For those who are always on the lookout for something skirting the boundaries of editorial and ready to wear–particularly fans of brands like Visvim and Kapital—Studio 189 is a brand that you may want to keep an eye on.
They are part fashion design, part e-commerce and 100 percent agents for social change. While this might sound familiar to anyone who has gone to a fair trade store, Studio 189 brings added elements to its game.
First, their clothing is decidedly higher concept, using contemporary design elements with classic dyeing techniques. Second, Studio 189 has a strong marketing foundation due to whom its co-founders are: actress Rosario Dawson and Bottega Veneta’s Abrima Erwiah.
Such oomph has already gotten Studio 189 exposure through Vogue Italy, Yahoo and The New York Times, to name a few. They’ve had a capsule collection with Vogue and YOOX. Opening Ceremony and Free People stores have been carriers of their clothing in 2015.
Around these parts, though, a lot of the above facts mean little. In fact, I’d go as far as to claim that some of you may dismiss the project simply based on being in a magazine like Vogue–I know I had second thoughts. But our interest was piqued by their unique use of indigo (of course).
In the western regions of Africa, an indigo dyeing tradition as old as Japan’s continues to have strong roots. Many of the dyeing pits have been used for centuries. Studio 189 sources their indigo products from Mali, where two to three artisans work to naturally dye and pattern each garment over the course of three weeks. The results are stunning.
There’s more. Hand-batiking from Cape Coast, Ghana, uses wax as a dye resist to create beautiful patterns using negative space. Also in Ghana, garments are hand-painted and inspired by local life. And back in Mali, bògòlanfini is a handmade cotton fabric that has its patterns derived from fermented mud dyeing techniques.
The final cherries on top are collaborations with bespoke tailors, bead workers (who also work with glass blowers), basket weavers and jewelry makers, all of whom take Studio 189’s look to great levels of distinction. Once finished, everyone’s work is shipped to Studio 189’s headquarters in Ghana.
Western perception of modern Africa is often stricken with unfortunate notions of desolation and struggle. A glaring exception to this is within Africa’s arts and artisan traditions. Studio 189 has created a unique opportunity to modernize these traditions ethically and without losing their technique or soul. The results are indisputably intriguing and one of a kind. Best of all, it goes to a good cause.