Tell us about yourself – family background, personal story, education, and previous professional capacities.
I grew up in the middle of nowhere Maryland, USA where I always had a passion for travel and learning about cultures different than my own. My Dad frequently went overseas for work, and brought back beautiful handicrafts, which sparked my interest to understand the meaning behind them and how they were created. I often found myself bringing these in for ‘show and tell’ – proud of his travels.
After high school, I made my way to George Mason University in Virginia where I studied Marketing. I had done a semester in Australia and fell absolutely in love with it, so moved here permanently after I finished my degree.
I still continued to dabble in Marketing professionally, but found my passion for working with weave artisans after I went on a 5-week trek through South East Asia, and made good friends with my Black Hmong tour guide in Sapa, Vietnam. She had explained to me that this ancient textile-making tradition was on the verge of going extinct. This triggered the idea to move to Vietnam for a year and work with these artisans directly.
What is the importance of sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion has the ability to solve bigger social issues in society, which I find so powerful! It can be a solution to poverty, bad working conditions, human trafficking, environmental-issues, loss of cultures and so much more.
You are the founder of Wild Tussah. What is it?
Wild Tussah preserves ancient weave cultures through incorporating artisan textiles in sustainable handbag designs. We also partner up with other designers who use our textiles, and tell our artisans’ stories.
What are your long-term goals for Wild Tussah?
Long-term we plan to expand the weave communities we work with to other countries, and to track how Wild Tussah is making a difference in our artisans’ lives.
Your weavers are the Lu people, the Cham people, and the Hmong people. Who are the Lu people?
The Lu people we work with are a unique, remote group who live in the northern mountains of Vietnam. They are known for their black teeth dyed with a black-honey shrub and benzoin resin paste. It can take them 3-6 months to make the vintage skirts we use in our handbag designs as it is both woven and embroidered.
Who are the Cham people?
The Cham people we work with live in Ninh Thuan Province. You can find quite a few beautiful Cham pagodas around Vietnam including Po Nager in Nha Trang. Often their textile motifs represent what they see around them – trees, animal footprints, fruit and vegetables.
Who are the Hmong people?
The Hmong people we work with live in northern Vietnam, and are usually the trek guides you come across in Sapa. Frequently they are more fluent in English than Vietnamese as they often interact with travelers. Their textiles are made out of cotton and hemp.
Why did you select them as the weavers for Wild Tussah?
I first selected the Lu after I came across this beautiful Lu weave in a local Saigon shop. No one there could tell me what ethnic group it belonged to, so after doing a lot of research and speaking to my Black Hmong friend, we were able to figure out who it was from. Lu weaves are stunning in person – very modern and elegant looking compared to other weaves.
Next I decided to work with the Cham as I had met a Cham weave storeowner who had a passion for her culture. Her enthusiasm for this traditional handicraft really lit a fire in my belly. Her son, Jaka, was also able to give me a tour around their local village and introduce me to other weavers in their community.
Lastly, I added Hmong weaves to my shop because they practice an amazingly intricate dyeing process for the hemp and cotton threads they use, which very few ethnic groups have been able to maintain.
Mr. Viet does you leather work. What makes his productions of particular note for Wild Tussah?
We decided to work with Mr. Viet after receiving handbag samples from approximately 7 other handbag makers. They didn’t make their bags as well as Mr. Viet, so we ended up choosing him as our go-to handbag maker. Plus, he seemed quite interested to learn more about the textiles we use in our handbag designs.
You have a love for culture, fashion and design, humanism, and sustainability. What makes these of particular interest to you?
A lot of social issues I care about can be solved through understanding these, and can translate into real solutions to make a positive difference in the world.
As an expatriate in Melbourne, Australia, does this affect professional work at all?
Living in Melbourne has allowed me to grow Wild Tussah, connect with other like-minded designers, and stay a close flight away from my artisans in Vietnam. The city is full of culture and art to draw inspiration from!
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
Besides Wild Tussah, I also work with other social businesses and help them with their marketing strategies.
What meaning or personal fulfillment does this work bring for you?
I absolutely love the opportunity I have to connect with people outside of my normal every day life, like my weave artisans, and getting the chance to meet other people who also value sustainable fashion.
Through creating these designs and getting them into the hands of people who care about culture preservation and alleviating poverty, together we are able to decrease human trafficking rates across the Chinese border and keep a beautiful ancient handicraft tradition alive.