic designer, Meri Fox-Szauter.

Dara dreams of extending her vision into a combined retail shop, workspace for designers and seamstresses, and runway show space, in one of Albuquerque’s trendy shopping and restaurant districts.  While negotiations are in the works and build-out estimates are being gathered, Dara’s taking her time in making the decision to move ahead.  “It’s a challenging retail market right now.  I love the concept but it’s all a matter of how big a risk I’m willing to take.”

Above, Dara’s own photographic design of the NYC skyline incorporated in to the “Miranda”

Above, Dara’s own photographic design of the NYC skyline incorporated in to the “Miranda”

Those of us committed to sustainable fashion share in understanding the vision – and the reality of the need to continue educating the public about the importance of fashion that builds up people, communities, and the Earth herself rather than tearing down life on so many levels.

Dara’s vision extends to a desire to give back to the wider community.  Her Caprice line provides work for a woman-owned batik business here in Ghana, helping two generations of batik artisans and apprentices to preserve this traditional craft.  Additionally, 10% of income from the Caprice apparel is donated to an Albuquerque-based non-profit organization, Dental Care In Your Home (www.DCIYH.org).  This mobile dentistry non-profit brings affordable dental care to the homes of elderly and home-bound people in Albuquerque.  (As a side note, the dental staff fell in love with batik and now wear custom-designed batik scrubs, made by Batiks for Life!)

We’d all love to see the Caprice line become wildly popular so that everyone benefits!  This is the kind of vision that makes sustainable fashion so beautiful.

To order any of Dara’s designs, please visit her website www.HopelessCauseAtelier.com or contact her at designer@HopelessCauseAtelier.com.  She’ll get back to you to get your measurements, and will then get to work creating a very special garment you’ll love!

Are you a fashion designer interested in using batik or other fabrics created in Ghana?  At Batiks for Life, we have batik artisans and village weavers ready to make something amazing for you!  We also have access to fabrics produced in Ghana’s own fabric mills.  They’re colorful, unique, and their creation provides much-needed jobs for Ghana’s citizens.  Please contact me at abenasara@batiksforlife.com for more information.

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Sara Corry

About the Author

Sara Corry, aka Abena Sara lives in the Eastern Region of Ghana, West Africa, close to the capital city, Accra. Tropical Africa is feeling like home now after nearly 30 years as a desert dweller! When not involved in business development, she can be found with camera in hand trying to photograph the beautiful native bird life. She writes a blog about daily life in Ghana, and is a contributor to a website devoted to wildlife conservation in Africa. She has a passion for travel and would jump on a plane to almost anywhere at a moment’s notice!

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